Snowmobiling Tips, Hot Spots & Tours in Montana
When it comes to exploring the wilderness of Montana in the winter, it doesn’t get much better than snowmobiling. A snowmobile can take you places a car can’t reach during Montana’s snowy winters. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
Montana is home to incredible valleys and mountain trails perfect for snowmobiling. If you feel the need for speed and don’t mind bundling up, a Montana snowmobiling adventure is a must.
First, let’s start with some FAQs for snowmobiling in Montana.
- You have to be 16 years old to drive.
- If you tow your own snowmobile to use, be aware some places require certain snowmobile advancements to better protect the environment. Fortunately, there are lots of places all around Montana to rent snowmobiles that are up to code.
- Permits are usually needed to snowmobile in the national and state parks and forests.
Route Safety Tips:
- To help prevent getting dangerously cold, before you leave, check where warming huts are. Many snowmobiling areas in Montana have them.
- Also, check for where there are places to fuel up if you’re going to be gone awhile and plan your route accordingly.
- Let someone not snowmobiling know where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Check-in upon return.
Alright, now let’s discuss the best places to go snowmobiling in Montana, starting with one of our favorite destinations: Big Sky.
Snowmobiling in Big Sky: Mountain Peaks and Cross-State Trails
Big Sky Mountain is known for its downhill skiing up on Lone Peak, but if you head down into Big Sky Canyon, epic snowmobiling is waiting for you!
You’ll have incredible views of the Spanish Peaks, Lone Peak, and Gallatin – Custer National Forest.
Many of the biking trails in this area are turned into groomed snowmobile trails in winter.
Popular snowmobiling trails in Big Sky include:
- Buck Ridge: Panoramic Views of Towering Mountain Peaks
- Big Sky Trail: 123 Miles Connecting Bozeman to Wyoming through Big Sky
West Yellowstone Snowmobile Adventures: To Yellowstone National Park and Beyond
The town of West Yellowstone is right by the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. This entrance isn’t open in the winter; that is, this entrance isn’t open to cars in the winter.
However, you can enter Yellowstone National Park from the west on a snowmobile tour, and it’s an incredible way to explore the park.
There are several snowmobile rental and guide companies located in West Yellowstone.
Here are some of our top picks for West Yellowstone Snowmobiling Outfitters:
From West Yellowstone, you can take guided tours to either Yellowstone National Park or to trails through the Gallatin National Forest to the north or the Targhee National Forest to the south.
If you’re an experience snowboarder you can race across the snow of the national forests without a guide.
Do I Need a Guide for Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park?
It’s easiest to go snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park with a local tour guide, but if you and your travel buddies are adept snowmobilers, it is possible to go on a Yellowstone National Park snowmobiling outing without a guide. However, it takes some advance planning and a bit of luck.
To snowmobile Yellowstone without a guide you’ll have to apply for a permit. There are only four of these permits awarded each day during the season — one permit for each entrance (and the National Park entrance fee isn’t included in the program). Permits are $40 with a $6 non-refundable application fee.
To get one you need to apply to the lottery system in August. You’ll be notified if you got a permit in September. The permit goes to the “leader” of the group who is allowed to bring a limited number of friends or family members 16 years of age or older (all must have a valid driver’s license) with a maximum number of five snowmobiles in the group.
The leader/permit holder is in charge of the groups and making sure rules and protocols for the park are followed. The leader also must take and pass an online test prior to snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park.
Find more information on obtaining a snowmobiling permit for Yellowstone here.
So whether you go snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park with a guide or not, what can you see there?
Yellowstone National Park is truly a peaceful, gorgeous, and wondrous place in the winter.
The bison are still roaming, wolves are still hunting, and elk are still foraging. Geysers are still bubbling and Old Faithful is still erupting.
Jaunts to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon and Old Faithful are popular routes for snowmobilers.
Other access points for Yellowstone National Park in Montana with snowmobile rental companies available nearby include Cooke City (northeast entrance) and Gardiner (north entrance).
Cooke City Snowmobiling: Remote Trails and Backcountry Fun
Cooke City is by the northeast entrance to Yellowstone and is often one of the hardest places to reach in Montana in the winter, but for experienced snowmobilers, it’s worth it.
In fact, in the winter, the easiest way to get to Cooke City is by snowmobile. That’s because the main road into Cooke City (the famous Beartooth Highway aka US-Hwy 212) is closed from roughly mid-October to Memorial Day, depending on snowfall.
So how do you get to Cooke City in Winter? You have two options:
- You can plan to get there via the north entrance of Yellowstone and hope the road through the Lamar Valley isn’t closed so you can make your way over to the northeast entrance and onto Cooke City where you can rent snowmobiles.
- You tow your own snowmobiles drive along Chief Joseph Highway (WY-296) from Cody, Wyoming until the road is closed, where you can park your car in the Pilot Creek parking lot and drive your snowmobiles the rest of the way (nine miles) to Cooke City.
What makes the extra hassle of getting there worth it? Because Cooke City is home to some of the best backcountry snowmobiling in Montana.
Try your skills at boondocking through wooded areas, or race along miles of groomed trails kept up by volunteers of the local snowmobile club.
Popular Snowmobile Trails in Cooke City:
- Daisy Pass Trail: Elevation and Views
- Lulu Pass Trail: Backcountry Riding by Old Mining Country
- Round Lake Trail: Pretty Meadows and Forests
- Henderson Mountain Trail: Powder and Boondocking
Is There Snowmobiling in Glacier National Park?
What about Montana’s other National Park you may be wondering? Snowmobiling is NOT allowed in any areas of Glacier National Park. Instead, your best bet for snowmobiling in northwest Montana is to head to nearby Whitefish or Columbia Falls.
Snowmobiling at Whitefish Mountain Resort
Whitefish Mountain is a premier destination for winter sports enthusiasts from all around the world. While skiing and snowboarding are undoubtedly the most popular activities, snowmobiling is another exciting way to explore the beautiful terrain of the mountain thanks to the Canyon Creek trail.
The Canyon Creek Trail starts about five miles north of Columbia Falls in the Flathead Valley and makes its way all the way to the top of Big Mountain where you’ll find Summit House. Grab a bite to eat and watch skiers getting off the gondola before making your way back down the mountain on the snowmobile side.
We recommend using a guided tour through Swan Mountain Snowmobiling in Columbia Falls to traverse the Canyon Creek Trail to the summit. Guided snowmobiling tours to Desert Mountain and Crane Mountain are also available.
Swan Mountain Snowmobiling in Columbia Falls offers rentals. A minimum of two snowmobiles must be rented at a time per group in case one get stuck. A rental is best for experienced snowmobilers who have the means to tow the vehicles as well.
Whitefish Marine is another good tour operator in the Flathead Valley. The locally owned outfitter offers boat rentals in the summer and snowmobiling rentals in the winter with guided tours along Swift Creek Trailhead.