Winter in Montana
Skiing and snowboarding are just the start. From snowshoeing and hot springs soaking to snowmobiling and ice fishing, Montana is a winter wonderland
With 15 downhill ski areas, hundreds of miles of nordic skiing and snowmobile trails, and nearly endless possibilities for hiking and snowshoeing, there’s no shortage of things to do in Montana when the snow starts flying. Here are six of our favorite activities.
Glacier Country: Cross-Country Ski Glacier National Park
It’s every nordic skier’s dream—to have miles and miles of trails all to yourself, with towering peaks all around you. Welcome to Glacier National Park in winter, where you and your friends can enjoy this iconic park by nordic skiing the trails and unplowed roads of the Apgar–West Glacier area. From the beginner-friendly, two-mile Lower McDonald Creek Trail to the 10.5-mile Apgar Lookout Trail, there’s a path for everyone. Rent skis at Glacier Cyclery and Nordic, in Whitefish, or sign up for a ranger-led snowshoe tour at the Apgar Visitor Center.
Southwest Montana: Soak at Elkhorn Hot Springs
This rustic oasis in the gentle Pioneer Mountains of Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest was built in 1918 and still has an abundance of hot water—two natural hot springs and an indoor Grecian sauna. After downhill skiing at Maverick Mountain, a laid-back, family-friendly resort, or nordic skiing or snowmobiling in the surrounding forest, soak in the springs, dine on an Elkhorn burger in the restaurant, then cozy into Rockchuck, the newest cabin, with a woodstove and a full kitchen.
Yellowstone Country: Point ’Em Downhill at Red Lodge Mountain
Montana has 15 ski areas and resorts with world-class slopes for everyone from beginners to experts. Many are like Red Lodge, whose tagline is “no lift lines, no attitude, no big prices.” With 65 trails, there’s downhill action for every level of skier or snowboarder. There’s also a fun town to explore nearby, for family members who don’t do either. Stay at the historic Yodeler Motel, six miles from the mountain and three blocks from downtown Red Lodge, and the price breakdown per person, per night, for lift tickets and accommodations is almost unbelievable.
Central Montana: Snowmobiling the Little Belt Mountains
Snowmobilers: This is your place. With 291 miles of marked and groomed snowmobile trails that forge through meadows and forests and rise from 5,500 to 8,000 feet in the Little Belt Mountains southeast of Great Falls, it’s easy to see why locals are so revved up about the immense distances they can travel in this wide-open part of the state. Emanating from the Kings Hill Winter Recreation Area parking lot, on the north side of Kings Hill Pass and two miles from Showdown Ski Area, the trails are groomed six nights a week by the Great Falls Snowmobile Club. Visit their website for a daily report on which sections are tracked. Nonresidents must purchase a temporary-use permit through the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website.
Missouri River Country: Ice Fish Fort Peck Lake
In the winter, there’s no better place to catch trophy lake trout, walleye, and northern pike than 382-square-mile Fort Peck Lake. The key to winter fishing here is stealth: Instead of sitting in a fish house over one hole all day, snowmobile-riding anglers equipped with maps, depth finders, and augers zip from one hole to the next, often catching all three species in one lucky spot. The proof of just how big the fish can get is on the wall at Hell Creek Marina—the owner caught a 15.9-pound walleye in -33 degrees on New Year’s Day a few years ago. The marina also rents fishing gear and has limited accommodations and good ice-fishing advice.
Southeast Montana: Hiking and Snowshoeing in Makoshika State Park
The snow can pile up pretty deep at 12,000-acre Makoshika State Park. But Montana’s largest state park can handle it. The main road into Makoshika was paved in 2016 and the visitor’s center is open year round. When there’s good snow, drive to the Cap Rock trailhead and ski or snowshoe the park road all the way to the top. The payoff is shimmery badlands views of white-tipped cap rocks and pinnacles. If the weather turns bad, warm up at the visitor center, renowned for its collection of dinosaur fossils like a triceratops skull. Rent snowshoes or skis nearby at the Glendive Recreation Department.