Touring The Byway
96 Miles | 4 Days / 3 Nights | Gateway City: Missoula, Montana
We recommend starting your journey in Missoula where you can explore the downtown on a historic walking tour and visit the Montana Natural History Center, the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, before taking the Riverfront Walking Trail.
From there, you’ll can take Interstate 90 to the St. Regis exit (unless you want to meander between Alberton and St. Regis on the Clark Fork Scenic Drive) which will ultimately put you on the St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway, one of the bonus beauties of this trip. Eight miles east of Thompson Falls is the Koo-Koo-Sint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Site with a highway pull out with information about the sheep. Weighing up to 300 pounds, they charge their rivals at 20 miles per hour, butting heads in a struggle for herd dominance. This violent sport can be heard miles away.
View the Detailed Itinerary below to see the full route, which is complete with dining, shopping, and lodging recommendations!
Much of the scenic beauty in America was created naturally. Lake Koocanusa was not. It is man-made and took an extraordinary amount of effort to get completed. The journey began when a treaty between the U.S. and Canada coordinated control of the massive flooding that occurred every year during snow melt. The Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway runs along the eastern edge of the resulting lake, through a narrow fjord-like gorge between the Purcell and Salish Mountains. The result was very useful flood control, a water system, and amazing scenic beauty. The reservoir starts rising in March as the snows melt and starts slowly retreating in mid-summer. All this time, the lake remains an ever changing, enchanting, and marvelous place to be.
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 the magnificent peaks of the Cabinet Mountains follow your drive along the Kootenai and Clark Fork Rivers. Here, there are 191 species of birds, 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.
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. Area 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.
The village features nearly a dozen structures built between the 1880s and the 1920s including a general store, schoolhouse, library, church, two log cabins, a hand-hewn house, railway depot, caboose, and fire tower. Several of the buildings, rescued from the Libby Dam, are all filled with exhibits and artifacts from the founding of Eureka. The Fewkes General Store serves as a museum and depository for archival materials donated by organizations and residents of the Tobacco Valley.
Located on the University of Montana campus, this museum now has 11,000 pieces including works by Rocky Mountain artists, historic European works, along with 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.