In Montana, traveling the backroads is often the most scenic route to take. And if you’re looking to explore two of Montana’s gems and charming towns, plan a trip from Helena—the state’s capital—to Kalispell on a scenic route that winds 194 miles through valleys, mountains and wide-open spaces, with highlights that include the iconic Blackfoot Valley and the tree-lined and lake-filled Seeley-Swan Valley.
Hit the road in Helena on U.S. Highway 12 and plan to stop in the quaint community of Avon and grab breakfast (served all day) or a slice of homemade pie at the Avon Family Café. As you drive through the area, you’ll cruise through a mix of forested terrain and old-time Montana family ranches and farms. Continue north on Montana Highway 141 through Helmville before heading west on Montana Highway 200 towards Ovando.
After soaking up meadows and mountain in the Blackfoot Valley, plan to make a stop in Ovando and stroll the streets of this cute town in the heart of the Blackfoot River Valley. Located in downtown Ovando is the Blackfoot Commercial Company, where you’ll find a little of everything, including old-fashioned scoop ice cream, an espresso bar, gas station and more.
From Ovando, continue to Clearwater Junction, where you’ll turn north onto Montana Highway 83 and drive up the Seeley-Swan Valley. Be sure to top and take a picture with the giant bull at the Clearwater Travel Plaza. As you travel north toward Kalispell, you’ll pass several scenic lakes along the way. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, as you’ll be making your way through prime wildlife habitat.
As you venture into the valley, make sure to stop in Seeley Lake, a cute small town filled with shops that are easy to explore. Here, you’ll find restaurants, boat shops and an ice cream shop, all located steps away from the lake itself. You can even take a mid-day stop to play a round of golf at Double Arrow Lodge or paddle the calm waters of the Clearwater Canoe Trail just north of town.
From Seeley Lake, continue north and take in the beautiful mountainous drive along the Flathead National Forest. As you get closer to Kalispell, make a pit stop to stretch your legs, grab a snack and take in the view from the Mission Mountains Mercantile in Condon, or take a dip at the designated swimming area farther north in Swan Lake. Be sure to take advantage of roadside pullout to snap photos or simply breathe in the fresh mountain air. There are also numerous hikes throughout the valley—including the easy hike to Holland Falls at Holland Lake—that are easy to add into your road trip.
Once you arrive in Swan Lake, you’re an easy 40-minute drive to Kalispell.
Continue north to U.S. Highway 209 and travel west to Bigfork where you’ll see your first glimpse of Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the West. While in Bigfork, peruse their storybook downtown and visit local shops before ending your day in Kalispell.