When Should You Visit Montana? We Break It Down By Season
Most people think that the best time to visit Montana is in the peak season of summer between the months of June and August when the weather is warmer, or between December and March for ski season.
Guess what…they’re right!
But they’re not the only ones who are right. You can find amazing things to see and experience in Montana year-round.
So the answer to the best time to visit Montana is that it depends entirely on what type of experience you’re looking for.
We know, that sounds vague. That’s why we’re here to break down the seasons for you so you can learn what to expect in each part of the year and narrow down what time is best for you to visit. And if you already know there’s a particular season you want to visit in, then this article might give you more ideas on what to do and pack during your visit.
Weather and Average Temperatures
Before we get to each season, let’s talk about weather in Montana. The weather can vary drastically from day to day. It can also change a lot depending on which side of the Continental Divide you’re on.
Montana east of the divide often has colder and windier winters, but much warmer summers. West of the divide is slightly warmer than Eastern Montana in winter, but has summers that are a bit cooler with chillier nights.
In winter for example, you might find bright sunshine to the east glaring off the snow, while valleys in Western Montana often get inversions during the winter that can make for cloudy days for weeks at a time.
In general, average high temperatures (which we’ll be listing in Fahrenheit) in the late summer climb into the 80s, and average low temperatures in winter are in the teens. But again, this is an average. Certain winter days are giong to drop into negative temps with windchill even lower. And summer can get into the high 90s at times.
It’s also not uncommon for there to be snow in June and September at higher elevations. And all Montanans will be quick to tell you it’s not unheard of for a day to start sunny and warm only to change to sleet and snow later in day.
Because of this, no matter what time of year you visit Montana, you’ll want to make sure you have multiple layering options for clothes to adjust to quickly changing weather.
Benefits of Visiting Montana Season by Season
Here are some of the top pros and cons for visiting Montana in each season. We’ve also listed some festivals that happen in each season that you may want to plan your trip around.
Winter in Montana
Traveling to Montana during winter is cold, exciting, and starkingly beautiful. It’s a good time to visit if you enjoy winter sports.
We also find a lot of appeal in just cuddling up in a lodge in front of the fireplace with a hot toddy or hot chocolate!
Whether you enjoy working up a winter sweat outside or being cozy inside a log cabin, winter in Montana can be quite an appealing time to visit.
What’s Winter Weather Like in Montana?
Cold. Oh yeah, we covered that! Ok, let’s cover exactly what cold means by Montana standards.
Here’s a story: My sister visited from Seattle recently at Christmastime. I went to drive her car for an errand and noticed there was less than a quarter of a tank of gas. I reprimanded her about it. “But there are gas stations right down the road. Relax,” she replied.
I then reminded her that if she is driving at night or a random side road and her car suddenly careens off the road or something happens and she’s not in walking distance to somewhere, she wants gas in her car so she has heat until help arrives.
“Oh. Right,” she said. “I forgot about that.”
That pretty sums up winter in Montana. You can’t forget about stuff like that because it can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. (I also gave her extra blankets for her car when she drove back home to Seattle.)
Why am I telling you this story? Just to prepare you for exactly how cold cold is when you’re in Montana. And to remind you to prepare. Bring thick layers, plan your driving and outside time accordingly, and make sure you balance outdoor pursuits with some indoor ones like museums or hot springs.
And if you’re a numbers person, not a “your car might break down” person, here are the average temps for winter in Montana:
And if you’re a numbers person, not a “your car might break down” person 😉 here are the average temps for winter in Montana:
Bozeman: High of 36 and Low of 14
Billings: High of 41 and Low of 16 32
Whitefish: Low of 16 and High of 32
Missoula: High of 37 and Low of 20
Outdoor Activities in Winter
From Big Sky Resort in the south to Whitefish Mountain in the north (and many other ski resorts in between), Montana is known for its world-class skiing and snowboarding.
For a long time, the Montana ski scene was off the beaten path, but today it is most definitely on the map for winter travelers. Montana’s winter months get a lot of visitors from around the country and world coming to enjoy the slopes and “cold smoke” powder.
If the thrill of downhill skiing isn’t your thing, Montana has numerous trails and spaces for other winter sports like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and ice climbing. With the heaviest snowfall occurring from November through March, winter is Montana’s longest season – providing ample opportunity to plan a trip to enjoy a winter wonderland.
National Parks in Winter
While there are more crowds on the slopes and at the major ski resorts, crowds are completely absent in Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park in the winter months.
The national parks are open in winter, but with some major caveats. The major roads through the parks are closed when the snow comes: In Yellowstone only the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance at Cooke City is open, and in Glacier the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. Despite this, you can still access certain areas of the parks for a crowd-free experience.
Both parks have visitor centers that remain open in winter where you can find information on skiing and snowshoeing trails and snow conditions.
Yellowstone also has fun activities to do like guided snowcoach and snowmobile tours.
Spring in Montana
As one of Montana’s shoulder seasons, spring is great time to visit Montana if you want to avoid the influx of crowds in the summer months, but avoid the frigid cold of the winter months.
Spring Weather and Temperatures
Spring can be a tricky time weather-wise to plan a trip to Montana. With rain and sometimes snow, the weather can be unpredictable. However, if you’re willing to be flexible and are okay with not perfect weather, you’ll see Montana at a time when few other tourists do – just remember to pack for changing weather conditions.
One of our favorite things about springtime in Montana is how vibrant it is thanks to all the rain. From fields, to hillsides, to mountains, Montana is awash in shades of green, dotted with wildflowers, and accompanied by fresh air.
National Parks in Spring
Adding to the scenery are the wildlife and baby animals. Montana’s national parks are a prime place to see new life in spring.
All this gorgeous wildlife and scenery can be best seen by foot or bicycle during the spring. Roads in Yellowstone and the Going-to-the-Sun Road are only open for non-motorized traffic as far as the plow allows for a few weeks in April and early May.
This especially makes the national parks a great place for spring road biking. Going to the Sun Road is especially famous for this: each spring, you can bike the roads up to where the plow has reached before any cars are allowed on the road, which typically happens when the road is completely open in late June or early July.
The snow melts of the mountains also makes creeks and rivers within the national parks especially full and powerful in spring.
Outdoor Activities in Spring
Spring hikes across the state allow you to experience Montana’s amazing views by foot. Once the road in Hyalite Canyon is open, it’s one of my favorite places to hike in spring.
Just be sure to keep your distance from any wildlife you may see on or near the road and trails. Also adhere to signs and changing weather conditions.
If you want a more adrenaline-inducing adventure, many rafting companies in the western part of the state begin offering trips in May and June, allowing you to take advantage of the higher spring river levels and peak rafting conditions.
Lower prices also are usually available for lodges and hotels in popular destinations around Montana that are usually much more pricey in the sought after summer months.
Summer in Montana
Summer is often said to be the best time to visit Montana since it has warmer temperatures. It’s true – summer in Montana is amazing.
However, many of the major attractions that draw visitors to the state, like Yellowstone and Glacier, along with other state parks, wilderness areas, and recreation areas are a lot more crowded during the warmer months.
If you’re willing to deal with the crowds though, you’re bound to have a fantastic summer trip to Montana.
Weather and Average Temperature
Wondering how hot it gets in summer? Here are the average temperatures:
Bozeman: High of 83, Low of 48
Billings: High of 89, Low of 54
Whitefish: High of 82, Low of 48
Missoula: High of 85, Low of 52
One more thing to keep in mind when visiting Montana in the summer is that the heat is a dry heat. If you’re used to humidity, you’ll likely find it doesn’t feel quite as hot, but it will still quickly get you dehydrated. So drink lots of water, and bring lotion and chapstick to moisturize dry skin.
One more thing — sunscreen! Higher altitudes plus sunny days equals sunburn so be prepared with sunscreen and visor-style hats.
National Parks in Summer
Read More: The Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park
While you may have to sit in a line of cars at times, the opportunity for seeing two of the country’s most popular national parks – and all the wildlife viewing, camping, hiking, and other nature activities that go along with them – are worth it.
Outdoor Activities in Summer
Montana is one of the best places for outdoor recreation in the summer.
There are hundreds of other trails, campsites, rivers, and lakes throughout the state, many of which are less traveled than th enational parks, but still full of fun and beauty.
You’ll find that Montanans are also out all summer enjoying these natural resources and recreation opportunities in their backyard!
Getting out in nature is great, but many of Montana’s cities and towns also come alive during the summer. From outdoor concert series to bustling Farmers Markets, there are numerous regular summer events in communities around the state. There are also a number of rodeos and annual music and art festivals and fairs across Montana.
A few of the more well-known events in Montana’s cities and mountain towns include the following:
- Billings: Magic City Blues
- Bozeman: Sweet Pea Festival
- Butte: Montana Folk Festival
- Lewistown: Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering & Western Music Rendezvous
- Livingston: Livingston Hoot
- Missoula: River City Roots Festival
- Seeley Lake: The Bob Marshall Music Festival
- Three Forks: Headwaters Country Jam
- Whitefish: Under the Big Sky Festival
- White Sulphur Springs: Red Ants Pants Music Festival
From fly fishing to hiking, the arts to camping, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during the summer months in Montana.
Before we get to the rest of this article, quick break to make sure you know about our First Timer’s Guide to Montana travel guidebook. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or want some expert advice for Montana trip planning all in one place, this 139-page guidebook is for you! Click here to learn more about it!
Fall in Montana
As the crowds from summer thin and dissipate, the air gets crisp and the leaves turn gorgeous shades of golds, reds, and orange. Views in Montana are stunning no matter what time of year, but they’re especially breathtaking in the fall. Fall is the perfect time to hit the road after the crowds leave and before the snow flies.
Weather and Temperatures in Fall
Fall in Montana arrives with weather that can be a bit less predictable than summer. Early October can be quite pleasant, or it’s snowing with colder temperatures and the Going to-the-Sun Road in Glacier is closed earlier than expected!
However, like all the other seasons, fall offers spectacular views and outdoor recreation.
Fall is our favorite time for scenic drives. The fall foliage can be truly glorious in Montana.
Outdoor Activities in Fall
Fall is a particularly great time for a Montana vacation if you’re interested in fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing along Montana’s rivers and trails.
Take a drive through any of Montana’s other valleys and forests for leaf viewing (some of our favorite areas are the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Bitterroot Valley, Hyalite Canyon, Paradise Valley, and Seeley-Swan Valley).
National Parks in Fall
You can also head to Montana’s national parks for some wildlife viewing against a backdrop of brilliant fall colors.
Fall is also a great time to visit the parks with fewer crowds before the major roads close. Animals are active as they get ready for the winter season. In Yellowsotne, you might even see and hear the elk rut.
Montana also has a handful of fall festivals, such as Butte’s Butte-toberfest, Hamilton’s McIntosh Apple Day & Liquid Apple Night, Townsend’s Fall Fest, and Whitefish’s Great Northwest Oktoberfest (among others).
Montana is a Great Place to Visit Year-Round
As is evident, there is no single best time to visit Montana, because Montana has fun things to do all year round. With towns, mountains, prairies, and rivers, Montana has enough beauty and adventure to keep anyone happy no matter when you visit!
And don’t forget to check out our guidebook to help make your trip planning easier!