From Billings Montana to the Idaho border Interstate 90 runs east to west for more than 450 miles across some of the best of Montana. While Interstate highways are designed for people to move quickly past an area, there are hikes and natural attractions that are close to, if not right on the Interstate that you can visit without taking much time.
These are some of the best places to stop that are on or close to the highway. I’m limiting this list to locations that are no more than 5 miles from an interstate exit. At most of these, you can leave the Interstate, visit and return in a half-hour or less.
Instead of stopping at another rest area, consider visiting one of these special places. The sites are listed here from east to west.
Pictograph Cave State Park
Located right on the edge of Billings, the Pictograph Cave State Park entrance is 5 miles from I90 Exit 452. The park features several large caves that were extensively utilized by the native people. In addition to a short hike to the caves, the park features a visitor center and lots of interpretive signing. There are flush toilets available.
You should probably plan an hour to leave the highway and make a very quick trip to the park.
Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park
Located right next to I 90 at Exit 377, this tiny state park is only 98 acres with only one attraction – Prairie Dogs! It’s less than 2 minutes from the exit to the parking lot where you can watch these delightful creatures scamper and play. The park sits right on I 90 and you will marvel at the display of nature right next to the road.
15 minutes might be all the time you need to budget for this stop. Unfortunately, there are no toilets so you might still need a rest area.
Chestnut Mountain Trail
Between Livingston, MT and Bozeman, MT I 90 crosses the mountains at the Bozeman Pass. Just off the Interstate, the Chestnut Mountain Trail provides access to the Custer Gallatin National Forest for hikers, bikers, and rock climbers. The trailhead is a few hundred yards from Exit 316. The trail climbs into the mountains and is a great place to take a quick hike to break up your driving.
You can easily spend a day hiking on the Chestnut Mountain Trail but you can turn around at any point so how long you stop here is completely up to you.
Madison Buffalo Jump State Park
I’m breaking my 5-mile rule for this one. The park is 7 miles from I 90 Exit 283. It makes such a great place to visit that it’s worth a few extra minutes. The park is located at the site of an ancient buffalo jump used for thousands of years. Interpretive signs explain the park and, if you have the time there is a trail to the top of the cliff. But don’t worry, you don’t need to hike to enjoy this park.
Madison Buffalo Jump State Park is open year-round from dawn to dusk. It has vault toilets but no other amenities.
Missouri River Headwaters State Park
The Missouri River travels more than 2,300 miles from Montana down to the Mississippi. The Missouri was the route Lewis & Clark followed as they made their “voyage of discovery” into the unexplored American west. The Missouri begins right here where three smaller rivers come together. Lewis & Clark exhibits, short nature hikes, interesting historical buildings, scenic vistas, and much more reward those who stop here.
Missouri River Headwaters State Park is less than 5 minutes from I 90 Exit 278. The park has vault toilets and you can spend as much time as you want exploring this park.
About 15 miles east of Butte, MT at Exit 241 Ringing Rocks is a fascinating place where ordinary-looking rocks produce the sound of a bell when struck by a hammer. You’ll find a large pile of boulders and rocks just waiting for you to pick up a hammer and make your own music. There is really nothing like this anywhere else and you’ll be glad you stopped.
Although Ringing Rocks is only 4 1/2 miles from I 90, it is on a rough road so your driving time will be longer than you might expect. However, the drive is well worth the effort.
Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area
20 miles west of Butte, MT Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area sits right on I 90 at Exit 201. It’s only a couple hundred yards from the off-ramp to a parking area with vault toilets. There are roads and trails throughout the area which is a birder’s delight. If you like to fish, the ponds are noted for quality fishing (make sure you have proper licenses!).
This stop is so close to the highway that it’s like a rustic rest area. It’s a great place to stretch your legs.