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  1. #1

    Default Salt Lake City to Badlands via Montana

    Hi Fellow Roadtrip Lovers

    Firstly, thanks again to those of you who advised me on my trip last year. Your advice was invaluable and helped it be the great trip that it was. I spent 5 days in San Francisco, then flew to Las Vegas, hired a car and drove for 2 1/2 weeks, winding through southern Utah and norther Arizona into Colorado via the NW corner of New Mexico, through Colorado to SE Wyoming. Most of the time was spent in Colorado. Then flew to NYC for a few days, then to Scotland for 2 weeks in the Highlands. The main focus was scenery, flyfishing and hiking/hillwalking/scrambling. A particularly long holiday, due to accrued leave.

    I loved the SW and Rockies (and SF and NYC), and am now planning another trip, mainly through Montana. This year I'll only have a total of 2 1/2 weeks' leave. I'll fly straight to the Rocky Mts area, probsably via L.A. (origin: Australia). The trip is only in the initial planning stages. It will start most likely in June, but I may have to bring my leave forward to May due to work constraints (I'll know in a week from now); in the event of the latter eventuating, my apologies for putting this on the Summer Trip Planning forum, as it'll still be spring!

    My initial thoughts were to hire a car in Salt Lake City and travel to Bozeman and Helena in Montana, via Idaho Springs. I'll flyfish and hike a bit, then drive via the Custer Monument to the Badlands, then across to Yellowstone and back to Salt Lake City. I know it's beautiful just east and south of Yellowstone in Wyoming, so will linger there a bit.

    Accommodation will be a mix of hotels and camping.

    I enjoy driving fairly long distances (up to 350 miles) every few days, then stopping to enjoy a spot for a few days.

    My questions are:

    1. Should I not consider driving this far north if the timing of the trip is during the month of May?
    2. What recommendations might forum members make for places to visit (scenically or accommodation-wise) or particular routes to take between these destinations?
    3. Am I being too ambitious planning such a trip for a 2 1/2 week timeframe?
    4. Any other suggestions stemming from experience driving through these areas?

    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 03-22-2012 at 04:37 AM. Reason: Added link to previous trip.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Can be a great time.

    Hello and welcome back, good to hear you had a great trip !

    You are most likely looking at a trip of over 2000 miles with a few add on's, so it's perfectly doable with regards to the time you have available. Spring can come late to higher elevations in the North and like weather everywhere, it's totally unpredictable. I think late May into early June could be a wonderful time to visit, but not without the risk of seeing some winter weather. With a relatively short tourist season, it can get quite busy and personally, I would sooner face the elements than the crowds !! You just need to be prepared and pack layered clothing and keep up to date with conditions etc. Lifes more about learning to dance in the rain than shelter from the storm. lol

    You can dig around the NPS site for Yellowstone to get an idea of what to expect there. You should spend time in the Tetons as part of your Yellowstone visit and there is Mt Rushmore, Wind Cave NP, Crazy Horse memorial [under construction] Devils Tower to name a few.

    You could create a wider loop and go to Yellowstone from Helena and head back to SLC from Custer State park via Rawlins and Flaming Gorge Res.

  3. #3


    Thanks for that information, Dave.

    I'll check out the places you recommend, and will no doubt roll some of them into the trip, as I did with your suggestions last year.

    I feel the same about crowds, so an early trip to Yellowstone could be good.

    Thanks also for linking my post from last year to this one!


  4. #4

    Default Fishing the run-off

    Hi Steve,

    Depending on how the snowpack develops between the present and early May, and likewise how the overall temps warm up in the same timeframe, you may find Montana streams largely un-fishable in mid to late May. Last year's record snowpack run-off had the rivers and streams up so much and for so long that many weren't fishable until well into July. The early part of this winter featured little snow, but for the last month to 5 weeks, the UT-ID-MT-WA mountains have been hammered.

    You may wish to consider the rivers of far southwest MT if fishing and out-of-the way smaller towns are appealing. Within about a 50 mile radius of Dillon, MT are the Big Hole River, the Wise River, the Beaverhead River (the famed Poindexter Slough is on the outskirts of Dillon on the Beaverhead), the Ruby River, and the Madison River flowing out of West Yellowstone.

    In July 2011, we found snow blocking County and Forest Service roads generally above 8,500' on any north-facing slope. July 2010 was similar, but the snow was encountered around 9,000' then. In May, you're liable to find some passes still closed, and that would likely include the entire Beartooth Highway (Red Lodge, MT to Yellowstone's Northeast Entrance). The Beartooth is well worth a drive but it opens, on average, only at Memorial Day weekend, the last full weekend in May in the States.


  5. #5


    Hi Foy

    Really appreciate your advice regarding fishing and road access.

    Are you saying that the rivers in SW Montana are less likely to be affected by snowmelt than the others further north? If so, I'll definitely fish them. Small towns are OK by me - I come from one of them (in Australia, that is)!

    I experienced the high rivers last year, with the Animas, Arkansas and Big Thompson roaring like thunder. I had a little bit of success in pocket water on the Big Thompson, but the best fishing I had was behind a log jam in the river (name?) that runs beside Highway 82 (Independence Pass - Twin Lakes to Aspen).

    With the recent heavy snow you mention, road access is likely to be a constraint - I'll factor that into the plan. Many places in Colorado and SE Wyoming were very wintry looking when I was there last year, especially the higher parts of Snowy Range, but at least all the roads were open. This year I'll be in the USA 4-6 weeks earlier, and futher north as well, so will have to plan carefully to avoid closed roads.

    Great advice, Foy - thanks again.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia


    As mentioned above, the Beartooth Highway and Pass is a spectacular drive. In 2009 I was fortunate to drive it before Memorial Day weekend. It had just opened. But it is by no means a given. Check it out when you get there. And Yellowstone in May is a gem to behold. So much wildlife, with their new off-spring. Absolutely amazing.

    If you like the area east of Yellowstone, you may also like the Big Horn Mountains and Canyon, particularly when you take Alt 14 (rather than 14).

    One thing you will need to note is the Memorial Day weekend already mentioned. This can be, and often is a very busy weekend and it may pay to book accommodation in advance.

    Great to hear your last trip went well... but we did not get to read a report, nor see any pictures. We do so love to read how things worked out and about the things you did and see the places you went. There is a special forum for roadtrippers to record everything.


  7. #7


    Hi Lifey

    In light of what you and Foy say, I will definitely include the Beartooth Highway if it is open at the time, which sounds likely if my trip happens in June, but not if it has to be May. From your description, I'd also love to see Yellowstone in May, which would compensate for not being able to drive the Beartooth Highway.

    I'll look into the Big Horn Mountains and Canyon - thanks for the tip. Good advice on the Memorial Day Weekend - I wasn't aware of that, and knowing it now, I will plan accordingly!

    I'll certainly try to find the time to post details and photos of last year's trip.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Go to and load up the Yellowstone site. Projected opening days for facilities and roads will be posted.

  9. #9

    Default Run-off, road access


    There are a variety of websites where the snowpack is recorded and compared to prior years. While the Northwest has in fact been hammered of late, now it's getting pretty warm, and it's early for it to be getting warm. The US Geological Survey, a Federal agency, has a vast network of stream gauges which measure flow rates, generally in cubic feet per second (CFS) and these data are regularly uploaded and are available online. The recreational fishing forums are then often the places to go to observe discussions on, for example, how the Beaverhead River fishes at 2,000 cfs as measured on the Poindexter Slough gauge. All of that said, I really don't have any direct knowledge of May fishing out there and can't say the southwest MT streams are any more or less affected by the runoff.

    From about Wisdom, MT on downstream, and certainly by the town of Wise River, the Big Hole River is big water and is fished mostly from guides' rafts or dories. The Wise River (the stream, not the town), is paralleled by the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway for all of its length, and the Byway doesn't reach high elevations until the divide between the Wise River drainage and the Grasshopper Creek drainage. I imagine, then, it's open and available to use for stream access for most of its length. It's within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and the Wise River Ranger District office would be a good point of contact for road conditions and even possibly for water flow advice. Virtually all of the Wise River is within the NF lands, so it's completely public.

    I-15 parallels the Beaverhead from Clark Canyon Reservoir down to Dillon and there are a number of public access points. To the best of my knowledge, the Beaverhead is fished mostly by floaters above Dillon, but there are a number of walk-in (short distance) access points within the backwater areas of Poindexter Slough. There are good fly shops in Dillon for up to the minute advice, supplies, and a guide if you're so inclined.

    I expect the Dillon shops would have the inside story on the Ruby River, too. The Ruby runs through private ranch country above Virginia City. Access from the road is good, and I'm told asking permission to fish on private ranch land and getting it are normally easy. Just drive up to the ranch house, hat in hand, and ask if you can fish. We normally tell the rancher we're catch-and-release only, but we'd be happy to bring them some legal sized fish if they'd like. They'll often accept that and seem to appreciate the offer.

    All in all, I think May is likely to present challenging conditions. I don't hear/read much about people working the waters then, likely because access can be difficult.


  10. #10


    We went back to Yellowstone and Grand Teton in mid-June last summer, and it was simply amazing - very different from August of the previous year. You'll see a lot of baby wildlife, and some snow. And fewer people than in August. We tent-camped, but it was an adventure that involved shoveling out our campsite at Yellowstone (Canyon campground) from under 2-3 feet of snow. It was chilly during the day, and downright cold at night. The snow might not be as bad this year, but just a warning that if you decide to camp, come prepared for snow! The rivers were certainly roaring. I don't fish, but it was definitely a sight to see! And, as others have mentioned, if it's open, the Beartooth Hwy is spectacular. The drive between Yellowstone and Cody is also very beautiful, and it follows a river (whose name has escaped me) most, if not all, of the way.

    I forgot to add that one of the oddest and most amazing things we saw in Yellowstone last June was Lake Yellowstone. There were small ice chips washing up onshore from the lake. It made a tinkling sound as the chips hit each other every time a small wave came on to shore. I'll try to remember to upload a picture of this. Being from an area of the country where lakes don't normally freeze, I'd never seen anything like this before.

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