Missoula Montana Mountain Driving, Safety & Tips

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Mountain Driving

Here are some tips for driving over mountain passes and on snow-covered roads to help keep you safe during your Missoula visit and on further excursions into the northern Rockies. Read More

  • Slow your speed when driving over mountain passes.
  • Be sure your brakes are in working order.
  • Avoid riding your brakes; instead, downshift to a lower gear.
  • Decrease your speed on icy/snowy roads.
  • If you start to skid, ease of the brake and steer in the direction you wish our front tires to go.

Lay of the Land

Part of Missoula's allure is its situation amidst several gorgeous mountain ranges in the northern Rockies region. Located in the Bitterroot Valley, the Bitterroot and Beaverhead Mountains are literally on Missoula’s doorstep. Other ranges in close proximity include the Rattlesnakes, Sapphires, Pioneers, and Centennials. With so many peaks and valleys to explore, it’s important to feel confident and safe when traversing mountain passes.

“Flatlanders,” or those unaccustomed to driving at high elevations, are often wary on mountain passes. Best general advice is to take your time and take frequent breaks. The following tips will also help you feel more comfortable as you head for the alpine landscapes.

Tips For Traversing Mountain Passes

  • Be sure to have the following items in your vehicle: chains (for icy conditions), ice scrapers (even during summer!), flashlight, a small shovel, map(s).
  • Carry extra drinking water and sip frequently during your journey. Dehydration at higher elevations can affect you even while you are driving!
  • Check the fluid levels in your vehicle, especially brake fluid and make sure your brakes are in good working order.
  • When descending, resist “riding your brakes” or using them as the sole means to slow your vehicle. Instead, use your gears to downshift. Too much braking can also overheat your brake fluid.
  • On narrow, two-lane passes, the car traveling UPHILL has the right-of-way.
  • Relax and enjoy the scenery!

Tips For Driving On Snow/Ice

  • Tune in to local radio stations for weather reports.
  • If you can wait, allow snowplows enough time to clear roadways after a storm or snowfall.
  • Check your fluid levels, especially anti-freeze.
  • Stash a shovel, jumper cables, ice scraper, bag of salt/kitty litter and reflective clothing in your vehicle.
  • Decrease your speed and allow plenty of room between you and the next vehicle.
  • Brake gently to avoid sliding. If your wheels lock up, take your foot off the brake.
  • Use lower gears.
  • Never use cruise control on icy/snowy roads!
  • Do not attempt to pass snowplows – they have limited visibility.

If you feel your rear wheels sliding:

  • Take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction that you want your front wheels to go.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump! Apply pressure and you should feel the ABS brakes “pulsing." This is their function.

If you get stuck:

  • Do not spin your wheels.
  • Instead, turn your wheels from side to side to clear snow and pour kitty litter/salt/gravel near the tires for traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle as opposed to gunning it in one direction.

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