Montana is famous for its sweeping fields, forests and valleys, dramatic peaks, and of course, that incredible big sky! Even a short road trip on one of the state’s smaller highways is a terrific way to truly get a feel for the land and its size, scope, vastness, and beauty.
State Highway 200 is just such a stretch. Much of it, from Missoula eastward, follows the gorgeous Blackfoot River as it meanders across the land. A mini road trip along the highway provides a terrific opportunity to see Montana in all its majesty — up close and very personal.
Note: Nissan hosted me in Montana, and I was thrilled to be able to explore the Last Best Place while test-driving their new 2022 Pathfinder. All opinions are my own.
Here are a few key impressions from the road, and things you might want to keep in mind should you decide to make a similar sightseeing trek!
A River So Iconic It Inspired Hollywood
You can’t help but be blown away by the Blackfoot, and for good reason. After all, this is the river that inspired writer Norman Maclean to pen the semi-autobiographical novella A River Run Through It, which became the movie that further launched a young Brad Pitt’s career. There are pull-off lanes along Highway 200 for folks to stop and safely snap photos or selfies at the many scenic overlooks and views of the river. They certainly came in handy; the backdrop just doesn’t get any more gorgeous than this!
Depending on when you visit, you might spy people navigating the river in canoes, kayaks, or even tubes. The water is snow- and spring-fed, and cool in the summer. And if you’ve got time, plan a picnic stop; there are plenty of perfect spots along the river where you can enjoy a leisurely meal.
It’s An A+ For Anglers
This particular section of the Blackfoot River is a favorite for local and visiting anglers alike. It’s teeming with trout — both rainbow and brown— which makes it the perfect place to fly-fish. There are public access points all along Highway 200, so bring your waders, gear, and license (a must!) to try your luck.
The Scenery Is Stunning
The Blackfoot River Valley is actually situated in the northern reaches of the Rocky Mountains. While the peaks here aren’t the majestic 14,000-foot mountains you’ll find further south, they are still impressive, and many are tall enough to stay snow-capped well into the spring. The Highway 200 route from Missoula to Lincoln will also take you past the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, a vast swath of pristine land where neither roads nor motorized vehicles are permitted. The vistas in the valley are just stunning, with nothing obstructed or spoiled by development or sprawl.
You Might Spot Memorable Residents
With its sparse population and wide-open spaces, the landscape along Highway 200 in Montana is full of wildlife. It’s not uncommon to spot bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and even moose in this part of the state. If you’re not driving and just along for the ride, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of animals.
One was hard to miss during my adventure, even though I was behind the wheel: a bald eagle swooped right down — low! — over the highway, headed to a stand of trees near the river. It was an incredible sight, and one I won’t soon forget.
You’ll Find Peace… And Quiet!
There are times on Highway 200 you might find yourself thinking you’re the only one out there. This area of Montana is rugged and stunning, but also a bit desolate and lonely, with just a few very small towns along the highway. If you’re looking to unplug, relax, and have a brief reset during an otherwise busy vacation, a half-day road trip along the Blackfoot River might be just the ticket!
What I Was Driving
The 2022 Pathfinder is a fantastic vehicle that could truly handle anything I threw at it — or in it! Its new redesign resulted in plenty of space to stash my essentials: water bottle, chapstick, purse, and snacks. Plus, there was lots of room for passengers if I had been traveling with a crew. Second-row captain seats easily fold up with the flip of a switch (even with a child seat buckled in!) for folks getting into the third row, or what we call “the way back.”
There’s a ton of cargo space, and the Pathfinder performed well during my drive: in altitude, during off-roading, on winding roads, and even through a touch of sleet. The Pathfinder even has a tow capacity of up to 6,000 pounds for boats, trailers, or light campers. Perhaps best of all: Despite its size and space, I didn’t feel as if I was driving a Mack truck. I really enjoyed really getting to know the region’s rugged beauty in the newly designed SUV.