Touring The Byway
48 Miles | 4 Days / 3 Nights | Gateway City: Kalispell, Montana
We recommend starting your journey in Kalispell where you can get to know the city on the Downtown Historic District Walking tour and explore the Conrad Mansion Museum, and the Northwest Montana History Museum, while staying at the Kalispell Grand Hotel. From there, you’ll be on your way to Eureka in far Northwest Montana, where you can explore the Tobacco Valley Historical Village and take the Riverwalk before moving on to Rexford. Then, you’ll be traveling the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway on your way to Libby to reach the Kootenai River Scenic Drive.
After a night at the Venture Inn and exploring the Heritage Museum and the Libby Dam Visitor Center, you can take the Kootenai River Scenic Drive, which begins at the junction of Montana 37 and Forest Development Road 228, right past the Libby Dam, all the way to Troy and the Idaho border. After you visit the City of Troy Museum and Visitor Center and some lunch, you can travel to the Idaho border, where it will be best to backtrack the 16 miles to Troy and catch Montana 56, which is also the Bull River Scenic Drive. Otherwise, it’s quite a long drive to your accommodations for the evening.
View the Detailed Itinerary below to see the full route, which is complete with dining, shopping, and lodging recommendations!
About 40 miles northwest of Thompson Falls, Montana 56 is the Bull River Valley Scenic Drive that meanders through the Kootenai National Forest. Striking cliffs, spires, canyons and magnificent peaks follow your drive along the Kootenai and Clark Fork Rivers. Here, there are There are 191 species of birds here, along with elk, whitetail and mule deer, mountain goats and bighorn sheep, moose, black bear, mountain lions, grizzly bears, coyotes, weasels, mink, beavers, otters, squirrels, bobcats, lynx, and other animals who roam the forest.
After you follow the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Drive from Thompson Falls to St. Regis, you can take the Clark Fork Scenic Drive to Missoula. It’s nearly 150 miles of scenic beauty as the river winds to the southeast. It all started 12,000 years ago when most of this region in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon was covered with the icy floodwaters of Glacial Lake Missoula. When the water finally flowed out to the Pacific Ocean it left behind the rocks, peaks, and landscape we see today. The area is so intertwined that the Clark Fork River is considered the headwaters of the entire Columbia River Basin. It’s an interesting journey from St. Regis to Alberton where the road and the river cross back and forth under Interstate 90, 17 times. Alberton is famous for its dramatic river gorge.
Visitors to Ross Creek often say the ancient forest growing in Montana since before Columbus set foot in America, rival the giant sequoias of northern California. Loggers who cut trees in the area were the first to protect the trees before a protected area was established in 1960. A nature trail follows the banks of Ross Creek, some of which is hidden beneath the rocky stream bed. The turnoff for the grove from Montana Highway 56 is about a half mile past the southern end of Bull Lake. A scenic pull off about two miles north on 56 offers a scenic view of the Cabinet Mountains and the roar of Ross Creek Falls.
Located on the University of Montana campus, this museum now has 11,000 pieces including work by Rocky Mountain artists, historic European works, and collections from Southeast Asia, American Impressionists, contemporary Native American artists, ceramics, and public art sites across the campus. European masters include Rembrandt, Delacroix, Boucher, Piranesi, and Daumier, along with 20th century artists, Miro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Chagall, Dali, Picasso, Remington, Merritt Chase, and Andy Warhol.
The residence of Charles Conrad sits proudly on three landscaped acres atop a bluff overlooking the valley. The shingle-style Norman building, a revivalist version of vernacular architecture in Normandy, France, is surrounded by large ever-blooming flower beds that provide constant color during the summer season, plus hedges, evergreens, and lawns.