Winter Getaways in Montana You’ll Want to Brave the Cold For
Montana in the winter is spectacular. Sure, I may be biased since I live here, but my family and I think it’s pretty darn wonderful even in the cold. Montana is a wonderful place to go for a winter vacation to celebrate the holidays, ski during mid-winter break, or just to experience the gorgeous winter ambiance at anytime during the season!
The crowds are gone; heck, even the ski resorts here in Montana aren’t anywhere near as busy as Utah and Colorado while still offering world-class resorts and luxurious (or budget) accommodations.
Even beyond the epic skiing and snowboarding, a Montana winter vacation can introduce you to some of the coolest towns in the state when they’re all cozied up like a winter wonderland.
And the national parks in Montana (that would be Glacier and Yellowstone) are breathtakingly gorgeous in the winter. Even though large parts of the parks are closed in the winter months, it’s still well worth a visit to see the remote, snowy plains and snowcapped mountains with barely another soul around.
We go into more about each destination we recommend for a winter trip in Montana below.
So read on for our top 12 destinations (starting with a few of our favorite ski towns and then moving onto some other blissful winter escapes) for a Montana winter vacation, and start daydreaming of snow and hot chocolate (or wine) in front of the fireplace!
Red Lodge, Montana
Best for: Montana ski vacation with a local flair
One of our family’s favorite winter getaways is Red Lodge. I’ve been skiing there since I was a kid and took my kids there pretty much as soon as they could walk, and now my young grandchildren are snow plowing down the mountainside.
Red Lodge is an easy drive from Billings as long as the roads are cleared. Once there, you can spend your ski vacation where the locals hit the slopes. Take breaks in the chalet to sip a beer or hot chocolate.
In the evenings, get dinner along Broadway Ave, Red Lodge’s cute little Main Street. For an excellent way to start the day, get the protein-packed breakfast burrito and a coffee from the Wild Table.
READ MORE: Winter Ski Guide to Red Lodge Mountain
Best for: cozy ski getaway
Whitefish is another epic ski vacation in Montana. It’s bigger and it’s a longer drive from Whitefish Resort to downtown Whitefish for drinks and dining compared to Red Lodge, but it’s worth the drive and you’ll really feel like you’re in a ski town. Or just rent a ski in / ski out chalet and stay up on the mountain the whole time!
Whitefish is one of the most beloved mountain towns in Montana and you can vacation there via train, car, or plane since Amtrak stops in Whitefish and it’s also a doable drive (2.5 hours) from Missoula County International Airport (or 5 hours from the busier and usually cheaper Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport).
If you aren’t into skiing and snowboarding, then I recommend staying down the mountain right in the town of Whitefish and enjoying the charming mountain town atmosphere, lake views, and quick access to the bars and restaurants lining the Main Street of Whitefish.
Where to Stay:
—> In Town: Lodge at Whitefish Lake for scenic lake views or Firebrand Hotel to be right in downtown.
—> On the Mountain: There are a variety of accommodations on Whitefish Mountain that you can book through skiwhitefish.com or vrbo.com.
READ MORE: Best Things to Do in Whitefish, MT
Big Sky Resort
Best for: ski and snowboard fanatics
And now onto the biggest of Montana’s ski resorts: Big Sky. Unlike other ski resorts in Montana which get a lot of locals, Big Sky is a destination unto itself. (The locals who live close to Big Sky typically ski at Bridger Bowl Mountain.)
Still, touristy places have their perks. And Big Sky Mountain is home to some of the most incredible ski runs in the country, with state-of-the-art chair lifts and gondolas. There’s an excellent ski school for kids and tons of different lodging options close to the slopes. The excellent ski slopes and amenities easily make this one of the best Montana winter vacations you can do.
Down the mountain, you can go snowshoeing alongside the Gallatin River or snowmobiling in Gallatin National Forest. For epic dining, you’re still close to downtown Bozeman, a foodie haven. Which brings us to our next Montana winter vacation destination…
Best for: winter vacation for foodies who love the outdoors
Bozeman is rapidly growing in popularity as both a travel hot spot and as a place to live. One of my daughters lives there and says what makes Bozeman so special is the sheer number of things to do outdoors all around the city.
Bozeman is close to Big Sky and Bridger Bowl; epic snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is a short drive away in Hyalite Canyon; and groomed cross-country ski trails are also located at Crosscut Mountain Sports and Bridger Creek Golf Course.
For ice climbers, Hyalite Canyon is also great and considered one of the best spots in the country for ice climbing.
On a cold day, it’s also wonderful to soak in the steamy indoor and outdoor pools at Bozeman Hot Springs, one of our favorite things to do in Bozeman.
Where to Stay: The Lark offers hip, comfortable accommodations right in downtown Bozeman.
READ MORE: Best Things to Do in Bozeman, MT
Best for: winter city escape
Billings is a place I call home and so it’s easy to forget that it can be an awesome winter vacation spot, too (especially when I’m shoveling snow off my driveway).
But yes, Billings has some winter charm that makes it a great Montana winter getaway. Especially if you’re looking for breweries, good food, easy access to an airport, and nearby recreational opportunities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling. For downhill skiing, Red Lodge Mountain is just 90 minutes from Billings and a doable day trip.
Where to Stay:
—> The Northern: a boutique hotel with a luxurious western vibe right in downtown Billings.
Fairmont Hot Springs
Best for: centrally located resort style vacation with day trips
Indoor and outdoor hot springs abound at this upscale resort conveniently located between Bozeman and Butte. Base yourself at Fairmont Hot Springs for your Montana winter vacation and you can enjoy the relaxing ambiance of the resort in between day trips to some of Montana’s best cities.
Some day trip options from Fairmont Hot Springs include Bozeman (100 miles away) and visiting the Museum of the Rockies; Butte (15 miles away) with its mining history attractions and pretty carousel; and Dillon (68 miles away), where you’ll find a cute little main town with some historic railroad sites and even a Patagonia outlet store.
Back at Fairmont Hot Springs enjoy the indoor and outdoor pools all fed by local hot springs. There is even a swirling 350-foot enclosed waterslide that is open year-round!
Yellowstone National Park
Best for: one-of-a-kind snowmobiling and winter photography
Montana and Wyoming share the access points to Yellowstone National Park, but Montana boasts the only Yellowstone entrance open in winter, which would be the North entrance near Gardiner, Montana.
The north entrance is close to Mammoth Village, a near mystical feeling place in the winter thanks to the steam rising into the air from the otherworldly looking Mammoth Hot Springs.
During winter in Yellowstone National Park, you can go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling and see hardly anyone else.
Here’s a cross-country ski trip picture my middle daughter took from her winter weekend getaway to Yellowstone a few years ago:
Yellowstone has a couple winter lodges that make for a great place to stay for a winter vacation:
Old Faithful Snow Lodge is especially unique since it is only accessible via a snowcat or horse-drawn carriage. Once there, you can go snowshoeing and cross country skiing or take excursion via snow coach to the town of West Yellowstone for some snowmobiling.
Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel and Cabins is easily accessible by car from the north entrance.
READ MORE: Best Snowmobiling in Montana
Izaak Walton Inn
Best For: family getaway in the mountains to bond and get outside
Izaak Walton Inn is a unique lodge escape in Glacier Country. Located in Essex, you’re just roughly 30 minutes from both the east and west entrances to Glacier National Park (though only the west entrance is open in winter.)
Izaak Walton Inn is right by an Amtrak stop and you can sometimes hear the trains whistling by throughout the day and night (so bring ear plugs if you’re sensitive to noise at night). The train activity is super exciting for families.
Kids will be especially thrilled with a stay in one of the train car accommodations. You can choose from cabooses and locomotives that have all been refurbished into cozy accommodations. These train cabins offer ski-in and ski-out Nordic skiing.
You can also choose to stay at the main lodge, which has a rustic feel. Rooms include family suites and standard double rooms. The Lodge has on-site eateries, too.
READ MORE: Montana Cross-Country Skiing Guide
Cross-Country Skiing in Glacier
Best for: winter sports in solitude
Glide by Lake McDonald and Avalanche Lake as you take in peace and solitude on a cross-country ski trip to Glacier National Park. (Though solitude should mean for your group, we don’t recommend solo adventures in Montana in the winter!)
Not much is accessible via road in Glacier in winter, but that provides an excellent opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to get away from it all and explore the beloved national park via snowshoe or Nordic ski.
My middle daughter did the route to Avalanche Lake a couple years ago and said it was so peaceful and quiet.
For snowshoeing, you can even enjoy a ranger led snowshoe walk around the Apgar area by Lake McDonald. It’s a fun and adventurous way to learn about this beloved national park in Montana.
Where to Stay:
—> Columbia Falls (18 miles / roughly 25 minutes from west entrance): Cedar Creek Lodge is a lovely building with many onsite amenities.
—> Kalispell (34 miles / roughly 45 minutes from west entrance): Kalispell Grand Hotel is located right along the central part of Main Street and is a beautifully restored, historic hotel.
Chico Hot Springs
Best for: therapeutic relaxation in a beautiful setting
This is a winter getaway in Montana that’s loved by both locals and visitors — so book early even in winter!
Chico Hot Springs is located in Pray, MT (about an hour southeast from Bozeman) and has a historic lodge that creates a rectangle around the steamy waters of a naturally fed pool. Enjoy the warmth and healing properties of the water throughout the day and into the evening.
Intersperse hot spring time with winter activities and getting meals or drinks at one of the on-site eateries at Chico Hot Springs. There is also a spa you can book treatments at.
For accommodation you can stay on the lodge and be close to the action or bundle up for walks to and from your own little cabin.
Tip: If you’re just looking for a luxurious spa and 5-star service, check out the exquisite Sage Lodge down the road.
READ MORE: 15 Best Hot Springs in Montana
Ranch at Rock Creek
Best for: luxury all-inclusive vacation with exciting activities
The Ranch at Rock Creek is a luxurious dude ranch located near Whitefish, MT. The expanse of land and activities make it ideal for both couples and families. Couples might prefer to cozy up in one of the main lodge rooms to be close to the excellent dining, drinks, and activities, while families might prefer one of the luxury ranch houses for more room to spread out.
Tip: Couples who want more privacy should also check out the cozy, 1-bedroom Bluebird luxury house that has a sumptuous king-size canopy bed.
You can go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and horse back riding right on the ranch. You can even take an unforgettable sleigh ride through the ranch. Other fun winter activities include sapphire mining, frontier skills classes, meditation and yoga classes, ice skating, UTV adventures, bonfire happy hours, and more.
After a day of action and fun, you can restore tired muscles with a massage at the onsite spa.
It’s also easy to do winter excursions from the Rock at Ranch Creek. Discovery Ski Area is just 35 minutes away and offers excellent downhill skiing or snowboarding.
READ MORE: The Best Dude Ranches in Montana
Best for: a city escape with some hipster charm and nearby winter sports
Missoula is the first major city you’ll hit when coming from the west — and you’ll have to drive over some extreme mountain passes to do so if you’re arriving to this prime winter getaway destination in Montana by car. However, it’s worth it (but maybe get 4-wheel drive first) to spend some time in Missoula during the magical winter months.
Like many cities and towns in Montana, Missoula goes all out for the holidays so if you’re arriving in December, you can enjoy city lights and decor in the downtown area. It’s a sleepier time there due to students being gone from campus for the winter holidays and makes for a lovely time to bundle up and stroll around the streets, perhaps popping into a coffee house or brewery or two.
READ MORE: Montana in December Travel Guide
Of course, this being Montana, there are also tons of outdoor activities to do on a winter vacation in Missoula.
A short drive from downtown and you’ll find snowshoeing and cross-country trails, dog sledding, and snowmobiling. You can also get some thrills racing down the mountainside at Snowbowl, a ski area known for excellent runs without any of the pomp and circumstance ski resorts sometimes have. Plus, there are rarely lift lines!
READ MORE: The Top Things to Do in Missoula
We hope you have a fabulous time on your Montana winter vacation — just remember to pack really warm clothes and winter snow gear! And if you’re planning a visit during the holidays, don’t stop reading yet: check out our Best Christmas Spots in Montana article.