What to Know Before January Travel in Montana: Weather, Closures & More
While Montana’s peak travel season is summertime, visiting during the winter can be just as much fun in our opinion. And January is a great time to visit Montana. You’ll arrive after the holiday crowds leave, but the winter activities are still well underway.
You should be aware of some things before traveling to Montana in January, though. Not everything is open and the weather can be disarming for those not used to frigid temps.
Still, when you visit Montana in January, you avoid paying holiday ticket prices without missing out on everything this beautiful state has to offer in winter. Let’s dive in and cover what you need to know before booking your January trip to Montana.
What’s the Weather Like in Montana in January?
January temperatures are roughly the same as they are in December: cold!
Statewide, you can expect to see highs around 35 degrees Fahrenheit and lows near 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
Western Montana gets far more snow than the eastern half, so be prepared if you’re visiting cities like Bozeman, Missoula, or Cooke City.
However, as we discuss more in-depth in our “Best Time to Visit Montana” article, the prairie regions of eastern Montana can actually be colder in January than the western mountains.
How Cheap are Flights to Montana in January?
With the holiday season ending after New Year’s Day, you can expect plane ticket prices to Montana to drop significantly in January.
Prices vary depending on where you fly into in Montana, so check regional airport in Montana along with one of the major airports; for example, check prices at the smaller Kalispell airport, including car rental, against the bigger Missoula airport and car rentals.
Typically you’ll find one of the larger airports in Montana (which isn’t saying much; even Montana’s busiest airport in Bozeman only has a few terminals) are cheaper. These would be Bozeman, Missoula, and Billings. However, if the price difference isn’t a deal breaker for you, in January we recommend flying into the airport closest to your destination if you can.
Using the previous example of Kalispell vs Missoula again, that would mean flying into Kalispell if you have plans to visit Glacier National Park or Whitefish Mountain.
Why do we recommend this? Because the weather can be incredibly volatile in Montana in January with winter storms and road closures aplenty. So the least amount of driving you can do while visiting in January, the better.
Are Montana’s National Parks Open in January?
Montana is home to two national parks: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
Most roads are closed in both parks during January, though outdoor enthusiasts can still have fun.
Yellowstone National Park is an incredible place for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. One of the aspects that makes Yellowstone so famous is its geothermal activities and those are still on steamy display even in the middle of winter.
Read More: Where to Go Cross-Country Skiing in Montana
If you’re visiting Yellowstone to ski or snowshoe, your easiest lodging option is to stay at Mammoth Hot Springs Winter Lodge, one of only two lodges open in the winter, and the only lodge in Yellowstone accessible by car in January. The other lodge, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, is only accessible by snow coach.
At the winter lodges of Yellowstone in January, there will be an eatery open plus a ski shop. You can explore ski trails straight from the lodge. Tours are also available via snow coach to take you to popular winter sights like Old Faithful. If the road through Lamar Valley is open, you can also take advantage of having a car parked at the lodge and drive through the valley for the chance to see bison and wolves.
Glacier National Park maintains the road going into Apgar Village from West Yellowstone year-round, but all other roads in Glacier National Park will be closed in January, including the famous Going-to-the-Sun road.
You’re welcome to use the restrooms and explore the informational exhibit at the Apgar Visitor Center, even though the help desk doesn’t operate during the winter.
You can park your car in Apgar Village and embark on one of the many cross-country and snowshoeing trails that start from the area.
Visitors interested in backcountry camping can still do so with a permit, though they should be prepared for a weekend without running water and have prior experience and knowledge of primitive winter camping.
Other Things to Do in Montana in January
Of course, there’s many more things to do in January than just visiting the national parks.
Montana is a prime place to go skiing in January. The snow is usually plentiful and the crowds are low. You can expect minimal waits in chair lift lines, even at the bigger ski resorts like Big Sky and Whitefish.
Read More: The Best Ski Resorts in Montana
Bozeman is a popular place to stay in Montana in winter thanks to its close proximity to Big Sky. Bozeman is also the location of one of our favorite hot springs around: the Bozeman Hot Springs, where you can get a day pass and enjoy the indoor and outdoor pools. It’s the perfect place to warm up and relax on a cold January day.
Montana is home to many hot spring destinations, which you can learn more about in our Montana Hot Springs Guide here.
When it’s time to get inside after a day of cold weather adventures, check out a museum. Not all are open in January, but you can expect to find some interesting museums open in the larger cities.
If visiting Billings, escape a cold morning or afternoon with a wander through the Western Heritage Center. If you’ll be in Billings the first week of January, take advantage of still seeing the Moss Mansion all decked out for the holidays; the mansion is then typically closed to the public for the remainder of the month.
Bottom Line: Montana in January is Cold, but Exciting and Fun
A trip to Montana in January involves braving the cold, but it’s a small price to pay to be able to explore museums without the crowds, cross-country ski at national parks, embark on some of the best snowshoeing trails and downhill ski runs in the country, and take in the incredible surroundings. You’ll soon understand why Montana is a special place even in January.