Carolina: Cruising Past 70: TRAVEL AWAITS: My 7 Favorite Stops From California To Montana On I-15

Friday, July 1, 2022

TRAVEL AWAITS: My 7 Favorite Stops From California To Montana On I-15


The full article first appeared in Travel Awaits.

Most people want to take backroads because they are more scenic. They say freeways are boring being the most direct routes, even bypassing landmarks we may want to see. They are constructed for the sake of speed and efficiency. They are the shortest practical distance between two points.  I-15, however, is not like that.

Whoever designed this freeway may have been thinking of me. I often visit family in California and from there go on to visit a daughter in Canada. I-15 traces that route, crossing the border at Sweet Grass, Montana. This route is such an endearing 20-hour route, driving three days. If you add a day or two, it will give you bucket list items to tick off. Here are your great options for stops.  

Las Vegas, Nevada

If you are one of the few who has been to Las Vegas, this is the no-brainer first stop, only five hours from Los Angeles or six hours from San Diego. Have a great lunch at one of the inexpensive buffet options combined with a comfortable overnight stay using one of the many promos always available in Sin City. You can even try your luck at the penny machines before dinner. And roam The Strip, experience
High Roller, or see a new show after dinner.

If you have a full day to spare, you can explore the awesome Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead recreational area. If you have been there, opt for the natural side of Vegas: Red Rock Canyon (20 minutes from the Strip), Valley of Fire (45 minutes), and Mt. Charleston (45 minutes). They are near each other so do them all in one day; have lunch at Mt. Charleston.

Salt Lake City, Utah

The logical next stop is Salt Lake City, only five and a half hours from Las Vegas. Touring
Temple Square, including the Tabernacle and Mormon Temple, is the best use of your time. There is a massive renovation going on so some of the buildings may not be open. Ask if the Tabernacle Choir rehearsals are already open to the public. It is very relaxing to visit the lovely hallowed grounds and admire the architecture of the buildings, especially in spring and early summer. Great restaurants surround the area, too.

There are some wonderful day trips from the city if you can add a day or two. Go up the mountains and visit Snowbird, Utah if it is summer. If not, stay down in the valley and tour Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. There is a lot to see on the island and so many opportunities to photograph wildlife.   

Helena, Montana

Seven hours from Salt Lake City is the third stop, Helena, Montana, the state capital (population, 31,000, only three hours from the Sweet Grass at the Canadian border (Calgary is just three and a half hours from there). Dine at one of the good restaurants at the Last Chance Gulch Walking Mall, right in the heart of downtown Helena. We were unlucky that Lucca’s, the best Italian restaurant, was fully booked. Walk the mall after dinner; it’s lighted just like San Diego's Gas Lamp district. There are many pieces of art but the best the Bullwhacker Statue As written on the statue: "Driven by noise, the oxen responded to the crack of the whip over their heads and the constant curses of the bullwhacker."

Idaho Falls or Lava Hot Springs, Idaho

On the way back, you don’t have to stop at these same three places. I-15 gives you many options. My suggestion is that you consider Idaho Falls, Idaho, six hours and forty-five minutes from the Sweet Grass border. You may want to pay a visit to the Idaho Potato Museum to find out why Idaho potatoes are the best.

Otherwise, go farther to Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, two more hours away, and stay the night if you have a day to spare. I have previously written about it in
this Travel Awaits article. The town of 500 has numerous hot springs that are great for bathing and a mildly turbulent river perfect for tubing. Lots of large yellow tubes, so radiantly bright run all over town for a bright sight.

St. George or Cedar City, Utah

If you are coming from Lava Hot Springs, your next stop can be St. George, Utah,  six hours and 15 minutes away. It is like Sedona, Arizona, with beautiful red rocks surrounding it. It is the closest town to the hoo-doo wonderland of Bryce Canyon National Park and the adventure hiking trails of Zion National Park

If you are coming from Idaho Falls, Cedar City, Utah is the other option, just six and a half hours away. Cedar Breaks National Monument is 30 minutes from downtown. It may be smaller than Bryce Canyon National Park, but the hoodoos were much bigger. Actually, we go back to this area in July this year! We want to explore the city and its Shakespeare Theater, the Festival Grounds, and the Mormon Temple on a hillside.

From St. George, it’s only six hours and 45 minutes to Santa Monica. From Cedar City, it’s seven hours and 15 minutes. Both are doable drives so there is no need to stop in Las Vegas unless you haven’t gotten enough of it. I know, a great buffet lunch and a restful, comfy sleep overnight are hard to resist, especially if they are both inexpensive!

And there you are! There is a real smorgasbord of options for stops on a drive from California to Montana or back all on I-15. In summer, it makes so much sense to go from the sizzling to the cool climes. And the reverse is true in winter!



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  1. Once again, a very well written article about those stops. Your writing makes me want to go back!

  2. I would probably just do that as a one-way adventure, I have only traveled a part of the way on I-15, that would be interesting to do it all the way to Montana up to Helena and beyond. I need to travel through the northwestern parts of these states again some day, such amazing landscape and country.

  3. I've never been to Utah, Montana or Idaho when visiting the US, so these would be my first choices. The hot springs has my name on it!

  4. I love road trips and I often take a direct route. It is the best way to traverse great expanses of road to make the most of your time and spend more time at each stop.

  5. I would love to do a road trip around the US. California to Montana seems to have plenty of interesting stops along the way. Las Vegas would be a must, I've always said that on my first trip to the states I will add it to my itinerary. Helena sounds like an interesting stop as well, a much quieter break after Las Vegas.

  6. You had great stops during your road trip from California to Montana on I-15. I was many times in Utah but had no chance to visit Salt Lake City so far. There are so many things to do that I would love to see it. Also, Helena, Montana, seems pretty exciting.

  7. I must admit that we do often stay off the interstate highways on our road trips. So great to know that we should plan to take I-15 for some great sights along the way. We would definitely plan some longer stops in Montana and Idaho since we have not spent any time in these states.

  8. These are great road trip stop options California to Montana on I-15. I would enjoy the Idaho potato museum. Lava Hot Springs, Idaho sounds like a great weekend getaway to relax and rejuvenate (also needed on a long drive). A few day stopover in Cedar City to visit Bryce and Zion is time well spent too.

  9. I love road trips and I have been thinking of doing a roadtrip starting at Vegas. I would love to see some of the sights outside of Vegas (I've already done the Hoover Dam), but I'd love to visit the Grand Canyon and then onto Utah for some fabulous hiking.

  10. I would love this route and though I haven't done it specifically I have visited several of these places. I love Vegas and despite visiting a few times, I would visit again. Salt Lake too is a great city and I loved visiting the mountains there. I would like to visit Helena and Lava Hot Springs too and I love the area around St George, though I might want to make a few stops in between rather than a nearly 7 hour drive after. A beautiful route though with lots to see and do.

    1. Yes and since we do this every year, it has been a good trip every time.

  11. What a road trip this would be! Utah and Montana have always been on my radar for its beautiful landscape and mountains. Thanks for the inspiration.

  12. These are some of my favorite places too. Love the idea of visiting Idaho Falls of Lava Hot Springs. Will take your advise and visit the Idaho Potato Museum too. :)

  13. These road trip stops from California to Montana are so exciting. Hoover dam is one of the iconic spots to visit on the way to Las Vegas besides the city itself.Helena looks like an interesting place in Montana with the prestigious Bullwhacker statue.I would definitely love to visit Lava hot springs and potato museum in Idaho.

  14. I've never taken that route as I live in NorCal. I do like Vegas though and would love to go to Montana and Idaho someday!

  15. I’ve been to Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, although my road trip wasn’t from California. I wish we turned to Idaho Falls when we drove through it. I will check out the rest of the stops next time I go to Montana.

  16. Even the boring paths may lead to wonder and in this list you shared of potential stops, I’d go for something in nature. I’d go for a full-length stop at the Red Rock Canyon and visit the nearby wonders. Another seemingly attractive stop for me is a stay at the Lava Hot Springs area and enjoy the activities before coming back to the road again.

  17. This route looks great! You should add Jackson Hole WY in the list ;) great tips for next roadtrips!

  18. We need to plan a road trip along I-15 and spend some time in Montana and Idaho. We will plan to make reservations so we don’t miss the best Italian dinner at Lucca’s. And Idaho Falls looks like it might be worth a day or two. Great stops on a road trip from California to Montana.

  19. This route sounds exciting and so worth it. The Lava hot springs in Utah and Cedar City would be my picks for sure. :)

  20. The I-15 route seems so exciting and worth it! I'd totally go for the Hot lava springs and the Cedar City, so many noteworthy and adventurous options.

  21. I-15 sounds a cool highway. Who doesn't want to stop at Las Vegas? I've been to Salt Lake City and I can say it's a nice stop. Helena would be nice for people who wants to visit every states capital. I also like you can choose a different way on the way back so you can tick off more of those places in your bucket list.


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