When Should You Visit Montana? We Break It Down By Season
Most people think that the best time to visit Montana is in the summer between the months of June and August when the weather is warmer, or between December and March for ski season.
They’re not necessarily wrong; however, we think there are amazing things to see and experience in Montana year-round! The best time to visit depends entirely on what type of experience you’re looking for.
Weather Considerations for When to Visit
Weather in Montana can vary drastically from day to day and depending on which side of the Continental Divide you’re on. Montana east of the divide often has colder, 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. Where you’ll have sunshine to the east, valleys in Western Montana often have inversions during the winter that can make for cloudy days for weeks at a time.
In general, average high temperatures (F) in the late summer climb into the 80s, and average low temperatures in winter are in the teens. However, it’s not uncommon for there to be snow in June and September at higher elevations or 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
Winter in Montana
From Big Sky Resort in the south to Whitefish Mountain in the north (and various other options in between) Montana is known for its world-class skiing and snowboarding options in the western part of the state and sees a lot of visitors from around the country and world coming to enjoy the slopes at resorts and in the backcountry.
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.
While there are more crowds on the ski hills and at the major resorts, crowds in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks are far reduced in winter. Though the major roads through the parks are closed – 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 – 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
Spring can be a tricky time 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. To add to the scenery are the wildlife and baby animals.
All this gorgeous wildlife and scenery can be best seen by foot or bicycle during the spring. Roads in Yellowstone, the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, and the road in Hyalite Canyon in Bozeman are only open for non-motorized traffic as far as the plow allows for a few weeks in April and early May, making them perfect destinations for spring road biking, along with numerous other trails around the state.
Spring hikes across the state allow you to experience Montana’s amazing views by foot. Just be sure to keep your distance from any wildlife you may see on or near the road and trails and adhere to signs and changing 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.
Summer in Montana
Summer is often touted as the best time to visit Montana with the more consistently warmer temperatures. It’s true – summer in Montana is amazing – but 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.
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. There are also hundreds of other trails, campsites, rivers, and lakes throughout the rest of the state that are less traveled and 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 (e.g., Big Sky, Billings, Bozeman, Helena, and others) 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 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
*Note: Many of these festivals have been cancelled due to COVID-19 but are rescheduled for 2021.
From fly fishing to hiking, the arts to camping, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during the summer months in Montana.
Fall in Montana
Like spring, fall in Montana is a shoulder season when the advantages of visiting aren’t as readily apparent and the weather can be a bit less predictable. However, like all the other seasons, fall offers spectacular views and outdoor recreation.
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.
Head to Montana’s national parks for some wildlife viewing against a backdrop of brilliant fall colors or 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).
As you drive, take some breaks to enjoy Montana’s crisp fall days. Fall is a great time for visiting Montana if you’re interested in fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing along Montana’s rivers and trails.
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). (*Note: Many of Montana’s festivals are cancelled due to COVID-19 but will continue in 2021).
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!
*A note on COVID-19: Clearly, we at TMN think that all the time is the best time to visit Montana… except right now. Given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and to help keep Montanans safe, we ask that you to adhere to all state travel restrictions and guidelines and refrain from visiting Montana if you or anyone you have been in contact with has or may have COVID-19. In the meantime, we hope you can use this post to think about when you would like to visit Montana and plan a trip for a time when it is safer to do so.