Summer makes me want to hit the road, and one of my favorite things to do is explore Montana. Red Lodge is just a few hours from Bozeman, so it makes a perfect overnight getaway.
Day 1: Hike and Main Street
Take the scenic drive to Red Lodge, arriving midday.
Hike the Silver Run Ski Trails
It can be hard to choose a place to hike since there are so many great trails just outside of town. A few miles from Red Lodge, along the banks of the West Fork of Rock Creek, is the Silver Run Ski Trail system. These trails are pretty flat, scenic and can be linked together to create whatever length outing your family is up for. This is a lovely hike, not the most spectacularly scenic, but a great close-to-town walk or mountain bike ride.
The West Fork of Rock Creek is a boulder-strewn beauty. The trail is a long, narrow loop with connector trails throughout, dividing it into four mini-loops. There are supposed to be signs designating the cutoffs, but we only saw the signs on the upper part of the loop and since we started at the bottom, that didn’t help much, but it still pretty obvious.
- Getting There: From Red Lodge drive south and turn right on West Fork Road. Stay straight at 2.8 miles (the right road goes to Red Lodge Ski Area). Drive another 1.6 miles to Silver Run Road and turn left. Drive across the bridge and park.
- Distance: 2.4-5 miles (Loop 2 is a three mile hike).
- Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Explore Red Lodge
Download a self-guided historic walking tour map and discover Red Lodge’s heritage while you walk.
We often take scooters with us to explore small towns. They are easy to pack, fun for kids, and not as intrusive as a bike. The best folding scooter lets kids burn off some energy during travel.
Eat in Red Lodge
End the day with dinner at the kid-friendly Red Lodge Pizza Company.
Day 2: Mine and Native Animals
Mine the past
First, stop by the Carbon County Historical Society & Museum to get a better understanding of Red Lodge and Carbon County’s past. There is a lot to see in there, but for today’s purposes visit the coal mine in the basement. There you’ll get a glimpse of the area’s coal mining past and present and even walk through a coal shaft. Read about the Smith Mine Disaster.
After visiting the museum, drive out to the Smith Mine Disaster historical marker and the ruins of the mine. Drive south on Broadway 1.1 mile and turn left on State Highway 308 east. At 5.2 miles look for a pullout on the left and the Smith Mine Disaster sign. The marker offers historic details of the Smith Mine Disaster of 1942. You’ll see mine building ruins behind the sign.
Go Wild at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary
Visit native animals at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, a refuge for animals that cannot be released into the wild. Meet bobcats, coyotes, bald eagles, mountain lions and other wild critters.
The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Beartooth Nature Center) takes animals that cannot be released into the wild and gives them a home below the Beartooth Mountains on the outskirts of Red Lodge.
Most of the animals come from Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks. Some were confiscated when people illegally kept them as pets; others were found when their mothers were shot or otherwise orphaned. Some were just donated from private ranches when they no longer wanted them or couldn’t keep them.
The nature center is good for the animals and a nice educational experience. The animals are interesting to watch and the gardens are beautifully abloom with native flowers.
Red Lodge Trip Planning
Find out about lodging, camping, rafting, horseback riding and a million other things to do in Red Lodge at redlodge.com.
Hiking Trails Near Red Lodge
As I mentioned, there are a lot of options for hiking in and around Red Lodge. Here are a few of the trails I recommend.
South Fork Grove Creek Near Red Lodge, Montana
The dirt road from Red Lodge to the trailhead is only about 7.5 miles, but it is a slow drive. Most of the route is pretty good, but there are some rocky sections. And watch out for the cows that hang out in the road.
The trail is really a road that climbs steeply from the trailhead and parallels the South Fork of Grove Creek. The best part about this walk is the view of the Meeteetse Spirespart of the Palisades (a dramatic limestone formation). In fact, the trail goes right through the spires.
The road climbs through Douglas-firs, limber pines and aspens. At the first junction (about 1 mile) stay to the right (youll come back this way) and continue for 1.7 miles from the trailhead to the remnants of an old rock structure near the creek. Cross the creek and go left at the next junction, heading back towards the trailhead, making a lollipop loop.
A history lesson: The Meeteetse Trail began as an Army supply trail in 1881 that started at Meeteetse, Wyoming came through Red Lodge and continued on to Coulson (now Billings). The road brought the first mail, supplies and settlers the 100 mile distance from Meeteetse to Red Lodge and was originally called the 100 Mile Route. Several years after its opening, stagecoaches began to travel the Meeteetse regularly.
- Getting There: From the south end of Red Lodge, turn left (east) onto Meeteetse Trail. Follow the dirt road 7.4 miles to a Y junction (.9 miles past North Fork Grove Creek access). Stay to the right .25 miles to a parking area.
- Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
Island and Night Lakes in the Beartooths
I picked this hike because it is flat and pretty shortperfect for families with little kids or those who want to make a quick stop on their drive over the Bearooth Pass but still want to be stunned by scenery and feel like they are really out there.
The scenery is stunning. Throughout the hike you’ll be gazing at alpine lakes, craggy peaks and landscapes that normally take at least a day of hiking to get to. We’ve also used this trail as a starting point for backpacking in the Beartooths. In just a couple easy miles you get away from people and into the perfect basecamp for exploring the plateau.
From the trailhead, follow the path towards the lake and the boat ramp. Cross the boat ramp road and continue towards the outlet of the lake. The trail follows the west shore of Island Lake and then Night Lake. When the trail heads uphill at the north end of Night Lake we turned around, but the Beartooth High Lakes Trail continues to Becker, Beauty and Native lakes and into the backcountry.
- Getting There: Look for the Island Lake turnoff on the north side of the Beartooth Highway (Hwy 212) 38 miles south of Red Lodge and 26 miles east of Cook City. Turn north and drive .02 miles to the sign for trailhead parking. Turn right and drive another .02 miles to the parking area.
- Distance: 3.4 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 100 feet
For more hikes around Red Lodge and in the Beartooth Mountains check out Robert Stone’s Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains.
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