Montana is a long way from just about anywhere, and once you get there, it’s a long way between stops. Although Montana has fine airline and bus service, and Amtrak’s Empire Builder rolls along Montana’s 550-mile border with Canada, the best way to visit the state is with your own vehicle. With so much territory to move around in, you’ll want to wander freely.
There are no international airports in Montana with direct service to foreign destinations, except for regional flights to Alberta. The closest international airports are Seattle in the west, Denver and Salt Lake City to the south, Minneapolis to the east, and Calgary to the north. Billings is the major air hub in Montana and is served by most major western airlines. Missoula, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Kalispell, and Great Falls are also served by major carriers.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which travels daily between Chicago and Seattle and Portland, provides rail service to extreme northern Montana. Unfortunately, most of Montana’s population and many of its popular tourist destinations are farther to the south (with the exception of Glacier National Park). Public transport linking these northern-tier cities to the rest of the state is sketchy, partly because Amtrak has trouble keeping its trains close to their schedule. If you are dependent on public transportation or rental cars, make sure that your Amtrak destination at least offers bus service to other parts of Montana or has vehicles for rent.
Greyhound buses (800/231-2222) travel along the interstate system, linking Montana to other regional centers. Buses travel east and west along I-90 and I-94, linking Chicago and Minneapolis to Portland and Seattle. One bus daily travels north and south between Billings and Denver. There is no longer bus service between Salt Lake City and Butte.
Montana’s most traveled roads cross the state east to west. It’s no coincidence that these roads parallel early explorer routes; then as now, most travelers come to Montana to get across it as expeditiously as possible. The I-94/I-90 corridor follows the Yellowstone and Clark Fork Rivers and is the most perfunctory route across the state. Dawdlers will prefer to cross the state along more northerly routes. Highway 12 follows the old Milwaukee Road line across central Montana; Highway 2 parallels the Canadian border on Montana’s Hi-Line along the old Great Northern rail line. Highway 200 connects the dots between the two. The only major highway cutting north to south is I-15, which links Canada with Great Falls, Helena, and Butte, and extends to Salt Lake City.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition