BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Despite rising gas prices, AAA expects nearly 41 million Americans to drive at least 50 miles over the holiday weekend.

Holiday travel is projected to be six percent higher than last year. Analysts say the increase is thanks to an improving economy.

In the Mountain Region -- made up of eight states, including Montana -- more than 3 million people are expected to hit the roads. Most of the travelers started their holiday vacation on Wednesday.

John Gordon stopped at a Bozeman rest stop on Wednesday on his way back from Helena.

"I went fishing in Helena, but I didn't catch anything, darn it!" Gordon said.

He and his wife are from Alabama. They're taking a long road trip out west.

"We left Oneonta about 10 days ago and it'll be six more days before we get back, I think," said Gordon.

During that time, he noticed more traffic increasing on the highways.

"Perhaps it's a little more than usual," Gordon observed, "maybe about like it was before the recession."

AAA travel analysts agree. According to AAA, drivers are now more willing to take longer vacations and spend more money over the 4th of July holiday weekend, because of the improving economy.

That's the case for Erich Ritz and his family.

"Normally we stay at home in Chicago for it, but last year we took a trip and this year we took another trip. It's just the best time for us," Ritz explained.

Right now, they're headed to Glacier.

"We started in Calgary, flew to Denver then to Wyoming, and then drove from Cody, Wyoming, through Yellowstone up here," he explained.

His family just started taking big trips again. During the recession, they tried to stay local, seeing more attractions in their backyard.

"We did a 'stay-cation' and stayed with friends and family instead of getting hotel rooms and booking flights," Ritz said.

While both Erich and John said driving so far over the Fourth of July weekend is pricey, it is worth it, because driving is a great way to see Montana.

"We just see more, and we love the West," Gordon said.

According to GasBuddy.com, the average price per gallon of regular fuel in Montana is $3.60 per gallon -- 20 cents higher than last month, but below the national average by about 7 cents.