Along the Open Road

Autumn camping along the Yellowstone

Along the Open Road

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David Tucker

Road trips for every season. 

For the most part, road-trips are a blast. From full-day cruises through Yellowstone Park to week-long excursions across the great state of Montana, you really can’t go wrong with the open road—the world laid out before you, with endless options for outdoor recreation at every exit. To help you along the way, we’ve mapped out one in-state trip per season (sans summer).

Fall
Pick a weekend after midterms and start planning a Paradise Valley sojourn. Pack rods, boots, tent, and climbing gear, plus whatever else you’ll need for cooking and camping, and hit the highway heading east from town. From the second Livingston exit, head south on Hwy. 89 to East River Rd. On your left after a short distance you’ll notice some exposed cliff faces. Just beyond them on the left is a parking area. This is Allenspur, a classic Paradise Valley crag that’s well worth a stop. After topping out on a few routes, make haste for a Forest Service road to make camp for the night. If you want to sleep along the mighty Yellowstone River, several of the Fish, Wildlife & Parks access sites have campgrounds.

The next morning, rise bright and early and make for a trailhead. Several classic hikes climb out of the valley on each side, but we’ll let you figure those out for yourselves—they’re all beautiful and you really can’t go wrong. If you fish, pack the rod along and try your luck in one of the many mountain streams and alpine lakes on the east side. Or hit an access point for some big-river action. If you hike into the mountains, be sure to pack bear spray—this is griz country.

Mid-day, stop at Chico Hot Springs for a soak. If you’re of age, sip an adult beverage or two while relaxing your shoulders from the previous day’s climb. Since nightfall comes early in the fall, don’t dawdle. You’ll need to find another campsite before dark.

Sunday morning, either head south along the river, through Yankee Jim Canyon and on into Yellowstone Park—and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife—or find Trail Creek Rd. and go for a short run to the Trail Creek Cabin. This Forest Service cabin is available for rent, so make a note to come back and spend the weekend there.

Winter
Make the most of winter by getting out into the elements. For a great cold-weather road-trip, look no further than Big Sky and the gateway town of West Yellowstone. Leaving town Friday, b-line for West heading south on Hwy. 191 through Gallatin Canyon. Once in West, throw down for a cheap motel room and hunker down for the night. In the morning, head for the Rendezvous Ski Trails and spin some cross-country laps. Their trails are groomed for classic or skate, and rentals are available nearby for a decent price. If you have your own skis, options open up substantially and summer trailheads make great access points for a backcountry tour. If you’re headed for avalanche terrain, carry the proper gear and know how to use it.

For Saturday night, make your way back toward Big Sky. Winter rates at some of the canyon lodges are reasonable, so pool your resources and shack up at the Whitewater Inn or Cinnamon Lodge. In the morning, head out for a ski or snowshoe on the east or west side of the canyon, or rent a fatbike and rally up Storm Castle Creek Rd. It’s groomed for snowmobiling in the winter and makes for a mellow but engaging half-day pedal.

Flush out of cash, measure your financial losses against your experiential gains and head back to town for a Cup o’ Noodle dinner.

Red Lodge Skiing

Spring
While your classmates head south for spring break, you’re headed east on I-90 to the dry landscapes south of Billings, like the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Here you’ll find the impounded Bighorn River and the resulting Bighorn Lake. Paddle and swim to your heart’s content while enjoying short hikes to scenic overlooks. Camp at designated sites in the north and south units of the park, or use your watercraft to access paddle-up-only sites in the canyon’s core.

Depending on the year, trails and roads in the nearby Pryor Mountains should be dry, offering access to a unique landscape that looks and feels more like the southwest than the Northern Rockies. This is rugged, remote country, so be prepared. Fill up on gas when you can and don’t start down dirt roads if wet weather is in the forecast. Getting into the Pryors might be easy—getting out could be a different story. But that’s the kind of uncertainty that make road-trips so much fun.


For more road-trip ideas and summer options, check out outsidebozeman.com/weekender.

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