This post is sponsored by Glacier Country Tourism
Read on for ideas for exploring winter adventures in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.
As our kids get older, Henry and I are making time to focus on our relationship as a couple, while still holding onto our family relationship. It won’t be long before our teens are off on their own adventures and we want to make sure our relationship has a steady base.
One way we are doing this is by taking trips that are just the two of us. We still want outdoor adventures, charming small towns, and cozy evenings, so a winter trip through the Bitterroot Valley was just the ticket.
The Bitterroot Valley is situated in western Montana, running south between the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountain ranges. Known for its scenic landscapes and outdoor activities, the valley follows the Bitterroot River and offers a mix of hills, forests, and snow-capped mountains.
Surrounded by national forests and wilderness areas, it’s a hub for nature enthusiasts. With historical sites to explore and a laid-back rural atmosphere, the Bitterroot Valley is a go-to destination for those looking to enjoy the simplicity and beauty of the Northern Rockies.
Join us as we traverse the snowy trails, donning cross-country skis at Lolo Pass, and venture into the past at St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville. Feel the crunch of snowshoes beneath your feet as we navigate the serene surroundings of Lake Como, and experience the thrill of gliding through Chief Joseph Pass Nordic Trails on cross-country skis. For those seeking the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing, we’ll also take you to the renowned Lost Trail Ski Area, where the slopes beckon with excitement and breathtaking views.
We started in Missoula and worked our way south.
Here’s our itinerary and descriptions follow.
Couple’s Winter Adventures in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley Itinerary
- Cross-country ski at Lolo Pass
- Travelers’ Rest State Park
- Eat at Lolo Creek Steak House
- Stay at Grand View Cabin
- Historic St. Mary’s Mission
- Red Rooster Artisan Bakery
- Snowshoe at Lake Como
- Downtown Hamilton and eat at Bitter Root Brewing
- Stay at ABC Acres
- Tour ABC Acres
- Cross-country ski at Chief Joseph Pass
- Eat at Triple Creek Ranch
- Stay at Bitterroot River Ranch
- Ski at Lost Trail Ski Area
- Eat at Knotty Nymph
- Stay at Bitterroot River Ranch
From breathtaking landscapes to the historical charm to fine dining and local eats, our winter escapade promises to be a captivating exploration of nature’s winter bounty. We end each day with a cozy stay that is as much a part of the itinerary as the activities.
Day 1 – Skiing and Steak
Embarking on the cross-country skiing adventure at Lolo Pass Ski Trails feels like stepping into a winter dream. Gliding through the snow-covered landscapes, the towering pine trees and the pure mountain air create an atmosphere of serene magic.
We started in the visitor center, paid for our Winter Recreation Pass, got a map, and then clicked into our skis and hit the trails. There are 6.5 miles of groomed cross-country ski trail and a 1.5-mile snowshoe loop. The ski trails connect with another 13.6 miles of multi-use trail for snowmobilers, fat bikes, snowshoers, dogs, and any other winter trail user.
See this post for other places to cross-country ski in Montana.
On the way back to Lolo, we planned to stop at Travelers’ Rest State Park but arrived too late. I’ve been there a few times before and think it’s always worth a stop and recommend it if you have time.
Travelers’ Rest has the only archaeologically verified campsite from Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition. They took mercury medicinally on the trip and expelled evidence of it wherever they went to the bathroom.
There is more to Travelers’ Rest than Lewis and Clark’s latrine — Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Nez Perce peoples were among those who traditionally occupied the area. And a walk along Lolo Creek, watching birds and other wildlife, is always nice.
In winter, the park is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday.
It was time to eat so we chose a classic Montana steakhouse, Lolo Creek Steakhouse in the town of Lolo. While they do have a lot of cuts of steak — cooked over an open pit fire in the middle of the restaurant — they also serve a couple of great fish dishes. Henry said the steak was great and I loved the ahi appetizer and walleye entree.
They serve spirits from the Lolo Creek Distillery and we enjoyed their vodka and gin in cocktails.
We stayed overnight at the Grand View Cabin outside of Stevensville and it was lovely. The luxury log cabin overlooks the Bitterroot Valley to the Bitterroot Range. Between reading in front of the fire to drinking coffee and tea on the balcony, we couldn’t get enough of this homey spot. There is also a picnic table and fire pit outside, which we didn’t have time to use, but would have enjoyed!
Zoom out on this map to see other places to stay near Lolo and Stevensville.
Day 2 – History, Foodies, and Snowshoeing
After tea and coffee on the balcony at the Grand View Cabin we drove into Stevensville, which has a charming downtown, to check out the Historic St. Mary’s Mission.
The Historic St. Mary’s Mission is centered around a picturesque white, wooden church. There are interpretive signs explaining the role of the Catholic mission in the lives of the local indigenous people. The church and visitor center are closed in winter, but we wandered the grounds, read the signs, and took photos.
In addition to the church, there is a Salish encampment, cemeteries, and an apple tree from the original mission.
Lunch was Red Rooster Artisan Bakery in Hamilton and we both loved our sandwiches. The case full of pastries looked scrumptious and apparently their quiches are good.
With full bellies, we drove to Lake Como to check out the ski trails. The Lake Como Trails consist of 16 miles of groomed trails. Dogs are allowed and there are designated single-track trails for fat biking.
Unfortunately, the snow was too soft for skiing — if you ski in soft snow and create trenches, it makes it hard for the groomer to smooth it out once it cools down. We drove around to the northwest side of the lake and snowshoed along a hiking trail at the end of a campground. Looking down the lake (away from the dam) is lovely as the Bitterroot Mountains frame the scene.
Back in Hamilton, we had a little time to walk around the Western downtown. Of course, I headed straight for Chapter One Bookstore. There were cute souvenir stores and all manner of boutiques and locally owned shops.
On our second night, we had a farm stay at ABC Acres, a few miles south of Hamilton. We stayed in the Gate House and were able to wander around the property. The manager, James, alerted us to the fact that there were 50 or so elk in one of the pastures and we popped down there to watch them graze as the sun set.
Then it was dinner at Bitter Root Brewing. The beer is great and I appreciated the healthy options. My Earth Bowl (quinoa, sweet potato, cucumber, beans, and more!) was so good – not your usual brewery fare. They also have hamburgers (Henry said it was good!) and other options.
I highly recommend staying at ABC Acres (they have three properties: Gate House, Guest House, and Range View Cabin ) but there are other options around Hamilton, of course. This map has some suggestions. (Zoom out for more choices.)
Day 3 – Permaculture, Skiing, and Luxury Ranch Life
We started the day with a Tropical Greenhouse Tour at ABC Acres. They offer a variety of permaculture and nature related tours for both guests and the general public. The tropical greenhouse runs on geothermal energy year round and they grow lots of fruit, including bananas, papayas, kumquats, and avocados. The sustainable technology is just as impressive as the produce!
We ended at the Farm Store where they sell meat, fresh vegetables, seasonal preserves, honey, eggs, and more — all grown on ABC Acres or neighboring farms. They also have bath and body, outdoor and nature, and educational products for sale. The Farm Store is open to the public.
After our tour, we drove to Chief Joseph Pass to cross-country ski. The last time we skied here was 17 years ago and I was very pregnant with Anders!
The Chief Joseph Pass Trails have over 13 miles of trails groomed for classic and skate skiing, and snowshoeing. These trails connect to nearly 20 miles of multi-use trails (snowmobiles and dogs are welcome here).
This area is really lovely and the snow is almost always great. Even in a dry year like this one, we found good snow conditions. The trails wind through snow-covered conifers and meadows. From the western trails, you can catch glimpses of Lost Trail Ski Area.
We ate our picnic lunch in the Gordon Reese Cabin. The wood stove, picnic tables, and entire ground floor are open to the public for day use. You can rent the upstairs loft to spend the night.
See other Montana Forest Service Cabins for rent.
After a full day of cross-country skiing, we checked in at the Bitterroot River Ranch, a Bed and Breakfast in Conner. The owners, Lynn and Dorothy had homemade cookies and the hot tub ready for us. They could not have been friendlier or more welcoming. We soaked and relaxed for a bit before heading out to a fancy dinner.
Triple Creek Ranch is an adults-only, all-inclusive, luxury guest ranch in one of the prettiest spots in Montana. Normally they don’t take outside reservations since they are almost always full with their own guests, but we lucked out and got a table next to the fire.
We savored fine wine and contemporary cuisine and chatted about how nice it was to have some one-on-one time to reconnect.
Day 4 – Alpine Skiing, Local Dining, and New Friends
The day started with breakfast with Lynn and Dorothy and getting to know each other a little bit. Part of the fun of staying at a B&B is chatting with the owners.
We spent the rest of the day at Lost Trail Ski Area. I love the smaller Montana ski areas and Lost Trail did not disappoint. It’s perched on the Montana-Idaho border, and like the Chief Joseph Nordic Trails across the road, has reliably good snow.
We rented our equipment there and found a nice mix of easy -to-challenging runs. We aren’t great skiers (or snowboarders in Henry’s case) but we have a lot of fun doing it.
The lodge has a little cafeteria and a fun open fire pit.
After showering at the Bitterroot River Ranch, Henry and I went to the Knotty Nymph for dinner. They have a nice selection of local beers and filling comfort food. It’s an updated version of a roadhouse and a cute little place. Lynn and Dorothy said the Big Cat Cafe in Darby is also good.
We were delighted to stay at the Bitterroot River Ranch, but there are other places around Darby, Conner, and Sula. Zoom out on the map to see them.
Day 5- Heading Home
After another delicious breakfast with Lynn and Dorothy at the Bitterroot River Ranch, we played a board game, packed up, and then drove home.
All in all, it was a relaxing and rejuvenating getaway for Henry and me in the Bitterroot Valley. We need to plan another one soon!
Be sure to see our other Montana winter itineraries!
- Western Montana Winter Vacation (Seeley Lake and Big Fork)
- Western Montana Winter Road Trip (Seeley Lake, Glacier National Park, Quinn’s Hot Springs, Missoula)
- Near Helena: Elkhorn State Park and Boulder Hot Springs
- Top Things to Do Near Yellowstone in Winter
- Winter Play at Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area
- Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park Candlelight Tour
- Bannack Ghost Town in Winter
- Why Gardiner Should Be Your Winter Basecamp for Visiting Yellowstone
- Things to Do in Cooke City, Montana in Winter
- Natural Bridge, Big Timber, and Abarokee Adventures
- Winter in White Sulphur Springs, the Castle Mountains, and the Little Belt Mountains
- Itinerary to Visit Red Lodge Montana in Winter
- Judith Guard Station: A Winter Cabin Adventure in Montana