This post is sponsored by Glacier Country Tourism
Most people think of Montana as a summer vacation destination – and it is a lovely place in summer. Montana winter vacations can be just as magical with a lot fewer people around to share them with.
If you’ve spent any time on this site or on my Instagram account, you know I adore winter. A fresh blanket of snow, outdoorsy days and cozy evenings, long star-sparkled nights… I love so much about the season and look forward to taking at least one Montana winter vacation each year (but probably several!).
The following is the itinerary we used to travel around western Montana in winter. We sought out unique experiences, recreational opportunities, and time spent together. We wanted to try new things and revisit some of our favorite activities in new places.
Plan Ahead for Winter in Montana
I love a spontaneous trip as much as the next person, but this isn’t the time or place for that. Definitely be open to new experiences and people as they appear, but have your lodging, rental gear, and restaurant plans secured before you.
Many places are closed in winter or have limited hours. Some rental gear may be in short supply. Things move slowly out here at times. All the reasons people want to come to Montana — to get away from it all, to experience a slower pace, and to be in the wild, can be frustrating when you arrive hungry to a closed restaurant, can’t find a hotel room in a tiny town after dark, or discover that there are only five pair of snowshoes available for your family of six.
Planning ahead — make phone calls rather than expecting websites to be up to date — and embracing the quiet life will go a long way. Have a Plan A and a Plan B (maybe even a Plan C).
If the fat biking trails aren’t solid enough to ride, find a snow-covered road or go ice skating. When you can’t get into a restaurant, get it to-go or whip something up in the kitchen(ette) in your lodging. You get the idea.
Driving in Montana Winter
This is a winter road trip itinerary, so you will need a vehicle. I recommend something with AWD (all-wheel drive), but a front-wheel-drive car will probably be fine.
This is not a comprehensive list about driving in Montana, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Check the weather and road conditions before you head out.
- Keep a half of a tank of gas in your vehicle or at least know the distance to the next gas station.
- Don’t expect to have cell service everywhere along your route.
- Keep a blanket/sleeping bag in your car for emergencies.
- Drive slowly on snow/ice. You don’t have anything to prove.
Things To Do in Montana in Winter
We started our winter vacation in Montana in Livingston since that’s where we live. If you are flying into the state, your closest airport is in Missoula. The next best option is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport since that airport has the most flights of any airport in Montana.
Wherever you start, point your vehicle to Seeley Lake, Montana.
Day 1 – Fat Biking in Seeley Lake
As you drive through Seeley Lake, there will likely be a couple of places open to grab lunch or snacks to fuel you through the afternoon.
Seeley Lake (the town) is on the east side of Seeley Lake (the lake). The Mission Mountains rise in the west and the Swan Mountains in the east. It’s truly beautiful and full of outdoor activities year-round.
Having never been fat biking before, we were excited to try it out. Picture a mountain bike with really fat tires that allow one to ride on snow. That’s what we are talking about here. You can’t ride just anywhere, as I was imaging, you still need packed trails. When you find the right trails it’s really fun!
We rented bikes and helmets from Tamaracks Resort on the northeast end of Seeley Lake. They pointed us toward a trail that was way too soft for us, so we pivoted (remember what I said about having a Plan B?) and rode up the quiet road a little to a snow-covered and closed-to-traffic road.
It was a little more work than regular mountain biking, but totally doable for us newbies. And we had a blast riding through the wintry landscape.
When we returned a week later, the trail we couldn’t ride was packed out by a snowmobile and rideable.
Tamaracks Resort is right on Seeley Lake and also rents ice skates, snowshoes, cross-country skis, ice fishing equipment, and snowmobiles and snowmobile accessories.
Check out another of our Montana winter vacations in western Montana.
Winter Lodging in Seeley Lake
Double Arrow Lodge is perfect for Montana in the winter. We stayed in a two-bedroom cabin with a full kitchen, living room, and eating area. They have a variety of other types of rooms and condos.
Restaurants in Seeley Lake
Dinner was at Lindey’s Prime Steak House, which is kind of hilarious since three of us are vegetarians but it turned out to be really fun. It’s an old-school steak house with only steak and sides on the menu. The boys and I ate the sides – awesome bread, scrumptious mushrooms, refreshing salads, and a few other items – and Henry got a huge slab of meat. Everyone was happy.
Day 2 – Skiing, Sleigh Ride, and S’mores in Seeley Lake
Breakfast was at the Seasons Restaurant inside the Western-style Double Arrow lodge and then we piled into the car and drove to the nearby Seeley Lake Nordic Ski Trail system. The trails are like a mellow rollercoaster.
The more than 11 miles of groomed trails are best described as undulating. Since there are several loops, everyone can find the right classic or skate ski option. Thanks to its location between two mountain ranges, it has more consistent snow than neighboring valleys.
After a few hours kicking and gliding through the forest, we headed back to our cabin at the Double Arrow Lodge to relax by the woodstove for a bit before walking over to the lodge for a sleigh ride.
Two gorgeous Percheron horses decked in jingle bells pulled us around the golf course turned cross-country ski and snowshoe meadows. We had hot drinks and cookies from the Double Arrow Lodge to keep our insides warm and blankets to keep our outsides snug. Gazing at the mountains while sipping cocoa and hot butter rum is truly a Montana iconic winter experience.
After a classic country dinner at Seasons, we gathered around the fire pit behind the lodge to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. What a day.
Day 3 – Charming Bigfork
We always include a mellow day or a flex day into our family vacations in Montana…or anywhere for that matter. We spent a lazy morning reading by the fire, nestled under wool blankets, then packed up for the scenic drive to Bigfork, Montana, about one and a quarter-hour distant.
On a whim, we decided to stop at Holland Lake. We love it in summer and were curious to see it in winter. In case you are wondering, it is still gorgeous. We parked at the end of the plowed road and walked to the day-use area. The boys threw snowballs as we wandered around.
In Bigfork, our first stop was the Flathead Lake Brewing Company for a late lunch. The pub house overlooks Flathead Lake and serves tasty food and scrumptious drinks. Next was a stop at the grocery store to get provisions for that night’s dinner, plus a couple of breakfasts and lunches.
Downtown Bigfork is one of Montana’s most charming towns. It is seriously cute. We wandered through some shops and galleries while taking in the Montana vibe.
Then it was ten minutes to Base Camp Bigfork where we would spend the next two nights and go dog sledding.
Mark, Samantha, and their two boys have a vacation rental on their property along with nearly 20 sled dogs. We checked in, went for a walk in the snow, made dinner, and played board games. We were all very excited about the next days’ activity.
Day 4 – Dog Sledding in Montana
If you love northern dog breeds, whizzing through the woods, and playing at being a dog musher as much as we do, you will love the dog sledding adventure with Base Camp Bigfork.
We started the morning by meeting the dogs and learning a little bit about them and the sport of dog sledding from Mark and Sam. We even helped get the pups in their harnesses while petting and loving on them.
Mark will be the first to tell you that this dog sledding isn’t for everyone. It’s adventurous and athletic. Two of us rode on each sled with Mark cross-country skiing alongside and in front of the dogs – talk about adventurous and athletic!
Anders and I took turns sitting on the sled and standing behind it mushing. Sometimes that meant standing on the sled runners or the break, sometimes that meant kicking or running with the sled. Occasionally, that meant falling off and being dragged behind the sled until one could stand up and stop it. It was so much fun. All four of us loved the experience.
When the dog sledding was over (sad face) we went back to the vacation rental and made lunch, still buzzing from the sledding. With Mark and Sam’s borrowed snowshoes (they have cross-country skis, too) we tromped up a logging road to a great lookout of the Swan Mountains.
For dinner, we went into Bigfork where we found a few open restaurants to choose from and then took full advantage of the wood-fired sauna upon our return. All winter vacations in Montana should have a day like this.
Day 5 – Downhill Skiing at Blacktail Mountain
For our final day of our Great Montana Winter Vacation, we drove to the top of Blacktail Mountain Ski Area and skied down to the lift. You read that right. At Blacktail Mountain, the lodge and parking area are at the top, so you start your day with a ski run rather than a lift ride.
Blacktail Mountain is very family-friendly and a great ski area for blue-run (intermediate) skiers like us. There are green and black diamond runs too, but lots of mellow blues.
We rented all of our gear there and had a lovely day schussing down the mountain enjoying the view of Flathead Lake, snow ghosts, and surrounding mountains. There were no lift lines and good food and drinks at Muley’s Bar and Grill. What more could you ask for?
Small, local Montana ski areas are our favorite places to ski and I’ve been wanting to visit Blacktail for over a decade. I was not disappointed.
After skiing, we drove 2.5 hours to Missoula to spend the night before heading home the next morning. There are about a million fun things to do in and around Missoula, but that’s for another post. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Downtown Missoula as we usually do. It’s right in downtown, so once you park you don’t have to drive anywhere. We were pleased to discover it had been renovated and updated since our last stay and it’s really nice.