How to Have a Memorable Christmas Vacation in Montana
Montana is an incredible place to spend the Christmas holiday. Snowcapped mountains, wide open plains covered in a winter frost, and lots of different snow activities make a Montana Christmas fun and memorable.
If you want to greatly increase your chances of a white Christmas, stay in the western half of Montana. Eastern Montana is very hit or miss for snow on Christmas — usually a miss. However, our grandparent’s farm is in Southeast Montana and it’s where we usually spend Christmas, and a couple years ago we had a magical snowfall right on Christmas Day so you never know!
We’re going to cover two quintessential types of Montana Christmases in this article: dude ranches and ski resorts. Then we’ll get into more festive fun and holiday cheer you can find all around Montana at various Christmas markets and holiday light displays and parades.
A Montana Dude Ranch Christmas
The luxury dude ranches in Montana go all out for Christmas. Think sleigh rides, bonfires, cozy cabins with fireplaces, cross-country skiing, twinkling lights, and homemade holiday feasts.
Some of the dude ranches even have cabins and homes that have a Christmas tree right in them for you and your family to enjoy, in addition to the Christmas decor in the lodge.
Depending where you stay, there will also likely be holiday themed activities, like gingerbread house and cookie decorating, Santa photos, holiday cocktails, and caroling and other Christmas music to enjoy.
Our list of the top dude ranches in Montana is a great place to start for researching your Christmas vacation on a Montana ranch.
Ski Resorts in Montana During Christmas
If you’re planning to visit the ski resorts of Montana over Christmas, be aware it will be busier than usual. But you probably already expect that, so here are some other tips to make sure you have a memorable Montana Christmas full of skiing fun.
The first step in planning a ski trip to Montana over Christmas is deciding if you want to stay on the ski resort. If you want to be able to ski-in and ski-out of your accommodation, book early — these tend to fill up quickly.
The major ski resorts like Whitefish Mountain and Big Sky Resort will have such accommodations that you can book directly through the resort. You also can check vacation rentals listed on sites such as VRBO.com and airbnb.com. There are some privately owned condominiums and townhomes that are still within walking distance of chairlifts.
If you’re just planning to ski for a day or two during your Montana Christmas vacation and don’t care if you stay onsite or not at the ski resort, then you have lots more options. Some resorts and hotels even offer shuttles to nearby ski resorts. For example, Meadow Lake Resort in Columbia Falls has a shuttle to Whitefish Resort and even its own chalet at the ski resort where you can take a break and warm up.
For our family, if we are skiing over Christmas break, we typically head to Red Lodge, which is the easiest ski resort to get to from Southeast Montana. Red Lodge may not have the glitz and glam of the more touristy ski resorts in Montana, but it still has great runs, a cute little downtown area with restaurants and hotels, and apparently the best PBR on tap in all of the world. 😉 You can read more about that in our Red Lodge review.
Montana Christmas Lights and Markets
More of a city lights person who especially likes it when those lights are twinkling Christmas lights? Or love looking for Christmas gifts at local markets?
Then spend your Christmas holiday in Montana at one of these festive locations.
The little town of Bigfork, which is adjacent to the northeast corner of Flathead Lake, is known for a fabulous light display in its downtown area and surrounding streets.
Don’t miss walking down Main Street as well as across the Bridge Street one-lane bridge, a short, quaint bridge that has a pedestrian walkway and goes across the Swan River; during the holidays, the bridge is decked out in lights. Bigfork also has an annual Christmas Lights parade.
The Holiday Market Jubilee
Said to be Montana’s biggest holiday market, the Holiday Market Jubilee that takes place every December in Bozeman is not to be missed if you’re looking for local, handcrafted gifts — or just a wonderful Christmas vibe!
In addition to various market stands selling everything from artwork to jewelry to Christmas decorations to jams and oils, and so much more, you’ll also be treated to live music and festive holiday cuisine and drinks available for purchase. A kids activity zone and a photo booth are also part of the market.
The Holiday Market Jubilee takes place at the Gallatin Country Fairgrounds. The cost of the market is usually free if you bring a food donation, otherwise it’s just a couple dollars per person to enter.
Market Beautiful in Kalispell
This is an annual traveling crafts market that comes through Kalispell each year during the holidays and is held at the Kalispell Fairgrounds. The focus of this market is on whimsical crafts and vintage goods. It also has live music, hot cider, a meet-Santa booth, and special activities for kids like gingerbread making workshops.
Bozeman’s Christmas Stroll
Come Christmastime, downtown Bozeman’s main street is transformed into a lit up wonderland. Christmas lights stretch over parts of the street, creating gorgeous twinkling canopies you can walk and drive under, while the sidewalks lining the street are adorned with even more lights and holiday decor.
The decorations are up all month long in December, but the area gets its name due to the Christmas Stroll parade that takes place each year in early December. In addition to the festive parade, there are carriage rides, gingerbread house decorating contests, and more holiday fun to be had.
Butte Christmas Stroll
Another place to stroll through a Christmas light spectacular is in Butte. This Central Montana city’s annual Christmas Stroll features a darling children’s light parade, Santa, and a tree lighting ceremony.
The Butte Christmas Stroll takes place in the Uptown area of Butte, with the children’s light parade starting at the historic Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse and ending in Heritage Park where the tree lighting takes place. Throughout the afternoon and evening, other Christmas themed activities and live performances take place around the city as well.
Missoula Christmas Lights & Sleigh Rides
To the west in the beloved Glacier Country city of Missoula, you’ll find more glee-inducing holiday lights in downtown Missoula.
Nearby Paws Up Resort also sometimes offers sleigh rides around downtown Missoula in the winter months, which i s a must-do activity if it’s happening while you’re there.
If you’re not a fan of the cold, then you’ll like Lewistown’s annual Christmas lights tradition, which is a drive-through lights display in the Central Montana Fairgrounds that takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving. That’s right — you can stay in the warmth of your car while gazing at beautiful Christmas lights! Make some hot chocolate before you depart and pour it into to-go mugs to make your drive more festive.
Looking for more to do in Montana? Click here for our list of the top things to do in Montana in winter!
Heading to Glacier National Park during your Montana Christmas? You’ll also want to read this.
So Much Christmas Fun in Montana
Whether you’re looking for adventure or coziness while celebrating the Christmas season, Montana is a great place to find it!
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