Road Trip: Spokane, Washington to Kalispell, Montana
No matter where you’re coming from, there are so many ways to get to Kalispell. And chances are, if you’re driving to northwest Montana, you may be arriving from a nearby state. If your travels take you to our neighboring city of Spokane, Washington, there are two scenic-filled routes that will lead you in, around and through some of the most beautiful terrain in Idaho and Montana on the way to the Flathead Valley’s most charming mountain town, Kalispell.
Route 1: 238 miles
The first route includes travel via I-90, as well as two-lane backroads that take you through canyons and lush valleys on your way north to Kalispell.
From Spokane, travel due east to Coeur d’Alene, where you can stroll their downtown or dip your toes in Lake Coeur d’Alene. From here, continue east and be sure to stop at the Cataldo Mission. Built in 1848, it’s the oldest building in Idaho and is one of the most beautiful national historic landmarks in the West. As you continue making your way into Montana, be sure to visit the historic mining town of Wallace, Idaho. Take a break to stretch your legs and stroll through Wallace, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Once you arrive in Montana, be sure to make a stop in St. Regis and grab a snack—or a huckleberry shake—at the St. Regis Travel Center. An added bonus: they have a live trout tank, as well as plenty of made-in-Montana offerings.
Optional activity stop: Time your trip so you can peddle the Route of the Hiawatha. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Route of the Hiawatha is 15 miles long and takes riders through 10 train tunnels and across seven trestles.
From St. Regis, travel north along the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway, also known as Montana Highway 135. Slow down and take in the view as the road weaves along the Clark Fork River, with scenic pullouts offerings great photo opportunities. Stop at Quinn’s Hot Springs, located near the aptly named community of Paradise, for breakfast, lunch or dinner at Harwood House Restaurant or Quinn’s Tavern.
Continue north along the scenic byway to Montana Highway 200, where you’ll wind along the Clark Fork River through Paradise before connecting with Montana Highway 28. From here, you’ll travel through beautiful rolling hills for about 46 miles before merging with U.S. Highway 93 in Elmo.
The last portion of your trip will have you cruising along the western shore of Flathead Lake, complete with beautiful views of the lake, as well as the snow-kissed peaks of the Mission and Swan mountains. Make a stop in Rollins to pick up some hand-pulled jerky from M&S Meats for the rest of your road trip before ending your day in Kalispell.
Route 2: 242 miles
The second route option takes you through some of the most undiscovered places in northern Idaho and northwest Montana, all filled with scenic drives, rushing waters and forested terrain.
From Spokane, travel due east to Coeur d’Alene, where you can stop to stroll their downtown or dip your toes in Lake Coeur d’Alene. From here, travel north to Hayden where you’ll connect with U.S. Highway 95, which you will take all the way to Sandpoint, Idaho. Once you arrive in Sandpoint, stroll downtown, grab a bite to eat and breathe in the fresh air rolling off Lake Pend Oreille.
After stretching your legs in Sandpoint, continue north until you run into U.S. Highway 2, which you’ll follow the rest of the way to Kalispell.
Once you merge onto U.S. Highway 2, you’ll be deep in the heart of northwest Montana and its mountain-filled and tree-covered terrain. Highlights along the way include the small town of Troy—which has the lowest elevation in Montana at 1,892 feet above sea level—as well as Ross Creek Scenic Area (home to giant red cedars that are more than 500 years old) and Kootenai Falls and its Swinging Bridge, both located nearby. If heights don’t make you nervous, be sure to take a walk out onto the Swinging Bridge, where you’ll take in the rushing waters of the falls below. Another great stop for the whole family, is the Heritage Museum, a historical 12-sided log building with a 3-story tower. Their exhibits bring to life the past of mining, logging, railroad, Kootenai Indians, David Thompson & Fur Trade, and native animals. Admission is by donation.
Continue along one of the most scenic sections of U.S. Highway 2, where you’ll pass the Thompson Chain of Lakes and the Thompson Chain of Lakes State Park. The state park stretches more than 20 miles along the highway and includes access to 18 lakes along the way, all ideal for swimming, boating, kayaking and fishing. After an afternoon of playing outside—or simply stopping to take in the many views along the way—you’ll arrive at your destination of Kalispell.
Photo credit: Visit Montana.