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A Guide to The Yaak River Scenic Drive   

The Yaak River Scenic Drive offers Montana visitors a glimpse into the wilds of the State. This 29-mile drive passes through some of the most remote parts of Montana.

Along this drive, you’ll see the State as it was before the times of logging and mining.

The Yaak River Scenic Drive – A Guide

If you are interested in traveling the Yaak River Scenic Drive, we’ve put together all of the information that you’ll need to know to enjoy one of the most beautiful routes in Montana.

yaak river scenic drive info
Image: Troy Smith

Where is the Yaak River Scenic Drive?

The Yaak River Scenic Drive is located in the northwestern part of Montana. This area of Montana is one of the most remote and is seldom visited by visitors to Montana. The word Yaak is a Native American word that means “arrow”. The shape of the bow is formed by the Kootenai River while the arrow in the bow is made by the Yaak River.

The Yaak River Valley is one of the last remaining wild areas of Montana. This densely forested landscape has minimal roads, and very few towns and hamlets for visitors to stop at. The area has long been used for salvage logging, which is one of the economic bases for the small communities within the Yaak River Valley.

The Yaak River Scenic drive follows the Yaak River through the Yaak Valley. The road wanders through some of the most beautiful and rugged parts of Montana.

The drive starts just north of the town of Troy and follows Montana Highway 508. The scenic drive ends at the small hamlet of Yaak. From here Highway 508 continues to Libby, MT or you can turn around and return to Troy.

How Long Does It Take to Drive the Yaak River Scenic Drive?

how long yaak river drive

While the Yaak River Scenic Drive is only 29 miles long, for the explorer, this scenic drive can provide hours of adventure.

If you start your drive at the junction of Highway 2 and Highway 508, the Yaak River Scenic Drive will take you 40 minutes of drive time. Road speeds on this highway are slower due to the twists and turns of the valley.

Many visitors to this scenic drive actually take much longer than 40 minutes to complete the drive to the town of Yaak. There are plenty of places to pull off the highway and enjoy the views of the Yaak River Valley.

The Yaak River Scenic Drive can be turned into a loop for those that want to experience even more of the remote northwest part of Montana.

The full loop using Highway 2 and Montana Highway 508 will take approximately two and a quarter hours.

When is the Yaak River Scenic Drive Open?

The Yaak River Scenic Drive is accessible all year. As Montana Highway 508 is the only access road to the hamlet of Yaak, it is kept open as best as possible throughout the year.

The best time to enjoy the Yaak River Scenic Drive is during the warmer parts of the spring, summer, and fall. This time of year allows you consistent access to the Yaak River Scenic Drive, without the worry of closures due to snow or ice.

In the winter, Highway 508 may close periodically due to heavy snow, and impassable road conditions. While this part of Montana is exceptionally beautiful during the winter, visitors that are not experienced with driving on snow-packed or icy roads should not travel the Yaak River Scenic Drive.

Is It Safe to Drive the Yaak River Scenic Drive?

is safe to drive the yaak river

For the most part, the Yaak River Scenic Drive is safe to travel. Highway 508 is a paved route and is maintained by the Montana Department of Transportation.

There are a few considerations that you need to keep in mind while driving this route to improve your safety and make the drive more enjoyable. 

Weather Conditions

Weather can rapidly change in the northwestern part of Montana. In the Yaak River Valley, and along the Yaak River Scenic Drive, the weather is the one thing that can make driving this route precarious.

During the winter, this road may frequently have packed snow or ice on the road. These conditions can make driving the Yaak River Scenic Drive a bit challenging.

During the warmer months, rain can create slick conditions on the road. Rockslides from heavy rains are also possible through the valley.

If you’re driving the Yaak River Scenic Drive during a rain event, it is a wise idea to slow your driving speed and watch for falling rocks.

Wildlife

The remoteness of the Yaak River Valley and the northwest portion of Montana makes for ideal wildlife habitat.

Deer, elk, moose, and bears are frequently seen in this area. During dusk and dawn when these animals are most active, you’ll need to be prepared to stop for animals on the highway.

Wildlife on the road or crossing in front of cars is a frequent occurrence on the Yaak River Scenic Drive.

Slower Traffic

During the warmer months, this road is fairly popular with tourists that are looking to get away from the busier parts of the state.

The draw to the Yaak River Scenic Drive is the views of the lush valley with dense forests and the beautiful river. Many people drive much slower than the posted 70 MPH speed limit.

Watch for slower traffic when you’re driving this route to avoid an accident. If you are the slower traffic, make sure you are aware of vehicles traveling behind you, and pull off the highway when possible, to avoid being a safety hazard on the road.

Winding Road

The Yaak River Scenic Drive follows the path of the Yaak River fairly closely. The road does wind and has some twists and turns which can be tricky if you are traveling too fast.

Traveling at the speed limit is the easiest way to avoid safety issues while on the Yaak River Scenic Drive.

What are the Highlights of the Yaak River Scenic Drive?

highlights on the yaak river
Image: U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region

While you are driving the Yaak River Scenic Drive there are some great features that you’ll want to take a bit of time to enjoy. There are plenty of places along the road to pull off and take pictures or just enjoy the view.

Yaak River

The Yaak River is the main attraction on this scenic drive. The Highway follows the path of the river fairly closely, and for most of the drive, the river is visible from your car.

There are places along the highway where you can pull off and experience the river up close.

The Yaak River is well known for its Class III to V rapids, making this a popular river for whitewater rafting and kayaking. This also means that the river is quite powerful. There are spots where wading is possible, but swimming in the river is not recommended.

The river flows at its peak during the spring snow melt, making the river an impressive site in the valley.

Yaak Falls

The most popular highlight on the Yaak River Scenic Drive is Yaak Falls. This dramatic waterfall is located approximately 6.5 miles from the start of the drive off US Highway 2. Just before reaching the falls, there is a turn-off to the Yaak Falls Campground.

This is a good spot to turn off to get a closer look at the falls. From the campground, there is a nice trail that leads to the base of the falls.

If you’re not excited about taking a hike, there is a good-sized pull-out at the falls where you can park your car and experience the falls from the road. The falls are quite obvious and can be seen from the Highway.

Yaak Valley Views

As you pass Yaak Falls, the valley opens up a bit, and you’ll have more panoramic views of the valley.

While the mountains that surround the Yaak Valley are not as dramatic or rugged looking as other mountains in Montana, they do rise sharply from the valley making for an impressive view as you drive the road.

Kootenai River

Just north of the Town of Troy, the Yaak River joins the Kootenai River. The Kootenai River travels south from Canada through northwest Montana, then back into Canada.

This beautiful river passes through the communities of Troy and Libby. The river is popular for recreational activities including rafting, kayaking, and fishing.

What is the Yaak River Scenic Drive Driving Route?

The Yaak River Scenic Drive starts at the junction of US Highway 2 and Montana Highway 508 just north of Troy, MT. From this point, the road travels north, with a noticeable accent into the mountains.

Along this part of the drive, you’ll notice many signs indicating access points to view Yaak Falls.

Once you pass Yaak Falls, the road levels out and you’ll follow the Yaak River through the forest and occasional meadows. There are plenty of pullouts along the drive for those who wish to enjoy the views.

The official scenic drive route ends 29 miles north of the Highway 2 junction at the tiny hamlet of Yaak. From this point, you can either turn around and return to Highway 2 the same way you came, or you can continue on Highway 508.

Continuing on Highway 508 will lead you to the town of Libby on Highway 2, south of Troy. From here you can either return to Troy or travel on from Libby.

The Highway 508 loop is one way that you can make this drive a loop. There are other possible loops that take you deeper into the Kootenai National Forest and lead to Lake Koocanusa, the Kootenai Scenic Drive, and back to Libby.

Is the Yaak River Scenic Drive Worth Visiting?

While this scenic drive is a bit off the normal tourist routes, it is one of the most spectacular drives in Montana. Much of Montana is now developed and there are few places in the state that aren’t accessible by roads.

The Yaak River Scenic Drive allows you to view the lush forests of the state and experience a nearly pristine environment that hasn’t existed for nearly 200 years in the rest of Montana.

This drive is definitely worth the detour from normal tourist spots.

Final Thoughts on The Yaak River Scenic Drive

yaak river outside
Image: Jeff Durbin

Though the Yaak River Scenic Drive is outside of the normal tourist areas in Montana, it offers a unique experience for visitors. This beautiful drive, located in the northwest corner of the state, takes you from Troy, MT to a place where Montana looks like it did in days gone past.

The Yaak River Scenic Drive is a short 29-mile route that is a not-to-be-missed drive and is well worth the 40-minute detour. With beautiful views and an amazing waterfall, this scenic drive is the perfect Montana experience.

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