Local’s Guide for the Best Winter Activities in Montana
The mountains and valleys of Montana provide a landscape perfect for winter adventures. Winter can be harshly cold in Montana, but with those low temps come some exciting things to do.
Our family loves bundling up and getting out into the frosty air for some of our favorite winter activities in Montana, and today we’ll share some of our favorites with you. Whether you’re looking for thrills or relaxation, we’ve got it covered!
Read on for some of the best things to do in the winter in Montana and tips on where to do them.
Iconic Winter Sports Activities in Montana
First let’s cover the main winter activities everyone thinks about when they of Montana and snow. We’ll let you know the best places to do them, including some hidden gems.
Hit the Slopes at Montana’s Best Ski Mountains
Montana has some of the best skiing in the world.
From world-class resorts like Whitefish and Big Sky to local resort faves like Red Lodge near Billings and Bridger Bowl near Bozeman (plus several other smaller ski areas that locals love), there is likely a place to ski and snowboard in Montana that is just the right fit for you.
Read More: The Best Ski Resorts in Montana
Go Cross-Country Skiing
If downhill skiing isn’t your thing, you might want to try cross-country skiing. There are several recreation areas in Montana that are tailor made for cross-country skiers and are groomed daily.
Here are some of her top picks for where to go Nordic skiing in Montana:
- Hyalite Canyon (30 min South of Bozeman)
- Red Lodge (Hour East of Billings)
- Mount Haggin Ski Trail (Anaconda)
- Blacktail Nordic Trails (Flathead Lake)
- Lone Pine State Park (Flathead Valley)
A fun alternative to skiing is snowshoeing. Think of it like hiking, but with big, flat shoes on the bottom of your boots! I always like to say if you can hike, you can snowshoe. This makes it one of the easiest things to do in Montana in the winter for newbies to snow sports.
Snowshoeing can be done along many of the hiking trails that are popular in the summer months. A lot of the cross-country ski trails also allow snowshoeing, just make sure you stay off the groomed part.
Here are five of the best places to go snowshoeing in Montana.
- Glacier National Park – With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier National Park offers some of the most scenic and diverse snowshoeing experiences in the state.
- Lone Mountain Ranch – Located near Big Sky, Lone Mountain Ranch offers guided snowshoe tours through pristine forests and meadows.
- Hyalite Canyon – Just south of Bozeman, Hyalite Canyon features several trails for snowshoeing, including the popular Hyalite Creek Trail.
- Flathead National Forest – With over 2.4 million acres of forest, Flathead National Forest has plenty of snowshoeing opportunities, including the Jewel Basin and the Swan Range.
- Yellowstone National Park – Though much of the park is closed in the winter, visitors can still snowshoe through the park’s quieter sections and enjoy the geothermal wonders without the crowds.
With so many open plains and valleys, Montana is an excellent location to go snowmobiling. You can even take a guided snowmobiling tour through Yellowstone National Park to get a view of the park in the winter and without all the summer crowds.
One of our favorite spots for snowmobiling is up in Whitefish. Angela did a snowmobiling tour to the top of Whitefish Mountain and had a blast zooming around the trails and taking pictures with the “snow ghosts.”
Ride a Fat Bike
A Fat Bike is basically a regular bicycle with really fat tires. Those wider than usual tires will take you over snow and ice with better treading so you aren’t as likely to slip.
Find a local favorite recreational area with fat bike trails for an epic adventure:
- Whitefish Bike Retreat near Flathead Lake
- Rattlesnake National Recreation Area near Missoula
- Blue Mountain Recreation Area
- Whitefish Mountain Resort near Whitefish and Glacier National Park
More Things to Do in Winter to Experience Quintessential Montana
Now for all those things that help you get a feel for the culture of Montana during the winter months.
Mingle with Huskies and Go Dog Sledding
One of the most memorable things to do in Montana for animal lovers is dog sledding. Visit a dog sledding camp and learn more about history of dog sledding, interact with the dog sled team, and even cuddle baby huskies if you’re there at the right time!
Though nothing beats the adrenaline thrill of being pulled through the crisp snow by a pack of powerful huskies.
Some reputable outfitters for dog sledding in Montana include:
- Absaroka Dogsled Treks – Offers authentic dogsledding experiences in the breathtaking Absaroka Mountains.
- Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures – Provides tours through the stunning Yellowstone National Park, with knowledgeable guides and well-trained dog teams.
- Base Camp Bigfork – Offers a variety of winter activities, including dog sledding tours through the scenic Flathead Valley.
- Winterhawk Dogsled Adventures – Provides customized dogsledding tours for small groups, with a focus on personalized attention and safety.
- Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours – Offers family-friendly tours through the beautiful Gallatin National Forest, with friendly dogs and experienced guides.
Montana National and State Parks in the Winter
Yellowstone Things to Do in Winter
In Yellowstone National Park, a great winter hike to do that you can be self-guided is Mammoth Hot Springs.
You can’t bathe in these hot springs, but the incredible travertine formations and the thick steam coming up off them in the cold winter air is an unbelievable sight to behold – and without all the crowds that will be on the wooden platforms going around the hot springs in the summer.
Glacier Things to Do in Winter
Glacier has ranger-led snowshoe hikes in the winter that take you along trails that can be accessed in the winter.
Rangers will teach you more about the history of the park and give you detailed stories about the sights you’re seeing and the animals that call the parks home.
Makoshika State Park in Winter
Makoshika State Park is an incredible destination in eastern Montana, especially during the winter season. While many people may opt to visit the park during the warmer months, there are plenty of reasons to explore this rugged landscape by Glendive, MT in the winter.
One of the biggest draws of visiting Makoshika State Park during the winter is the opportunity to see the park covered in snow. The white blanket of snow transforms the hoodoos of the park into an enchanting winter wonderland.
Visitors can also take advantage of the park’s cross-country ski trails, snowshoeing, and sledding hills. The park is open daily during winter, but the visitor center is only open Wednesday through Sunday from October to April.
Flathead Lake State Parks in Winter
The shores of Flathead Lake State Park are home to SIX state parks. These Flathead Lake State Parks are a wonderful destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking for some winter fun.
The parks offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails, as well as ice fishing opportunities on the frozen lake. Check with rangers or local outfitters about the conditions of the ice before going on it. The lake rarely completely freezes due to how deep it is. Big Arm Bay on the southeast end usually ices over though.
In addition to outdoor activities, Flathead Lake State Park also offers accommodations for visitors looking to stay overnight. The park features several rustic cabins and campsites that are open year-round.
Watch a Skijoring Tournament
Love horses? Then you’ll no doubt love watching these majestic beasts perform with their riders at a skijoring event during the snowy months.
This iconic Montana winter sport features a skier is pulled by a horse or a dog while navigating through a course with jumps, obstacles, and gates. Skijoring is a growing sport in Montana, and there are several tournaments held throughout the state. The best places to watch skijoring tournaments in Montana include:
- Whitefish Winter Carnival in Whitefish
- Bozeman Stampede in Bozeman
- World Skijoring Championships in Red Lodge
- Big Sky Skijoring in Big Sky (February)
These tournaments attract both professional and amateur skiers and riders from across the country, making them a must-see winter event for any sports enthusiast.
P.S. If you want to ride a horse yourself in the winter months, many of the dude ranches in Montana offer winter horseback riding. And if you’re an experienced horseman traveling with your own horses, Whitefish Trail and the the Great Northern Historical Trail in Flathead Valley are also great trails for a winter horseback ride.
Take a Winter Sleigh Ride
Feel like you’re in a winter wonderland with a carriage ride through the snow pulled by a horse. Your time in a horse-drawn carriage will provide you with wonderful memories while taking in beautiful Montana winter scenery.
Some of our top picks for where to take a horse-drawn sleigh ride are:
- Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky: Includes dinner and music with a western vibe in a yurt! Pricey but worth it. Books up early during school breaks.
- 320 Ranch in Big Sky: Appetizers and a bonfire are a highlight along this fun sleigh ride that is more budget-friendly.
- Bar W near Whitefish: Enjoy the beauty of Glacier Country during a day-time sleigh ride. No meal.
- Parade Rest Ranch near West Yellowstone: Lunch and dinner sleigh rides available with chilli, prime rib, or chicken entree plus a kids meal option.
- Cache Creek Outfitters near Bozeman: Heated and covered sleigh rides that luxuriously escort you to dinner in a timber frame dining hall. Best for groups.
- Red Lodge Guest Ranch near Red Lodge: 30-45 minute sleigh rides around their ranch with no meal.
Soak in One of Montana’s Hot Springs
Montana has relaxing hot springs all over the western side of the state. From day pass hot spring centers to entire resorts and lodges built by hot springs, there are tons of options. Some of our favorites include:
- Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley south of Livingston
- Quinn’s Hot Springs north of Missoula near Flathead Lake
- Bozeman Hot Springs north of Big Sky
- Yellowstone Hot Springs near Gardiner (north entrance to Yellowstone National Park)
Read More: 15 Best Hot Springs in Montana
Montana Winter Fun Beyond the Mountains
You don’t need to be in the mountains (or even outdoors) to have a memorable time in Montana during a winter trip. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Montana during winter.
Check Out Stops Along the Dino Trail
Did you know Montana is one of the most important archaeological places for dinosaur fossils in the entire world? Some of the most important find have been found around Glendive and other parts of the Montana plains.
The Montana Dinosaur Trail helps you easily discover the museums and skeletons that shed light on the Jurassic period in Montana. Dino bones and fossils are still being found to this day!
Billings Brew Trail
Billings is home to the only walkable craft beer trail in Montana. Located in downtown Billings, you can go to multiple breweries all within a few blocks of each other.
Montana’s beer scene has been flourishing for the past couple decades and Billings is the perfect place to experience it. Stay cozy during the winter months with a local pint or tasting flight inside one of Billings’ breweries.
Check Out a Museum
Montana is home to many museums. From frontier history museum to dinosaur museums to art museums, there is no shortage of excellent (and warm!) buildings housing artifacts and info to immerse yourself in.
Here are some of the top museums in Montana:
- Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman: features exhibits on regional history and culture, including dinosaur fossils and Western art.
- Montana Museum of Art and Culture, Missoula: Showcases a variety of art from Montana and around the world.
- Moss Mansion, Billings: This historic house museum offers a glimpse into the life of a wealthy early 20th-century Montana family.
- World Museum of Mining, Butte: Features exhibits and tours on the history and technology of mining in Montana and beyond.
- Miracle of America Museum, Polson: Houses a large collection of artifacts and vehicles related to American history, including military vehicles and a replica Old West town.
- C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls: Dedicated to the works of Montana artist Charles M. Russell, located on his former homestead.
- Western Heritage Center, Billings: Showcases the history and culture of the American West, with a focus on the Yellowstone River Valley region.
- Conrad Mansion, Kalispell: A historic mansion that offers tours and exhibits on the life of the Conrad family, who were influential in the early development of the area.
- Daly Mansion, Hamilton: A stately mansion with expansive gardens that was once the home of copper magnate Marcus Daly, and now offers tours and exhibits on the history of the Bitterroot Valley.
- Yellowstone County Museum, Billings: Has exhibits on the history and culture of Yellowstone County, including Native American artifacts and local art.
Montana Winter Events
Get in a wintery state of mind at one of Montana’s premier winter events. From festivals and carnivals to sporting competitions, you’ll have fun at one of these annual events:
- Whitefish Winter Carnival – A 10-day celebration filled with parades, live music, and winter sports.
- Big Sky Biggie – A ski and snowboard competition featuring some of the state’s best athletes.
- Missoula Nordic Festival – A weekend-long event celebrating cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with races and clinics.
- Helena Winterfest – A family-friendly event with ice skating, sledding, and a chili cook-off.
- Bozeman Ice Festival – A gathering of ice climbers from around the world to climb frozen waterfalls.
- Livingston Winter Roundup – A traditional rodeo featuring events such as bull riding and barrel racing in the snow.
- Red Lodge Winter Fest – A celebration of winter sports with events such as skijoring, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.
- Butte Winter Carnival – A weekend of winter activities including sleigh rides, snow sculpting, and a torchlight parade.
- Flathead Valley Pond Hockey Championship – A hockey tournament held on frozen ponds in the beautiful Flathead Valley.
- Yellowstone Ski Festival – A cross-country skiing festival held in West Yellowstone, featuring races and clinics for all ages and abilities.
Montana Winter FAQS
Most people are aware that Montana is known for being cold and snowy in winter, but many visitors might not realize how much weather can change region by region. A lot of this has to do with the Continental Divide that runs through the western part of Montana.
East of the divide has colder winters with higher windchill. West of the divide (Whitefish, Missoula, Butte…) is slightly warmer than Eastern Montana in winter, but has higher condensation in the air that can make for more snow. It’s also usually sunnier in the east, while Western Montana gets inversions during the winter that can make for cloudy weather above all that snow.
Here are some average temperature stats (in Fahrenheit) for popular cities 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
Averages are great and all, but it’s also important to remember it’s not unheard of for temperatures to drop well below the averages. During winter, temperatures often drop below freezing and even below zero. So be prepared with extreme cold weather clothing and footwear.
Because of its cold and snowy winters and many mountain passes, driving in Montana can be treacherous in the winter months. Be prepared with appropriate winter gear, keep blankets in your car, and always keep your gas tank over half full. It’s also wise to check weather and road conditions before heading out.
If traveling around Montana by car in the winter it’s smart to subscribe to texts from MT Dot Transportation.
It’s wise to have an all-wheel drive vehicle during winter. If available, snow tires are option, consider putting those on for your travels to. Regardless of your tire traction, you should definitely keep tire chains in your car in case you encounter especially icy or snowy roads.
This differs quite a bit depending what you’re planning to do during your trip. However, generally speaking, January and February are best for skiing with the caveat that it’s going to be more expensive and crowded during school’s mid-winter breaks, which usually occur in February.
The holidays are also a magical time to be in Montana, but expect to pay a premium for flights and accommodations.
If you avoid the holidays and school breaks, though, you’ll find that Montana is much more affordable to travel around in winter compared to the peak season of summer.
Definitely bring a water-resistant winter coat and snow boots. I also recommend snowpants and wool base layers. Fleece layers are also smart to have onhand. Thick, waterproof gloves and a warm hat that covers your ears are also must-haves. If skiing, don’t forget the shades and sunscreen if the cloud cover is gone. The glare of the sun off the snow will get you sunburned faster than you might think!
Stay at a Montana Winter Resort
Want to immerse yourself in Montana’s scenic winters? Stay at one of Montana’s top resorts for a winter wonderland experience.
For some of the best options on where to stay, check out these articles: