Northwest national park road trip to Wyoming and Montana
I’ve always wanted to do a Northwest national park road trip, especially the parks around Montana and Wyoming, focusing primarily on Glacier National and Yellowstone parks. It was perfect timing when my niece, Sunny, agreed to join me on this road trip in collaboration with Holiday Inn Hotels. This was both our first visits to these national parks, and I knew that this would be a fun pre-college adventure for Sunny who will be a college freshman this fall. The road trip through both states of Wyoming and Montana was surprisingly easy while traveling through the mountain terrain and rugged countryside filled with amazing landscape and stunning panoramas.
The capital of Montana at Helena
Helena, Montana is right at the center and cross roads to both national parks. I flew to the small airport and quickly checked out my rental car for the week. It’s an easy drive from the airport to downtown Helena where the Holiday Inn Hotel is located which is perfect for walking around the historic capital. I quickly dropped my suitcase in the spacious room which had all the wonderful space, comfortable beds and amenities that you get from staying at a Holiday Inn Hotel. Ready to explore, I headed down quickly and walked out directly to a walking promenade in the historic district filled with attractive brick buildings and other western inspired architecture. I was pleasantly surprised by the nice galleries, cafes and, yes, a plethora of brew pubs located downtown. There were many art galleries, coops and museum/stores that I enjoyed walking through and seeing the creative inspirations from local artisans from around the state. After a nice long walk through the historic district and after picking up my niece from the airport, we were ready to get some rest in preparation for a long day ahead at Glacier National Park.
Walking the downtown promenade in Helena
Road trip to Glacier National Park
Possibly one of the most scenic drives in North America, the trip from Helena to Glacier National Park takes about three hours and faster if you drive at the incredibly fast speed limit at 80 mph in Montana, which is the fastest limit I’ve ever experienced in any state. It doesn’t even seem like you are driving at that speed, with all the gorgeous scenery unfolding at every turn. We pass by mellow rivers, rolling hills and finally impressive mountain ranges of the Glacier National Park region (a part of the Rocky mountain range). Instead of driving most of the way through the main interstate, we decided to go by the smaller roads on the way to the park so we could see more beautiful landscapes and check out some of the quirky towns and countryside we would pass along the way.
In no time, we made it to the west entrance of Glacier Park and the typical morning backup through the main toll gate was relatively mild since we arrived closer to mid-day. I read that the “must do” thing when visiting Glacier is to drive the entire length of the Road to the Sun. This scenic route starts at the lower base area, climbs uphill, and opens up to magnificent peaks, offering incredible views, brilliant wildflowers and waterfalls and panoramic vistas of the entire park below. The drive starts out easy and you quickly enter forested areas with peek-a-boo views of prominent lakes around the park floor. Slowly, you start to drive up to some of the mid sections in the park, affording the first views of the landscape below. It seems like the more we kept driving uphill, the views kept getting better and better, with clear vistas of the valley floor below along with scenic alpine ridges and dense pine forests. Luckily when we visited, the entire park bloomed with wildflowers popping up from the valley floor and into the alpine areas in the higher elevations. Even the burned forest areas were filled with stunning wildflower meadows, creating a stark contrast to the burnt out tree silhouettes. Overall, the road trip on the Roadway to the Sun is one of the highlights of visiting Glacier Park and is a can’t miss activity driving from one side of the park to the other.
Glacier Park Road to the Sun panorama
Road trip to Yellowstone National Park
From Helena, Montana the drive to Yellowstone is relatively easy and is also scenic driving into the main cities of Butte and Bozeman, to the north of the park. We decided to enter the national park along the north entrance at Gardiner and Livingston. This was perfect so we could see the north section of the park including the wonderful landscapes at Mammoth Hot Springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the wilderness areas of Mount Washburn and Tower Junction. While driving through the expansive meadow areas north of Yellowstone Lake, we were able to spot our first bison which happen to thrive in this area of rolling meadows, rivers and grassy plains.
Once you start driving around the park area, you realize how expansive and large the entire park is and how much driving it takes to see everything. The next day we spent touring the major sites and stunning attractions and still barely covered all the key park attractions. Part of that is the constant slow traffic due mostly to wildlife on the road, and or congestion entering the main attraction areas, and challenges with finding parking in the area. In spite of this being the peak summer season, I think we did well and covered all the main attractions to be seen around the park. Here are some of the highlights driving around the different areas and key sites of Yellowstone Park.
Exploring Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone
Tip: if you plan to visit the park especially in peak season, make sure you have your hotels, rental car and touring activities booked in advanced since everything fills up quickly and prices tend to fluctuate higher when there is limited availability.
Where we stayed on our road trip
Holiday Inn Hotel at Helena, Montana
This was a perfect location in between both national parks with an easy airport to arrive and leave from. The Holiday Inn at Helena is located right downtown in the historic district which is perfect for walking around the heart of the capital. We stayed in a fantastic standard size room with comfortable and plush queen size beds. The bathrooms were also well appointed with wonderful bathroom amenities. Other nice features included a nice office desk area and complementary in room wifi access.
Ready for a comfortable sleep at Holiday Inn, Helena
Holiday Inn Hotel at Cody, Wyoming
Located in the ‘Rodeo Capital of the West’ at Cody, the Holiday Inn Hotel is situated on the main road which is perfect for walking around the main street after you settle into your room. We were greeted warmly even after a late night arrival and I was ready to hit my deluxe queen size bed. The in room wifi was fast and complementary with the stay which is perfect for me.
Ready for a good nights sleep at Holiday Inn Cody
If you enjoyed this post, please check out my other post on visiting Yellowstone below
Thanks for visiting today and checking out this post on Northwest national park road trip, hopefully you will be able to see and experience these amazing national parks on a road trip and enjoy the rest of the evening at a Holiday Inn close to the parks. If you enjoyed the images and post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post.
Disclosure – this road trip made in collaboration with Holiday Inn Hotels, all thoughts and opinions are completely my own and the road trip was a fabulous way to visit the national parks.