Skip to main content

US 93 in Montana: From the Flathead Valley to Missoula

In 2019, I had the occasion of visiting the scenic Flathead Valley in Montana twice, which involved taking US 93 between Whitefish and Missoula in bits and pieces. It is an incredibly scenic area, as you pass through the historic city of Kalispell, alongside Flathead Lake, through towns like Polson and down alongside the mountains to Missoula. For some, it is part of the drive to Glacier National Park. For others, it is a vital transportation link between the communities of western Montana. For me, it was a chance to check out some of the scenery in a place I don't get to visit much. It's about 135 miles between Whitefish and Missoula, but it's certainly a scenic 135 miles. It's also part of a much longer highway that runs from Arizona to Alberta, by way of Nevada, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia. Let's check it out, shall we...


Starting off in Whitefish, a scenic town with a lot of specialty shops, resorts and a historic train station that once served the Great Northern Railway. Today, Amtrak stops at the station in Whitefish as part of their Empire Builder route. I actually took the Empire Builder back east from Whitefish. There's only a few communities along US 93 between Whitefish and the Canadian border, about 60 miles north.






Between Whitefish and Kalispell, US 93 becomes a busy four lane road, as it is an economic lifeline for the Flathead Valley and the many tourists who stay in Kalispell for recreational activities such as skiing, boating, or visiting Glacier National Park. Travelers to Glacier National Park may use MT 40 as a shortcut to Columbia Falls and West Glacier.




Situated at the junction of US 2 and US 93, Kalispell is the heart of the Flathead Valley and the county seat of Flathead County. Kalispell has an old West flair to it, a bustling brewing industry and historic sites such as the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel and the Conrad Mansion. Travelers who choose to bypass downtown Kalispell can do so by taking US 93 Alternate around the west side of Kalispell.










Now that we've visited a couple of the towns along this stretch of US 93, let's start working our way south to Missoula. It's a good 120 miles from Kalispell. US 93 hugs the western shores of Flathead Lake fairly closely from the town of Somers (just south of Kalispell) to Polson. From there, US 93 makes a beeline south through the Flathead Reservation on its way to I-90, just northwest of Missoula proper.

Heading out of Kalipsell on US 93 southbound.

A long way from Missoula. MT 28 is part of the way to I-90 for westbound travelers to Idaho and Washington State.
Flathead Lake and some snow capped mountains in the background. Western Montana was the recipient of a lot of early season snow in late September 2019, and it had still lingered into early November.

The drive reminded me a bit of driving through the Adirondacks. The next few photos are along the stretch of US 93 southbound between Lakeside and MT 28, just before Big Arm.




Approaching the town of Big Arm, home of Big Arm State Park and a resort.
I thought that I'd stop and get a picture of Flathead Lake while I was in Big Arm. Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western United States of America, and the 79th largest freshwater lake in the world.

Big Arm, Montana.
Approaching Polson. Driving southbound, I found this to be one of the most incredible vistas on my drive.

So nice, I had to take a picture twice!

Rocky Point is a town

Crossing the Flathead River into Polson. You may notice that the sign is in two languages, English and Salish. The Salish language is used by the Pend d'Oreille and Salish tribes of the Flathead Reservation. You'll see more of this as we work our way south.

Oh, that view.
Charming Polson, Montana. The city was named for rancher David Polson and incorporated in 1910.

MT 35 follows the east shore of Flathead Lake between Kalispell and Polson. If I have a reason to come back to this area, I'll give a drive along MT 35 a try.

Starting to leave Polson.

Ascending Polson Hill. There is a really nice scenic overlook, but it was only accessible to northbound travelers.

Getting into some flat territory in the towns of Pablo and Ronan in the Flathead Reservation.

Entering Ronan. The mountain range in view are called the Mission Mountains.

Turning right onto Montana Secondary Highway 211 will take you around the Flathead Reservation.

Leaving Ronan, the next town we'll pass is St. Ignatius, home to the historic St. Ignatius Mission, which is a Roman Catholic church that offers tours and is noted for its original paintings from the 1890s by Brother Joseph Carignano.
Big Sky Country, indeed.

The Mission Mountains make the backdrop.

Approaching MT 200, a long highway stretching over 700 miles from North Dakota to Idaho. It could be scenic or desolate, depending on your point of view. This is part of a longer multi state Highway 200 that runs from US 2 just west of Duluth, Minnesota all the way into Washington State, which continues as WA 20 out to the Puget Sound.
US 93 and MT 200 have a play date all the way to I-90 in Missoula.


There's that Salish language sign again.

This is near Arlee, Montana, which is home to the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. I didn't know about this place before writing this blog, and like the St. Ignatius Mission further up the road, I didn't really have the time to stop and check that out.

Wilderness overpass.

Getting close to I-90 now.

US 93 and MT 200 join I-90. US 93 veers off a few miles to the east onto Reserve Road in Missoula. MT 200 lingers on and then ventures off on its own again just east of Missoula.


Sources and Links:
Explore Montana's Highway 93 - Northwest Travel and Life
Top 5 FIT Attractions - Montana's U.S. Highway 93 - Glacier County Montana
U.S. 93 Reaching for the Border - Federal Highway Administration
U.S. 93 - AARoads.com

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

US Route 199

I was planning on driving US Route 199 for the third time this weekend.  However "external factors" have pushed my visit to US Route 199 back for the time being.  While I can't do a driving log for US Route 199 at the moment I can still write about it's history.


This blog will be slightly different from the usual flair for Gribblenation.  Generally I have a stockpile of my own road photos from which to draw from.  In the case of US Route 199 I was far more focused on hiking photos during my first two visits in 2014 and 2016 than the actual highway.  At some point I will add a series of modern driving log photos but for the time being I will draw from numerous other sources to illustrate US Route 199.


Part 1; the History of US Route 199

Present US Route 199 is a 80.05 mile highway which connects US Route 101 in Crescent City of Del Norte, California northeast to Interstate 5 in Grants Pass of Josephine County, Oregon.  US Route 199 is one of the original US Routes and …

Trans-Sierra Highways; California State Route 108 over Sonora Pass

In the fall of 2016 and late summer of 2020 I took a series of drives over mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Both traps culminated by way of crossing over the Sierra Nevada Mountains westbound by way of the 9,624 foot Sonora Pass on California State Route 108.  
California State Route 108 ("CA 108") is a 99 mile east/west State Highway which originates at US Route 395 in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.  CA 108 crosses the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by way of the 9,624 foot Sonora Pass and terminates at CA 99 co-signed with CA 132 in downtown Modesto.  CA 108 has a 21 mile unconstructed segment which would extend it to Interstate 5 near Crow's Landing if completed.  
Part 1; the history of Sonora Pass and California State Route 108Much of the early history of Sonora Pass is described by way of two informational plaques at the actual Pass.  The first documented crossing of Sonora Pass was in October of 1841 by way of a course slightly due nor…

The Tioga Pass Road

Last Summer the Tioga Pass Road over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite National Park opened late due to the heavy snow pack from the previous winter.  Approaching the start of July the Park Service finally had cleared the road to Tioga Pass.  That being the case I headed up shortly after the 4th of July holiday during a lull in the tourist season.


The Tioga Pass Road runs from the Big Oak Flat Road at Crane Flat east to US Route 395 ("US 395").  The Tioga Pass Road is largely within the boundary of Yosemite National Park but is maintained by Caltrans as California State Route 120 ("CA 120") east of the Tioga Pass entry station to US 395.  The National Park Service maintained portion of the Tioga Pass Road serve as a implied connection between the two segments of CA 120.  The Tioga Pass Road is the highway mountain pass in California reaching Tioga Pass at 9,945 feet above sea level.



Part 1; the history of the Tioga Pass Road

Tioga Pass first obtained notewort…