Take a road trip along one of the scenic driving routes surrounding West Yellowstone. Explore the beautiful landscapes of southwest Montana and Yellowstone Country, or find the hidden gems on the backcountry roads. These routes will allow you to experience the unspoiled nature along winding rivers and the breathtaking views of the snowcapped mountains and wide open meadows.
Free maps, information, and more suggestions available at the West Yellowstone Visitor Center.
“Around the Block” – West Yellowstone (64 miles round trip)
This 64-mile round trip—called “the block” among local residents—travels through two states, over two mountain passes, and winds around three lakes. It also features gorgeous scenery and the best wildlife spotting opportunities. Depart from West Yellowstone on Hwy 191 heading north towards Bozeman, Montana. Hwy 191 straddles the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
Approximately nine miles north of West Yellowstone, watch for the junction with Hwy 287. Turn left (west) on Hwy 287 towards Ennis and Virginia City, Montana, which runs along Hebgen and Quake Lakes.
Turn left (south) at the junction with Hwy 87, and drive for nine miles to Raynold’s Pass, which straddles the Continental Divide. At Raynold’s Pass, you will enter Idaho. Continue another nine miles along Henry’s Lake until the junction with Hwy 20. At the junction with Hwy 20, turn left (north) to West Yellowstone, which is about 12 miles away. This road climbs up and over Targhee Pass and then back down into Montana.
Areas to watch
- Hwy 191 – Bison, moose, osprey, eagles, coyotes, and foxes can be seen near the Madison River and Cougar Creek areas.
- Hwy 287 – Near mile marker 22, osprey nest on the south side of Grayling Creek. Also, bison (spring), hawks, and eagles are common in the area.
- Hwy 287 – From mile markers 18-10, moose and elk roam the hillsides and waterfowl play along the lakeshore.
- Hwy 287 – From mile markers 6-3 (Quake Lake), bighorn sheep (spring), migratory cormorant ducks, and eagles frequent the area. The cliffs to the north, behind the visitor center, are home to mountain goats, and deer can be seen along the river.
- Hwy 87 to Raynold’s Pass – Deer, elk, black bear, and antelope call this area home.
- Raynold’s Pass to Hwy 20 – Moose, elk, deer, antelope, coyotes, foxes, and wolves can be found.
- Hwy 20 – From mile markers 402-406, moose stroll among the willows and aspen trees.
- As Hwy 20 returns to West Yellowstone, watch for black and grizzly bears (near trees and trails), moose, and elk.
Ennis, MT (145 miles round trip)
Follow the same directions as the “Around the Block” tour paralleling Hebgen and Quake Lakes. Once past the Earthquake Visitor Center, continue on Hwy 287 past the junction with Hwy 87. You will see a sign for Ennis, which is another 41 miles to the northwest. After leaving the canyon area, you will climb to some vast grazing lands and large Montana ranches, majestically ringed by snowcapped mountains. This area is the winter location for three large herds of elk. At times in the spring, you can see thousands at once. This is also one of the best locations for spotting antelope, deer, coyotes, and—on rare occasions—wolves. Drive carefully through this area, especially early morning and dusk when these animals are on the move.
Madison River Canyon Earthquake Area – The Night the Mountain Fell
Leave West Yellowstone on Hwy 20 heading over the Targhee Pass into Idaho and make a right turn on to Hwy 87. At the next junction, you will turn right again on to Hwy 287. The driving adventure begins as you pass through the Madison River Canyon, which was struck in 1959 by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded on the North American continent. Measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, the earthquake caused an enormous landslide and sent 80 million tons of rock tumbling into the canyon, obstructing the flow of the Madison River. The water soon backed up behind the fallen rocks and formed Quake Lake. Today, the Madison River Canyon Earthquake area is of great scientific and general interest.
Stop at the visitor center to see a short movie and pick up one of the driving tour brochures. While there, walk the trail to the Memorial Boulder and overlook. Then, as you drive along the banks of the water, the effect of the changing earth can be seen all around. Be sure to stop at the pullouts and scenic overlooks, go to the Ghost Village, and visit Refuge Point.
Big Sky, MT (90-120 miles round trip)
Leave West Yellowstone and head north on Hwy 191. Continue past the junction with Hwy 287, over a large hill, and down around a steep curve and bridge over Grayling Creek. Continuing north, this stretch of road runs through 20 miles of the extreme northwestern section of Yellowstone Park (55 mph speed limit). This is truly a scenic corridor as the road parallels Grayling Creek and then the Gallatin River. Mountains rise on each side with elevations from 6,300 to 10,000 feet. Black Butte, with its steep jutting peak, is just one of the interesting geological features along the road. Sparkling creeks amid colorful willows, lowland sages and grasses, dense lodgepole pine forests, high-elevation meadows, and rugged peaks create a postcard-perfect view.
Areas to watch
- Bordered to the west by the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, the Gallatin National Forest, and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, this area is known for its wildlife. At different times through the year, you can spot bald eagles, black and grizzly bears, deer, elk, moose, otters, foxes, and coyotes.
- After leaving Yellowstone Park, watch for moose, deer, and elk in the springs area to your west and then moose along the river for the next 10 miles. Elk and deer frequently travel across the highway, especially in early mornings and late afternoons, to reach the river. As you approach the 320 Ranch area, begin watching the ridges for bear and mountain lion sightings, often spotted in the spring.
- When nearing the Big Sky turnoff, watch for more bighorn sheep, especially on sunnier slopes. Turn left on to Hwy 64 (Lone Peak Trail) to travel into the Big Sky area. Watch for sheep and wildlife along hillsides and near stream areas.
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (90-120 miles round trip)
(This route may not be fully accessible until late May/early June, depending on snow and weather conditions. The Lower Lake Road is open May 15 through December 1.)
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is located in the scenic and isolated Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana, approximately 50 miles west of Yellowstone National Park. The refuge has a vast array of habitats, ranging from high-elevation prairie at 6,600 feet to the harsh alpine habitat of the Centennial Mountains at 10,000 feet above sea level.
Take Hwy 20 south from West Yellowstone, Montana, to Island Park, Idaho. Turn right (west) at the Hwy 87 junction (13.1 miles) and drive another 5.1 miles to Henry’s Lake Drive, taking a left and driving towards Henry’s Lake. These roads are gravel and not paved. After another five miles, Henry’s Lake Drive becomes Red Rock Pass Road and you will enter back into Montana (11.6 miles). Red Rock Pass Road becomes Hwy 509 after another 9.4 miles. You will drive through Lakeview, Montana, and then another two miles to Lower Lake Road, which drives into the refuge. (Alternative route: follow Hwy 20 past Henry’s Lake to Red Rock Pass Road (Hwy 509). Turn right and continue to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.)
Areas to watch
- The refuge is one of the most important trumpeter swan breeding areas in North America.
- Sandhill cranes can be seen on the refuge from April to September.
- The refuge is home to a variety of mammals that are native to the region.
Big Springs and Johnny Sack’s Cabin – Idaho (50 miles round trip)
(This route may not be fully accessible until late May/early June, depending on snow and weather conditions.)
Leave West Yellowstone on Hwy 20 heading south to Island Park, Idaho (see wildlife spotting tips in the “Around the Block” tour above). After 12 miles, you leave Montana for Island Park, Idaho, which has the longest “main street” of any town in the U.S.—over 30 miles!
Seven miles later, in the Mack’s Inn area, you will want to turn left (east) on Big Springs Road (Forest Rd. 59). Drive east for another five miles and you will be at Big Springs.
Big Springs is the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. Over 120 million gallons of water flow from this spring every day, making it one of the largest springs in the country. Big Springs is also spawning grounds for rainbow trout. You can feed the fish while you’re there, but fishing is not allowed in this protected area. Then take a short, easy walk on the interpretive trail boardwalk that leads downstream along the Big Springs National Water Trail.
As part of the National Register of Historic Places, the Johnny Sack Cabin can be reached via a short, paved walking path starting in the campground at Big Springs. The cabin’s unique location, construction, and furnishings provide for an interesting visit. The cabin was started in 1932 and completed three years later. Here you can learn about Johnny Sack, a German cabinet maker, and the uniqueness of his craftsmanship with his thorough and careful preparation of the lumber for building the cabin, wall panels, ceiling lamps, furniture, and—of course—the wonderful water wheel.
Be careful going in if you’re tall! Johnny Sack was only 4 feet 11 inches tall. While most of the house has typical ceilings, his work area in the basement reflects his small stature.
Areas to watch
- Hwy 20 – Look for antelope and elk grazing in the fields, eagles and hawks sitting on fence posts, and ospreys on specially constructed nests. You can also spot moose and elk near marshy areas and small ponds along the highway.
- Big Springs – Enormous rainbow trout can be viewed from both sides of the bridge. Be sure to bring some bread to feed the fish, mallard ducks, and the resident muskrat. Look downstream to see a moose feeding in the water, and watch for osprey, bald eagles, waterfowl, and the occasional white-tailed deer.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway – Idaho
To reach Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, take Hwy 20 from West Yellowstone into Idaho approximately 34 miles. Watch for the Scenic Byway Hwy 47, where it turns left. This scenic byway includes the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. You will arrive at the Upper Falls first, where a boardwalk leads from the historic Big Falls Inn, now the visitor center and gift shop, right to the brink of the Upper Mesa Falls. You will then travel another mile down to the Grandview Overlook of Lower Mesa Falls. At 114 feet high for the Upper Mesa Falls and 65 feet high for the Lower Mesa Falls, they offer equally spectacular views in a beautiful forest setting. Both falls can be viewed in full: Lower Falls from a quarter mile and the Upper Falls from just a few feet away. As you leave Mesa Falls, turn right and travel toward Bear Gulch and Warm River. Though the byway is less than an hour’s driving time, viewing the falls, touring the interpretive center, enjoying a picnic lunch, and making stops to view wildflowers can easily fill half a day.
Cave Falls/Bechler Area – Idaho
The Bechler area is the hidden part of Yellowstone, which is actually in Idaho, and known to be the wettest part of the park. It is dubbed “Cascade Corner” because of the many water falls. Here, you can easily see Cave Falls and, if you’re up to it, take a 3-mile round trip hike to Bechler Falls or a 3.2-mile hike to Terrace Falls (pictured). Be sure to check in at the Bechler Ranger Station to pick up a map and trailhead information.
Travel back to West Yellowstone on Hwy 47 or from Ashton on Hwy 20. This trip is best taken after July 1st because part of the route travels on a gravel road that is minimally maintained.
Teton Scenic Byway
Take a day to visit Grand Teton National Park in a geological “gold mine” of adventure. Take the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway trip to Ashton, turning on to Hwy 32 to travel along the western side of the Teton Range. The mountains sharply contrast with rolling fields of wheat and canola in these agricultural communities as this trip through the backcountry of Idaho takes you to the Teton Scenic Byway. If you have time, travel on Hwy 31 through the beautiful Pine Creek Pass to Swan Valley, or just continue on Hwy 33. Staying on Hwy 33, you will soon be driving the incredible Teton Pass, dropping down into the Jackson Valley, home to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and on to Grand Teton National Park. At nearly 10 million years young, the Tetons are the newest mountains in the Rockies. In fact, they continue to grow today at a pace of about an inch every hundred years. The distance from the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park to the southern boundary of Grand Teton National Park is 56 miles; approximate driving time with stops is 1.5 hours. There are three visitor centers for you to stop and get information. Be sure to visit the Jenny Lake area, taking the one-way scenic drive, enjoying a boat cruise over the lake, and then hiking a half-mile trail to Hidden Falls. Take a horseback ride at Colter Bay and stop by the Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum. Return through Yellowstone National Park.