If you’ve been following along for awhile, it’s no surprise that I am an avid road tripper; 10/10 I would rather drive than fly. I am a firm believer that there is always something good to see along the way… As a full-time intimate wedding and elopement photographer, my job has taken me to some of the most beautiful places on Earth. So if you’ve found yourself itching for an adventure, and you happen to be from the Midwest… I’m dropping the next edition of my favorite series – Wander with Me: Minnesota to Montana Roadtrip Itinerary edition.
Ethan and I started our journey West from our home in Southern Minnesota. If you’ve made the drive to North Dakota before, you know there’s not a ton to see. BUT, when we went, there were endless fields of sunflowers 😍 And like I said, I’m a firm believer in finding beauty wherever the journey takes me! Best way to help the drive go faster? Find some good music, save up a TON of Podcasts to binge, and think of some deep questions to discuss with whoever you’re driving with.
The drive from Bismarck to Stanton Creek Lodge (near Glacier National Park) is just around 12 hours. On the way to Stanton Creek Lodge, we barely saw any traffic; kind of eery, but nice to have the road to yourself! Once we settled into our accommodations, we drove straight to GNP to catch the sunset. After checking out Lake McDonald, we drove half of Going to the Sun Road and were left completely in awe.
With an early wakeup call of 5:30 am, we were itching to get to the park while most people were still sleeping (highly recommend). Some of our friends told us that the Avalanche Lake parking lot filled up by 7:00 am, so we wanted to make sure we could secure a spot. But, if you’ve traveled anywhere before, you’ll know that your plans can mean nothing 😅 In our case… the bears were the ones making the plans. The most popular hike in all of Glacier was shut down because of high bear activity! Oh, well.
Even though our day had a wrench thrown in it, we decided to head to the visitors’ center to chat with some rangers about what they recommended. At the time, many things were still shut down due to the pandemic. The rangers recommended a plethora of hikes and fishing spots to check out. We headed to a less-traveled area of the park – Polebridge Mercantile and Bowman Lake. While the drive was full of bumpy roads, we were so happy to immersed in such a beautiful place.
Ethan and I geared up to fly fish at Bowman Lake after hiking to the perfect spot on the lake. The clear, glacial blue lake took my breath away. After a successful day fishing, we stopped at Polebridge Mercantile for a few beers and the world-famous bear claws. Of course, we ate dinner at the saloon next door (after having our dessert first). On our way back, we decided to drive the other half of Going to the Sun Road all the way to Rising Sun. Nailing down a highlight of Day 3 is hard, but I’d say the 360° views at Logan Pass takes the cake. The dramatic road, jagged peaks, the towering trees, the deep valleys below… nothing like Minnesota! We saw 4 grizzlies, 1 black bear, 1 elk, 2 deer, and caught 4 trout this day.
Once we got back to our lodge, we sipped a huckleberry mule and listen to a sweet elderly man play his harmonica… does it even get better than that!?
Up early for another busy day, we stopped at Lake McDonald to make a breakfast of sausage and eggs in the parking lot. Fueled up and ready to go, we headed to our first hike of the day – Saint Mary Falls. Despite the chilly, blustery day, we made the most of the 4-mile hike. Many of the areas we walked through had been burned by wildfires which was such an interesting sight to take in. After our hike at Saint Mary Falls, we drove to the Logan Pass visitors’ center where the trailhead was for Highline Trail.
Once 20 minutes of us circling the parking lot for a spot had passed, we finally pulled in (highly recommend going early in the day). Saint Mary Falls felt like a warmup in comparison to Highline Trail. This invigorating hike along the cliffside is full of wildlife. Let’s just say I was spooked by a goat just ONE minute into our hike, only to be scared just 10 minutes later by a big-horned sheep! We didn’t end up doing the entirety of Highline Trail, but what we did do was a blast!
As soon as we made it down the mountain, we stopped at the west entrance for some well-deserved honey cinnamon and huckleberry ice cream. We drove to Flathead Lake and checked into our Somers Airbnb. Ready to fuel up once again, we went to Flathead Brewing Co. for dinner where we met some other Minnesota locals!
There was no sleeping in on this trip 😂 We rose early for a quick 2 mile hike at John’s Lake to get our blood pumping. Once we had cooked up our breakfast on our camp stove, we headed out for our last hike – the Loop Trail. We found ourselves thankful yet again when we barely found a parking spot. The Loop Trail was of course beautiful, and lined with so many huckleberry bushes.
As soon as we wrapped up our hike, we drove Going to the Sun Road again to soak in the views for our last day. We stopped at Lake McDonald for a snack break and to wade in the water. Ethan and I even broke out our fly fishing gear again at Lake McDonald Creek, but no luck! After our bittersweet goodbye at GNP, we headed towards Whitefish for dinner. This night was so sweet; we ordered pizza and ate it along the city beach.
The drive from Flathead Lake to Bozeman had my attention the entire time; the views were stunning. We grabbed lunch in Bozeman at this hipster, vibey restaurant called “Jam!”
I actually was gearing up for a shoot later this evening, so we had a great excuse to drive around scouting locations (and fly fishing spots). Our accommodations for the night was at Hot Springs RV Park which we highly recommend. My shoot was just icing on the cake of our stay in Bozeman; it was so much fun adventuring around with such a sweet couple.
Like I said, we didn’t sleep much on this trip! We were up in the morning, ready for a day of fishing. Our first stop was Hyalite Reservoir. Even though we didn’t catch any at the reservoir, Hyalite Creek delivered!
The fatigue and exhaustion was so real at this point, but I had another couple’s session in Bozeman this night as well. Once the session had wrapped, Ethan and I hopped into the hot springs at our campground for some much needed relaxation.
It’s never easy to say goodbye to a place so near-and-dear to your heart, but we knew we would be back to Montana so soon. As for our accommodations for our night in Rapid City… I’d rather not find my way back there 😂 (ya can’t win ‘em all!) It was a whopping 90° so we didn’t get much sleep at all in our tent.
Up once again at 5:30 because of the heat, we were ready to book it home! We stopped to see Mt. Rushmore on our way, which is always a fun site to see.
I couldn’t have asked for a better trip with Ethan. Being able to travel for my job, capturing love stories along the way is seriously such a blessing. Ethan and I were so thankful for our health and safety along our trip, as well as the perfect weather and immaculate views. I can’t recommend a roadtrip from Minnesota to Montana enough. Even if you’re from somewhere else in the Midwest, a roadtrip is so incredibly worth it.
Thanks for tuning in to the latest edition of my series: Wander with Me: Minnesota to Montana Roadtrip Itinerary edition. For even more Montana content (like my favorite hikes, best Airbnbs, and MORE), CLICK HERE!✨ As always, keep up with my latest travels, elopements, and weddings on Instagram (@sydneybreannphoto). Are you ready to wander?
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