Have you ever imagined yourself wandering through the rugged wilderness of Montana without the hum of a car engine accompanying you?
Traveling around Big Sky Country without a car is a concept that might seem challenging at first, but is teeming with possibilities.
In this article, I’ll outline how you can navigate to and around some of Montana’s most celebrated landmarks, all while leaving your car keys behind.
You’ll find out how to set up your base in the charming town of Whitefish, experience the grandeur of Whitefish Mountain Resort, and discover the best ways to reach Glacier National Park with ease.
I’ll share with you my own experiences, from the thrill of a scenic chairlift ride to the charm of local shuttles, making your trip as smooth as the Montana plains.
Whether you’re an eco-conscious traveler, a lover of the great outdoors, or someone seeking a unique vacation experience, this guide is for you.
- Related article: Transportation in Montana
Are you ready to uncover the secrets of navigating Montana’s iconic landscapes without a car? Let’s begin.
7 Key Takeaways About Montana Without a Car
- Whitefish serves as an ideal starting point for exploring Montana’s natural beauty, accessible by Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, Greyhound bus, or flying into nearby Glacier Park International Airport. Lodging options are abundant near the transportation centers, and many offer shuttle services.
- Even without a car, visitors can enjoy Whitefish Mountain Resort’s scenic chairlifts or gondolas for stunning views. The S.N.O.W. bus shuttle provides free transportation between the resort and downtown Whitefish, where dining and cultural activities await.
- Various transportation options, including shuttle services from lodgings like Grouse Mountain Lodge and eastbound trains, make it easy for visitors staying in Whitefish to reach Glacier National Park without a car.
- The iconic Red Bus tours provide a comprehensive, guided exploration of Glacier National Park’s landmarks and scenery, with different routes catering to various interests.
- West Glacier Village offers a good range of things to see and do within walking distance, including dining, shopping, and easy access to Glacier National Park via the free Park Service Shuttle, making it a convenient and enjoyable base for visitors.
- Proximity to transportation hubs is a key benefit of lodging options in Whitefish, with many establishments like The Firebrand Hotel and The Pine Lodge offering comfort close to the action.
- Montana’s famous landmarks are surprisingly navigable without a car. You can tour Whitefish to Glacier National Park, you can also enjoy a diverse range of experiences, proving that the journey can be as rewarding as the destination itself.
Explore Montana Without a Car
Montana’s vast landscapes and majestic natural beauty can seem daunting to explore without a car.
Yet, I’ve discovered that with a bit of planning and some local insight, you can access some of the state’s most iconic landmarks on foot, by bike, or even on horseback.
Here’s how you can immerse yourself in Big Sky Country’s splendor, all without turning a key in the ignition.
1. Stay in Whitefish
Nestled at the edge of the Rocky Mountains, Whitefish, Montana, is your quintessential base camp for adventure and exploration without the need for a car.
Reaching Whitefish is a breeze with several transportation options at your disposal. For those of us who enjoy a more scenic and relaxed journey, Amtrak’s Empire Builder train is a top choice.
The daily service means you can catch the westbound train from major cities like Chicago or Minneapolis and step off in Whitefish by dusk, or hop on the eastbound train from the Pacific Northwest and greet Montana with the morning sun.
If you’re coming from farther afield or prefer a quicker trip, flying into Glacier Park International Airport is your ticket. Just a 10-minute ride from Whitefish, this is one of Montana’s flight connections that will be swapping your plane seats for mountain views in no time.
Several lodging options are available close to the Amtrak station. These include:
- The Firebrand Hotel
- Downtown Flat
- Garden Wall Inn
- Good Medicine Lodge
- Whitefish Hostel
Several lodges including The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, Grouse Mountain Lodge, Rocky Mountain Lodge, and Good Medicine Lodge have free shuttles for their guests to and from both the Amtrak station in Whitefish and Glacier Park International Airport.
The Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau shares this list of local taxi companies with us:
- Arrow Shuttle (406) 300-2301
- Glacier Charters (406) 892-3390
- Glacier Taxi (406) 250-3603
2. Experience Whitefish Mountain Resort
If you’ve just touched down at Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, you’re in luck. A 30-minute drive will take you to the picturesque Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Why should you go? Well, aside from the obvious allure of a mountain getaway, the resort offers scenic chairlift rides that are nothing short of magical.
You can book a ride that takes you up Big Mountain, giving you sweeping views of Flathead Valley and even glimpses of Glacier National Park.
The options are pretty neat too. You can choose between an open chairlift, perfect for those Instagram-worthy shots, or an enclosed gondola if you prefer a bit more comfort.
Once you reach the summit, the Summit House awaits with its dining and shopping options, making it a complete experience.
But let’s say you’re more interested in exploring downtown Whitefish without a car. No worries! The S.N.O.W. bus shuttle service is a free shuttle that takes you from the resort to downtown Whitefish.
So even if your Uber quest turns up empty, you still have a reliable way to get around.
Here’s a handy breakdown:
- How to Get There – Hail a ride from the airport to the resort, approximately 30 minutes.
- What to Do – Book a scenic chairlift ride, choose between an open chair or an enclosed gondola, and explore the Summit House.
- Extra Tip – If you’re keen on exploring downtown Whitefish, the S.N.O.W. bus is a free shuttle that’s got your back.
I remember my first chairlift ride at Whitefish Mountain Resort. The crisp mountain air, the awe-inspiring views — it was a moment of pure Montana magic.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or just someone who appreciates a good view, this experience is a must.
And the fact that you can seamlessly transition from summit to city with the S.N.O.W. bus? It’s just the cherry on top.
3. Explore Other Transport Options From Whitefish to Glacier
If you’re in Whitefish and looking for convenient ways to reach Glacier National Park, you’re in luck.
The Grouse Mountain Lodge has got you covered with their shuttle service to and from key locations like the airport, Amtrak station, and downtown Whitefish. It’s a hassle-free way to get to the park without worrying about parking or navigating unfamiliar roads.
I suggest hopping on an eastbound train from Whitefish to East Glacier for a more scenic route. This not only offers a unique travel experience but also gives you the chance to spend a night or two at the historic Glacier Park Lodge.
Now, let’s talk money. Entrance fees at Glacier National Park vary depending on the season, with winter rates generally being more pocket-friendly.
The mode of transportation also comes into play, with different fees for vehicles, motorcycles, and even foot or bicycle entry.
The standard entrance pass is around $20-$35. For details about fees to enter Glacier National Park, visit the National Park Service‘s official website.
4. Take the Red Bus Tour
When you are in Glacier National Park, you can take the Red Bus tour. The tours are led by seasoned park veterans who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with visitors.
The Red Bus tours depart from both the east and west sides of the park, with all tours being round trip and departing from and returning to the same location.
The buses seat 16 people, with 4 across on bench seating, and due to their historic nature, the seats are not designed to the same standards as modern buses. Visitors can contact Glacier National Park Lodges for more information and reservations.
On your trip, the Red Bus tour specifically the Big Sky Circle tour stops outside of Lake McDonald Lodge.
Then the bus will begin to drive up the Going-to-the-Sun Road where you will stop by a big point of interest which is Heaven’s Peak.
You’ll traverse a picturesque road flanked by mountain peaks before reaching Logan Pass. The visitor center provides park information, along with a nature trail for exploration.
Then finally you’ll arrive at Logan Pass, which provides breathtaking views of craggy mountain peaks, meadows bursting with wildflowers, and the park’s iconic Big Sky. You can also see some wildlife like birds and mountain goats.
After Logan Pass, the bus will head to Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier Hotel for the final stop.
The Red Bus Tours tend to sell out daily, so it’s advisable to make reservations in advance. The tours are led by seasoned park veterans who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with visitors.
Here are some of the other Red Bus Tour routes and stops:
- Big Sky Circle Tour – This Covers the entire park and includes stops at Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, and Many Glacier Hotel.
- Eastern Alpine Tour – This tour covers the eastern side of the park and includes stops at St. Mary Lake and Rising Sun Motor Inn.
- West Side Crown of the Continent Tour – This tour goes to the west side of the park and includes stops at Apgar Visitor Center and Lake McDonald Lodge.
- Many Glacier Crown of the Continent Tour – This tour covers the Many Glacier area and includes stops at Swiftcurrent Lake and Many Glacier Hotel.
- Huckleberry Mountain Tour – This covers the west side of the park and includes a stop at Huckleberry Mountain.
5. Take a Walk Around West Glacier Village
If you’re looking for a charming and convenient hub to explore Montana’s Glacier National Park, West Glacier Village is your answer.
The village itself is a delightful destination, offering a range of activities and amenities within walking distance.
- Dining Delights – From the West Glacier Café, serving up hearty breakfasts, to Freda’s Bar, where you can savor local brews, the village has your taste buds covered. I remember sitting on the patio of Freda’s, sipping a locally crafted IPA and watching the world go by.
- Shop Till You Drop – The West Glacier Gift Shop is a treasure trove of souvenirs, from T-shirts to handmade crafts. And if you need to stock up on supplies, the West Glacier Mercantile has you covered with groceries and refreshments.
- Gateway to Adventure – Beyond the village’s offerings, it’s a fantastic base camp for Glacier National Park. The Apgar Village is just a stone’s throw away, and you can hop on the free Park Service Shuttle from there. I found the shuttle to be a stress-free way to explore the park, with drop-offs at key trailheads and scenic spots.
West Glacier Village is more than just a pit stop; it’s a destination in its own right. Whether you’re fueling up for a day of hiking or winding down after a park adventure, this pedestrian-friendly gem has got you covered.
Montana Without a Car Final Thoughts
Whitefish serves as an ideal launchpad for your Montana adventure, especially if you’re looking to soak in the state’s natural splendor car-free.
Reaching Whitefish is a breeze with several transportation options at your disposal. One of the most scenic routes is aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder train.
If you’re coming by air, Glacier Park International Airport is just a short drive away, providing easy access to both the town and the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Upon arrival, you’ll find a selection of lodgings just a stone’s throw from the Amtrak station, many of which offer shuttle services for convenience.
For getting around Whitefish itself, local taxi companies and shuttle services are at your service. They make exploring the town’s eateries, galleries, and shops a stress-free experience.
The iconic Red Bus Tours are a must-do, with various routes and stops that unveil the park’s grandeur.
Don’t also overlook West Glacier Village, where you can indulge in fantastic dining, pick up unique souvenirs, and visit the Apgar Visitor Center to enrich your understanding of the park.
In essence, the notion of exploring Montana’s iconic landmarks without a private car isn’t just viable — it’s a journey that can be rich with discovery and ease.
Montana Without a Car FAQs
1. How Do People in Montana Get Around?
Transportation options vary depending on where you are in the state. In urban areas like Billings or Missoula, residents often use cars as the primary mode of transportation due to limited public transit.
Some cities have local bus services, but they might not cover extensive areas.
For longer distances within the state or to travel between cities, people commonly use personal vehicles, as the state has a vast network of roads and highways.
2. Can You Get Around Bozeman Montana Without a Car?
Yes, it’s possible to navigate Bozeman, Montana, without a car, especially within certain areas of the city. Bozeman offers some transportation alternatives:
- Streamline Bus Service
- Walking and Biking
- Ride-Sharing Services
3. Can You Travel to Montana Without a Car?
Absolutely, it’s entirely possible to travel to Montana without relying on a personal car. Several transportation options are available:
- Air Travel
- Amtrak Train
- Bus Services
4. Is Bozeman a Walkable City?
Bozeman’s downtown area is walkable, featuring pedestrian-friendly streets and a compact layout, ideal for easy foot travel.
Beyond downtown, Bozeman’s walkability diminishes. Suburban areas often have fewer sidewalks and more distance between destinations, limiting the practicality of walking for longer distances.
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