Montana is a remarkably stunning state no matter what the season, but during the coldest months of the year, it becomes especially magical. Many top Montana destinations offer the chance to immerse yourself in a true winter wonderland.
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Libby is a beautiful small town in the northwest corner of the state. It may best be known for Kootenai Falls, one of the most stunning natural wonders in the area, and it’s even more spectacular in the winter, transformed into a cascading flow of ice, while bald eagles can be seen perched in the bare cottonwood trees along the water’s edge. Libby also offers access to hundreds of backcountry trails and legendary downhill ski resorts for skiing and boarding. Less than 20 miles away is Turner Mountain renowned for its wide-open slopes and scenery.
Darby is home to the Triple Creek Ranch which gives a whole new meaning to the saying “there’s no place like home for the holidays,” that is, when your home is right here. This resort in the Bitterroot Mountains is ideal for those seeking a romantic winter retreat. Set among the towering pines on the side of the region’s highest mountain, the ranch features 12 private cabins, each of which include a wood-burning fireplace and access to a hot tub. Guests can enjoy sledding, tubing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and skijoring – a sport where skiers are drawn by mounted horses through the snowy meadows and across forest trails to provide an experience that feels like a blend between water skiing and snow skiing. Gourmet meals, featuring contemporary cuisine infused with dashes of the West Indies, Southwest and Central America, using fresh, local ingredients, are all included.
Yellowstone National Park is located in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, and in the winter, a shuttle service from Montana’s Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport will bring you through the park’s North Entrance near Gardiner. The wintertime is one of the best times for a visit, with the chance to enjoy seclusion and tranquility, as well as a better opportunity for spotting the elusive wolf and their bison and elk prey. The Yellowstone Association Institute’s Winter Wolf Discover tours depart between late December and mid-March if you have your heart set on seeing the animals, or you could always just head out into the snow on cross-country skis or snowshoes, exploring the miles and miles of trails which pass brilliantly colored mineral pools, erupting geysers and frozen falls.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is one of the most breathtaking places in America at any time of year, but in the winter, it’s truly a jaw-dropping wonderland. While there’s no lodging in the park, the hardy can camp at the Apgar Picnic Area and St. Mary Campground for free for easy access to the stuff that powder-lovers dreams are made of. Put on a pair of snowshoes and glide along the shores of Lake McDonald, or join a ranger-led snowshoe walk. You can also cross-country ski on the park’s legendary Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Set along the shores of picturesque Whitefish Lake in Flathead County, Whitefish is an outdoor adventure hub and was named one of the Top 25 Ski Towns in the World by National Geographic. Whitefish Mountain Resort is one of the top destinations for affordable skiing on uncrowded slopes with awe-inspiring mountain backdrops, offering great beginner terrain as well as challenges for experts. Stay at Grouse Mountain Lodge and you’ll be just minutes from the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort. Private shuttle service is provided to and from the ski lifts, as well as activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Bigfork is often referred to as the state’s true Christmas village as the community goes all out when it comes to decorating and celebrating the holidays, giving it an especially magical feel in winter. Visitors can also enjoy the unique opportunity to try dog sledding at Base Camp Bigfork. The adventure allows one to become immersed in the snow-covered landscape while taking turns mushing, and enjoying cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snacking on s’mores and hot drinks in front of the campfire in between.
The charming town of Philipsburg really comes to life during the winter season, decked out for the holidays with dazzling lights and all sorts of decor. When all of the area’s hiking trails are covered in snow, they can be used for snowshoeing or cross country skiing, and there are many open to snowmobiles too. Plus, the Discovery Ski area opens up for snowboarding and downhill skiing. You’ll find indoor attractions too, as this historic town was at its peak as a mining town in the latter part of the 19th century. Today, you can mine for sapphires and watch plays and vaudeville-style shows at the 1891 Opera House Theatre too. The Granite County Museum features exhibits on pioneer and homestead era history, old photos and real mining equipment as well as a miner’s cabin and a realistic simulation of an actual mine.
The entire town of Fort Benton is a National Historic Landmark, it has such a rich history. The “birthplace of Montana,” it was founded on the courage and hard labor of the thousands that came to explore and seek a better future. You’ll see its history on display throughout, particularly in the Heritage Complex which sits on the banks of the Missouri River, where the old fort shares space with a variety of other museums. Fort Benton also takes part in the Chouteau County Country Christmas celebration, a time when the homes and business are all decked out for the holidays, and some offer open houses and other special events, including visits with Santa, an arts and crafts show and live music.