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My Montana: Road Trips

As part of Project: Rebrand, our Wednesdays here at rlsyme.com will be dedicated to something called “My Montana.” These posts will be our attempt to help you find things to do in the real Montana, both where I live and where my books are set.

We’ll do a combination of different things. Some will be “our secret” places–to give you the insider’s guide to a particular city or area. Some will be “our suggestions” that are either more generic or more well-known. All will help you find new and exciting things to do in My Montana.

To Begin: Road Trips!

Montana is huge. Let me show you.

 

(from Wikipedia’s page on I-90–which is the road in red) If you were to drive from the Idaho border on that red road and take the blue road in the middle toward North Dakota, you would be in Montana for just about 11 hours. That’s over 600 miles of driving (and that’s on the Interstate!). Just to give you an idea, if you were to start in Washington DC and drive the equivalent mileage of Interstate, you would be in Bangor, ME to the North, and Brunswick, GA (almost to Florida) to the South. Granted, it would take you twice as long to drive that, because of traffic, but just to give you an idea of the mileage.

In one drive across Montana, you could go from DC, through five states, heading south, and from DC, through ten states, heading north. That’s a heckuva roadtrip, eh?

One of the best things about Montana is that, because it’s the 4th largest state in the Union, there are thousands of miles of roads to drive. There are entire books just dedicated to road trips in Montana. And the best time to drive in Montana is the early Fall. It’s beautiful, it’s still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors, but cool enough to enjoy the traveling. The fields of wheat are absolutely breathtaking, and the haybale-polka-dotted pastures make for beautiful pictures.

So, September is going to be Road Trip Month on the My Montana day. I’ll tell you about some of the most beautiful road trips that I’ve been on, and some tips about when and where to stop. I will say, while the Interstate is wonderful, you can see the Interstate on your way through. If you really want the Montana experience, you need to get into the wild. The two-lane roads. The backroads. That’s Montana.

I’m going to start with maybe the most famous road trip in Montana.

The Going-to-the-Sun Highway

Gorgeous, right? This picture is taken on the highway, and of the highway (on the mountain to the left). You climb up a two-lane road in Glacier National Park, and it really does feel like you’re driving toward the sun. One side of the road is nearly always a sheer drop-off, which provides an incredible view. If you’re afraid of heights, you do the driving, and let everyone else gawp, because it’s worth seeing.

Of course, with all that beauty comes a couple of issues.

* It is a very narrow road. Not suggested for wide trucks, and anything wider than 8 feet is actually prohibited, so be careful what you use to drive. What I’ve heard suggested (as the best possible experience) is to go by motorcycle.
* Bikes are allowed, which can slow traffic. They’re not allowed on the whole highway, and during high-traffic months, there are sections of the road they can’t use at all, but be careful.
* It’s not open all year. Make sure you check the plowing page to find out what’s open and what’s closed.
* You have to pay park entrance fees to get into Glacier.

But if you can make it, and have the right vehicle, and a great camera, it can truly be one of the most beautiful experiences of your life. Plus, you’ll be in Glacier, so you can see tons of the Montana Wilderness.

Here are the benefits of the trip:

* There are options for people who don’t want to do the really scary pieces.
* You will see wildlife. What kind depends on the time of year, but GTSH is famous for Bighorn sheep sightings, which always fascinate me.
* You will see a glacier. And mountains, of course. But if you’ve never seen a glacier before, this is a breathtaking way to see your first one.
* It’s 50 miles from side to side, but takes about 2 hours to drive, so you really get to take in all of the sites.
* There are plenty of turnouts/parking areas, so if you really want to stop or hike, you’ll be able to do so. Just don’t forget to hydrate if you do.
* Because it’s maintained by the National Park Service, there are updates constantly on their website about road conditions, weather, camping availability, traffic, and any danger or warnings that might exist.
* Because you pay to get into the park, you’ll have either a day or multiple days to explore and enjoy this beautiful piece of God’s world. He is one creative dude, and this is a great place to experience that.

So that’s my first recommendation. Check out the Park website. Make a date to go there today. Especially those of us who have been Montana residents for years, but never get out of our bubble to experience what’s around the state. An informal survey of many of my outdoor friends told me that way too high a percentage of people who live here have never seen the real beauty our state has to offer.

How’s that for mathy? That just happened, that math right there.

What about you? Have you done Going to the Sun? What do you think? Is it worth the number one ranking on my road trip list? What are your tips for those who still need to go on this great trip?

Tune in next week for Road Trips 2.

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