Picture Perfect Peddling: Exploring Montana’s Wild, Rustic Beauty by Bike

Picturesque mountain vistas and lush valleys combine to make Montana a perfect bicycle tourism destination.

With scenic mountain views, rustic ranches nestled in rolling green valleys, and long stretches of endless plains it’s no surprise that Montana draws bicycle tourists from across the U.S. every year. The state’s lush, vibrant landscapes, including Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, form a perfect backdrop to any cycling adventure, from beginner to advanced, and explain how Montana has become a mountain biking magnet. Montana’s bike-friendly communities are perfect for road cyclists looking to explore the state’s valleys, forests, lakes and towns up close.

A cowboy rides a horse in Montana
Montana’s scenic mountains and lush green valleys invite visitors. Source: John Kakuk.

In addition to distinctive ecosystems, glacial lakes and rugged mountains, Montana offers an extensive network of bicycle routes and trails. The state ranks 5th in the U.S. for per capita spending on cycling and pedestrians and boasts some of the most active residents in the U.S., with 20 per cent of residents cycling as their main transportation mode. The state’s pedestrian and bicycle safety plan encourages the further development of bicycle infrastructure as part of a larger strategy to improve the state’s economy and encourage healthy, active transportation for the state’s estimated 1,104,271 residents. Investing in cycling infrastructure is a good move for Big Sky Country. One study found that on-road bicycle tourists to Montana spent $76 per day and stayed in the state for about eight days, longer than other tourists. Off-road cyclists spent even more money during their trip, about $108 per day.

Cyclists take a break against a mountain backdrop
Bicycle tourists in Montana spent more money and stayed longer than other types of tourists.

Billings

Montana’s biggest metropolitan area offers a series of bicycle trails to explore through its bike trail app. The city has been improving bicycle infrastructure to make biking and walking safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike with the help of a dedicated local cycling community who actively fundraise and advocate for improved bike trails and more cycling amenities, such as bike racks. Established cycling events include the colorful Tour de Fleur, a spring-themed ride suitable for cyclists of all ages and abilities.

Yellowstone Country

A tourist takes a selfie at a Montana ranch
No trip to Montana is complete without a visit to a local ranch.

Montana’s Yellowstone Country, neighboring Yellowstone National Park, offers year-round cycling opportunities, with plenty of snow and off-road biking adventures. Ranches and resorts in this rustic valley region are a draw for peddle pushing tourists, enticing visitors to cycle the rugged mountain and back road trails. A section of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, runs through Montana, offering unique opportunities to view geothermal hot springs and geysers.

Glacier Country

A bighorn sheep in Glacier National Park
A bighorn sheep takes in the views at Glacier National Park.

Western Montana’s Glacier Country offers a diverse variety of bike trails, with something to tempt every cyclist, from advanced to beginner. Glacier Country of course includes Montana’s famous Glacier National Park, home to grizzly bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and a variety of other alpine wildlife. The parks’ Going to the Sun Road is a popular destination for cyclists and hikers alike, offering the rare opportunity to see a glacier from Jackson Glacier Overlook. Keep in mind when planning your trip that portions of the road are not paved and are sometimes closed due to adverse weather conditions.  

Whitefish

The welcoming mountain town of Whitefish offers well-built biking trails as part of the popular Whitefish Trail system. The town has become renowned mountain recreation with a focus on sustainability. The Whitefish bicycle route system is part of a planned 55 mile trail around Whitefish Lake, the result of a community project to create better public access and more recreational opportunities in the region’s beautiful and tranquil forest environment. A variety of bicycle trails will satisfy any cyclist, including gravel and mountain bike enthusiasts.

Other trails

A deer in the mountain state of Montana
The Red Rocks Lake trail takes you through the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, with opportunities to spot Trumpeter Swans, deer, moose, and elk. Source: Maddy Baker.

Montana’s portion of the TransAmerica trail passes through a series of unique communities and offers endless recreational opportunities along the way, including hiking and fishing stops.

Montana is also home to part of the famous Lewis and Clark bike trail, tracing the route of the first European explorers to the territory inhabited by Crows, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Assiniboine, and Gros Ventres, Pend d’Oreille, Kootenai and Salish peoples.

History buffs might also enjoy Montana’s Bitterroot trail which also includes a well-known Lewis and Clark campsite in addition to beautiful mountain views and a series of enchanting small towns and picnic spots to explore.

Those looking to explore the state’s wildlife might prefer the Red Rocks Lake trail, which takes you through the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, originally established to preserve the Trumpeter Swan from extinction, now home to a variety of birds, moose, elk, and pronghorns.

A bicycle at rest in Glacier National Park
Montana’s unending trails and room to explore are open to uncover! Source: Tom Woodgerd.

With bicycle tourism growing in significance, cyclist and pedestrian safety, including separated bike lanes, crash-rated or safety bollards, will be an increasingly urgent concern for state and local municipal government planners. More amenities for bicycle tourists, such as secure short-term bike parking and medium-term bike lockers, will also help consolidate Montana’s reputation as a bicycle tourist friendly destination.