Favorite Ride: Melodic Montana

Montana motorcycle ride
Riding in Montana is big: big skies, big trees, big rivers and big fun. Photos by the author.

It’s with a nod to the late, great music show host Lawrence Welk that I start this ride spanning a couple of Montana’s scenic blue highways. The bandleader’s famously accented musical lead-in is doubly relevant for this trek. First, this ride will begin and end with music. Second, it will encompass rolling on Montana’s historic Highways 1 and 2. So, without further ado, “Ah one, an’ ah two….”

Montana motorcycle ride
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Rockin’ the Rivers and Rollin’ on Highway 2

While it is most certainly true that it’s “about the ride not the destination,” having something entertaining to do before and after a ride adds spice to the adventure. With that in mind, my trek starts at the Rockin’ the Rivers Music Festival near Three Forks, Montana. It is not an accident that I found this event in my ride planning as it sits directly on the first of the routes that attracted me to the area. So as I sit listening to the classic rock of the Grass Roots and then Tommy James and the Shondells, my mind wanders to Montana State Highway 2.

Montana motorcycle ride
The Grass Roots echo in the grasslands at the Rockin’ the Rivers Music Festival.

As I leave the festival, my ride on Highway 2 leads me almost immediately to the entrance of the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. While I decide not to do any spelunking, I stop long enough to read about the caverns and the fact that the Lewis and Clark expedition camped very close to the cave.

Rolling out of the park, the riding fun begins. The 20-mile stretch of Highway 2 that leads to my night’s lodging in Whitehall, Montana, is a great series of curves that follows the Little Pipestone Creek through an impressive river canyon. It is a nice precursor to what I will experience the rest of this ride.

Montana motorcycle ride
This ride is dotted with historical sites, many of which document the Lewis and Clark expedition.

After a night’s sleep, I gas up in Whitehall and head northwest on the remainder of Highway 2. I roll past farms and ranches through big, sweeping curves. As I continue north, the grasslands morph into high chaparral. The road tightens into some entertaining hairpins as I gain elevation into a pine forested stretch. This is clearly great three-season motorcycle country.

Montana motorcycle ride
The motorcycles in Montana are as diverse as the music.

Ultimately, this pine forest gives way to rich grasslands as I approach the historic mining town of Butte. Before grabbing lunch in a local diner, I ride through Butte’s well-preserved historic district. Amazingly, there are more than 10,000 miles of abandoned mine shafts and tunnels beneath the city. The wealth attained in those mines earned Butte the moniker “The Richest Hill on Earth.”

Montana motorcycle ride
Rivers like the Little Blackfoot make the area around Missoula a fly fishing paradise.

Carving Highway 1 to a Jam in Missoula

A short stretch on Interstate 90 after Butte leads me to the exit for Montana State Highway 1. Signs tell me that Highway 1 is also known as the Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Highway and it certainly lives up to that “scenic” designation.

The first thing that catches my eye as I head west on the highway is a huge smokestack in the distance. It turns out that smelter stack is the most notable landmark in the town of Anaconda. It also turns out that the town’s name is prophetic. After leaving Anaconda, the road begins to coil into a serpentine motorcycle playground.

Montana motorcycle ride
The road west of Anaconda clings resolutely to spectacular crimson canyon walls.

As I climb into the Anaconda-Pintler Mountain Range on Highway 1, I stop at several interesting historic sites. Montana does a great job of providing well-written and informative signage for its historic markers. Just as Lewis and Clark’s exploration is well-documented on the route, significant mining windfalls are also highlighted.

Montana motorcycle ride
The author does a bit of map study beside yet another interesting historical marker.

I stop beside the deep blue waters of Silver and Georgetown lakes, which spell the approximate midpoint of this ride on the scenic route. After the lakes, the road coils again as it passes through pines, grasslands and crimson canyons. It’s a very entertaining ride indeed, and the number of motorcycles I meet on the road indicates it is not a secret to riders.

Montana motorcycle ride
Blue waters and blue sky converge at Montana’s high-mountain Silver Lake.

The Pintler Veterans Memorial Scenic Highway ends at Interstate 90. However, I have found that it can pay off in spades to travel frontage roads rather than the nearby interstate. The long frontage road on this stretch of I-90 to Missoula is just such a find. The beautiful tree-lined Clark Fork River separates the interstate from the frontage road, making it seem worlds away. Like so many of the rivers in the area, the Clark Fork makes me think of Norman Maclean’s Montana-set literary masterpiece, “A River Runs Through It.”

Montana motorcycle ride
This frontage road is a nice alternative to riding on the interstate south of Missoula.

When the fun of the I-90 frontage roads ends, there is just a short stretch of the interstate that leads to Missoula. Like Butte, Missoula is a town worth an extended visit. The historic city has a bustling charm that is enhanced by the vibrancy infused by the University of Montana.

Montana motorcycle ride
Pearl Jam rocks the beautiful University of Montana football stadium in Missoula.

As I sit in the beautiful Montana Grizzly Stadium listening to Pearl Jam and watching the sun set on the rolling hills just past the stage, I can’t help but reflect on a great ride. To steal a few song titles from the band, the “Even Flow” of the ride certainly made me feel “Alive.” Or, as Mr. Welk might say, this Montana tour was “wunnerful, wunnerful.”

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