Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive, Montana Route 83

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Get ready to see miles and miles of trees, along with a few nice views of lakes and mountains, as you cut across Montana on the Seeley-Swan Scenic Byway, Montana.  This route is dotted with resort homes and a few small towns, plus a few viewpoints of those gorgeous lakes.  It can be a long and tedious two-lane drive, but it might not be as exhausting as the alternative, US 93 to the west.

Location

The Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive connects Montana Route 200 to the Kalispell area.  In the south, Montana Route 83 begins at Clearwater, and passes by Seeley Lake and Swan Lake as it heads north.  Route 83 ends at Route 35.  If you’re headed to Glacier National Park, take Route 35 north, otherwise follow Route 82 over to US 93, which will take you into Kalispell.

My Visit

The Seeley-Swan Scenic Byway begins with a large cow and a small dinosaur, outside the Sinclair station at Clearwater, Montana – the southern end of Route 83.  This is a good place to fill your tank.  You’re not exactly driving into the uninhabited wilderness as you drive up the Seeley-Swan Byway, but facilities are limited.

Seeley-Swan Scenic Byway: The Lakes

The best parts of the byway are its lakes.  During the 90-mile drive from one end to the other, you’ll pass Salmon Lake, Seeley Lake, Lake Inez, Lake Alva and Swan Lake, all lined up along the Swan River, as it makes its way towards Flathead Lake.

I only found a few opportunities to view the lake during my northbound drive to Glacier National Park.  For the most part, you’ll be driving between two walls of trees.  Most of the lakefront properties are privately-owned.  It might be quite nice to rent a lakefront cabin for the week, but it’s not quite as great to just drive by, looking for viewpoints.

It didn’t help that there was a great deal of construction along this route when I drove it.  Making things worse, I was passing through the area around quitting time for the road crews, and much of the construction was done for the day — but all the traffic still had to file into a pilot-car-led conga line, then drive painfully slow for miles and miles.  Perhaps my impression of the route would have been better, had I not been constantly sandwiched between two other vehicles.  You can judge for yourself, by watching the Drivelapse video below.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive northbound on the Seeley-Swan Scenic Byway:

The Bottom Line

Montana Route 83 will get you to Kalispell, and it might be a slightly easier drive than the congested US 93 alternative.  However, it can still be a long, tedious drive with plenty of slow-moving traffic.  It is scenic, but views of the lakes are somewhat limited, and the rest of the time, you’ll just see a lot of trees.

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