Cross-Country Ski Trails in Montana
At Homestake Lodge, east of Butte, skiers kick, glide and skate over nearly 40 kilometers of groomed trails. School groups don skis for the first time, womens groups hone their skills on skate skis and kids groups learn to ski recreationally and competitively.
Families and individuals breeze through aspen trees and around beaver ponds and cruise up and down the conifer-lined trails beneath granite cliffs.
Seven years ago, this Nordic center was nothing but trees, boulders and a few dirt roads. Now families, exercise enthusiasts and hard-core Nordic skiers get their cross-country fix, meet up with friends and enjoy a bowl of homemade soup in front of the fire.
We had a vision of a place with great trails and a communal aspect, said Chris Axelson, who owns Homestake Lodge with his wife Mandy.
They’ve made that dream come true.
With an eye on minimizing their carbon footprint through the use of passive solar heating, thermal masses, photovoltaic panels and other eco-groovy techniques, Homestake Lodge is a perfect place for a day or a weekend out of town.
Montana is loaded with Nordic skiing opportunities. From full-fledged lodges, to parking lots that lead to miles of trails where there is reliable snow in Montana, theres a cross-country ski trail system.
What To Take Cross Country Skiing
Where To Go Cross Country Skiing in Montana
There are a lot of places to go Nordic skiing in Montana. Most of them are in the western part of the state, which makes sense since that is where the mountains are and the snow sticks around. This map of cross country ski areas in Montana is a good starting point, then scroll down for information on the individual areas (alphabetized).
Groomed Nordic Trails in Montana
B Bar Ranch is located in the Tom Miner drainage in Paradise Valley. This private guest ranch has 30 km of groomed cross-country ski trails that can be used by their guests. Once or twice a year, they will hold a fundraising day for local non profits, and anyone can pay to ski and have lunch.
It’s a beautiful area that we love to visit. Some of the trails are steeper as the climb hills, and there are mellow trails through the wetlands. On a misty day, it feels like you are in a Russell Chatham painting.
Bigfork Community Nordic Center and Blacktail Nordic Trails
The North Shore Nordic Club maintains trails for skiers and snowshoers in the Flathead Valley. They groom 6.5 kilometers at Bigfork Community Nordic Center and 43 kilometers at Blacktail Nordic Trails.
Bigfork trails are located at the intersection of Foothill and Jewel Basin Road north of Bigfork. Blacktail trails are along Blacktail Road east of Blacktail Mountain (alpine) Ski Area. Bigfork Community Nordic Center and Blacktail Nordic Trails
Crosscut Mountain Sports Center
Formerly Bohart Ranch, the new Crosscut envisions a year round sports center and expanded trail system. Currently, thirty miles of scenic trail system on private and Forest Service lands loop through terrain well suited for all levels of ability. Crosscut is known for impeccably groomed trails, big hills, biathlon training, and wildlife. The center is located 16 miles northeast of Bozeman. Crosscut Mountain Sports Center
Chief Joseph’s 25 kilometers of groomed trails receive reliable snowfall every year, and is usually skiable earlier and later than many of the other Nordic trails in the area. There is a warming cabin, with a rentable loft. Its located at the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley. You can even rent the Gordon Reece Forest Service cabin and spend the night. Chief Joseph Trail System
Double Arrow Resort
This resort in the middle of the Seeley-Swan Valley has 15 kilometers of groomed trails to fit a variety of experience levels. Beyond the trails, backcountry skiing lures the well equipped and avalanche-savvy. We stayed here as part of our winter Montana road trip. Double Arrow Resort
Elkhorn Hot Springs
More than 20 miles of ski and snowmobile (separate) trails beckon at Elkhorn Hot Springs in the Pioneer Mountains. From the lookout at Solarium Point, gaze south three miles to the ski runs at Maverick Mountain and beyond to the Big Hole Valley. To the north and east, the mountains Highboy, Comet, and Saddleback dominate the skyline. Soak in the hot springs pools après ski. We tend to make an every other year visit to Elkhorn Hot Springs, we like it that much. Elkhorn Hot Springs
See also: Montana Hot Springs
Throughout the state, the U.S. Forest Service maintains a network of hiking/biking/horseback riding trails that double as ski trails. Check with the local district for the best trails to ski.
Glacier National Park
Winter ski and snowshoe trails throughout Glacier offer access to spectacular scenery and uncrowded recreational opportunities. From Apgar, Lake McDonald and North Fork on the west side, to Saint Mary, Marias Pass and Two Medicine on the east side, both groomed and ungroomed trails crisscross the park. There are so many things to do in Glacier National Park, whether you visit in summer or winter.
Nestled at the top of Homestake Pass between Butte and Whitehall, Homestake Lodge superbly grooms 37 kilometers of trails for classic and skate skiing. Ten kilometers of trail are dog-friendly. A yurt, cabins and bunkrooms are available for rent. We ski here regularly as a family and rent out the lodge for an annual girls’ weekend. Homestake Lodge
Izaak Walton Inn
This historic inn bordering Glacier National Park in Essex has 33 kilometers of ski trails, which are groomed daily. The trails wind through gently rolling, forested terrain with views into Glacier National Park. Guided backcountry ski tours provide amazing adventures. We stayed here as part of our winter Montana road trip and we all loved it. Izaak Walton Inn
Lone Mountain Ranch
Voted No. 1 Nordic Ski Resort in North America by Cross Country Skier magazine, the dependable snow, 85 kilometers of meticulously groomed trails and epic views create an unrivaled ski experience in Big Sky. Don’t miss their sleigh ride dinner for an iconic Western winter outing. Lone Mountain Ranch
MacDonald Pass and Bill Roberts Golf Course
The Last Chance Nordic Ski Club maintains trails in two areas near Helena. The 13 kilometers of trails at MacDonald Pass offer stunning views of the Big Belt Mountains through the sheltered forest area. The city golf course offers convenient skiing in town. MacDonald Pass trails are about ½ mile east of the MacDonald Pass summit in Highway 12, the golf course is in Helena. MacDonald Pass and Bill Roberts Golf Course
Mount Haggin Nordic Ski Area
Nearly 28 kilometers of groomed ski trails (10 kilometers for skate skiing, and all of the trails with the exception of the Spire Loop groomed for classic skiing). Ski trails also can be used as access to backcountry skiing along the Continental Divide. Find it 11 miles south of Highway 1, near Anaconda. Read more about Mount Haggin and other places to cross country ski near Butte. Mount Haggin Nordic Ski Area
Red Lodge Nordic Center
More than 15 kilometers of groomed trails are laid out to take advantage of easy-going nature of the terrain just outside of Red Lodge. Well-groomed trails skirt meadows and wind through aspen groves; the hills are challenging, but easy to avoid. There are lots of other things to do in Red Lodge in winter, so stay for a few days. Red Lodge Nordic Center
Rendezvous Ski Trails
Easily accessible in West Yellowstone, the Rendezvous Ski Trails consist of more than 35 kilometers of gently rolling, beautifully groomed trails that wind through tall stands of lodgepole pine and open meadows. Situated at just more than 6,800 feet, the trails provide perfect conditions for high altitude training or recreation. A 22-lane range is available on a self-serve basis for Biathlon training. There are lots of other fun winter activities in West Yellowstone, so you may want to stay a few days. Rendezvous Ski Trails
Seeley Lake Nordic
The Seeley Creek Nordic Trail system has reliable snow, impeccably groomed trails, a cozy warming hut and trails for all interest levels and abilities. The trails were designed to host ski races, as well as families wanting to stretch their legs and take advantage of Montana’s long, snowy winters.
Addrien Marx has lived in Seeley Lake for more than 30 years.
“The Seeley Lake Nordic trails cannot be taken for granted. They have standards set for homologation and passionate skate and classic skiers are working on an additional system that has the possibility to attract competitive opportunities in addition to Nordic skiing at its finest level. Be it serious or recreational Nordic skiing – Seeley Lake has the best I have experienced.”
Ski and biathlon races are held throughout the winter, and there will be more in the future. The community is looking to build more trails at a World Cup level in hopes of attracting more skiers and turning Seeley Lake into a truly world-class venue.
While these trails may be Montana’s best kept Nordic secret, there are plenty of other cross-country trails around Seeley Lake.
“If I were to choose the one outing that surfaces to the top of so many great times – it would be a full moon ski on Seeley Lake – in frigid temps, but warmed by the zillion countless crystals that guided the smooth surface that met the swoosh of my skis,” Marx said. “Looking up, I could see reflected diamonds – but they are brilliant and countless stars that shine on the wild peaks to the east and the west. Those high peaks and ridges were clothed in that bluish winter white and stark white against the black sky. Wilderness remote – yet in view.” Seeley Creek Nordic
More than 20 kilometers of trail wind through trees and meadows at the Silver Crest trails located in the Little Belt Mountains south of Neihart. Benches and shelters dot the trails just where skiers need a rest. Rent the Kings Hill Forest Service cabin for a cozy stay close to Silver Crest and the alpine trails at Showdown. Silver Crest Winter Trails
Stillwater Mountain Lodge (CLOSED)
The 20 kilometers of Nordic trails wind through old growth forests, roll over ridge tops and meander through meadows eight miles from Whitefish. Trails are groomed daily. The lodge offers three suites for overnight guests.
Whitefish Golf Course and Big Mountain Nordic Trails
Glacier Nordic Club and Iron Horse Golf Club groom and maintain 12 kilometers of flat-to-rolling ski trails at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course and 11 hilly kilometers on Whitefish Mountain. Parking is in the new lot (only!) at 3315 Big Mountain Road. Big Mountain Nordic Trails and Whitefish Golf Course
Yellowstone is at its best in winter. A blanket of snow, steamy geysers and hot springs, wildlife hunkered in the valleys, and the lack of summer crowds make skiing in Wonderland delightful. Find groomed or blazed trails at Mammoth, Tower, Old Faithful, Northeast, Canyon, West Yellowstone, and along Highway 191 in Gallatin Canyon. Try the Tower Falls Trail (in photo above) or Snow Pass to Bunsen Peak trails. Be sure to check out my Yellowstone site for all the fun things to do in Yellowstone National Park.
A version of this story originally appeared in The Great Falls Tribune, February 13, 2014.