Winter in Western Montana’s Glacier Country is an awe-inspiring wonderland of snow-covered terrain, festive mountain towns and a delightful balance of low-key activities and adrenaline-pumping adventures. Here are the top five ways to take advantage of one of our favorite seasons.

Take in the scenic views while Nordic skiing in the Seeley Swan corridor. Photo: Noah Couser

No. 1 Hot Springs

The best way to unwind after a day in the snow is in the warm, relaxing mineral waters of a hot springs. It’s also a really great way to just spend the entire day. You’ll find a little slice of heaven by resting your body in the restorative waters of these naturally occurring springs. Lolo Hot Springs (37 miles southwest of Missoula) boasts mineral pools, cabins, RV hookups, a restaurant, bar and live entertainment. In the aptly named community of Paradise, Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort features a recently completed redesign of their pools, restaurant and bar, and this gem is now Western Montana’s most popular hot springs resort. About an hour north of Missoula in the town of Hot Springs is the historic, Spanish-style Symes Hot Springs Hotel. Funky, retro vibes make this eclectic hot spot an iconic Montana attraction.

It’s no surprise that Quinn’s Hot Springs is located in Paradise, Montana. Photo: Noah Couser

No. 2 Snowmobile + Snowbike 

Western Montana is a sledder’s paradise, with miles of steep climbs and flat trails, and acres of backcountry playgrounds, as well as logging and forest service roads (closed by winter’s snowfall). Our endless—and stunning—winter terrain can be explored by sled or snowbike with or without a guide. Rent a Polaris snowmobile from Seeley Adventures and explore the winter destination location of Seeley Lake. Action Rentals in Olney also offers rentals as well as guided snowmobile trips through some of Montana’s most stunning scenery. You can also explore the beautiful Stillwater State Forest near Whitefish Mountain Resort and Glacier National Park on a guided tour with Whitefish Marine. Or, for a unique and exhilarating dirt-bike-meets-snow experience, rent a snowbike or book a guided single-day or multiday snowbike tour with Snowbike Nation.

Snowmobile amid the soaring peaks surrounding Columbia Falls. Photo: Noah Couser

No. 3 Sleigh Rides

Dashing through the snow by horse-drawn sleigh is a truly magical way to experience winter in Western Montana. After a day of skiing, skating, sledding or snowshoeing, take a horse-drawn carriage ride underneath a starry night sky, or take a day trip and experience stunning, wintry views. Cripple Creek Horse Ranch in Trego offers a 45-minute sleigh ride with the option of a full dinner in a warm and cozy cabin or refreshments around the fire pit. Enjoy an afternoon of Mission Mountain and Bison Range views plus hot beverages on an afternoon sleigh ride with Live Oak Belgians in St. Ignatius. Or, visit Double Arrow Lodge in Seeley Lake for a nostalgic sleigh ride beginning with hot chocolate and ending with a drink in front of the warm fireplace. Double Arrow also offers a romantic ride for two in their antique cutter sleigh, featuring champagne, hot rocks to keep your feet warm and a buffalo robe to keep you cozy.

The whole family will enjoy going on a sleigh ride. Photo: Noah Couser

No. 4 Dog Sledding

Experience a unique adrenaline rush through the wintry landscape on a dog sledding adventure in Glacier Country. Whether you’re looking for a guided half-day outing or a multinight excursion, there are plenty of experienced outfitters who can get you on a dog sled and help you mush in Montana this winter. Take a hands-on approach to this wildly fun winter activity with Base Camp Bigfork, giving you the opportunity to drive your own team of friendly Inuit sled dogs in the Flathead Valley. Or, let their guides show you the way. You can also tuck yourself into a warm sled, carve powder and catch air with Dog Sled Adventures Montana in the vast and scenic Stillwater State Forest just north of Whitefish.

Take a doggone fun ride with Base Camp Bigfork. Photo: Noah Couser

No. 5 Skiing

There are many ways to experience Montana’s powder playgrounds and epic ski terrain, no matter your speed—downhill, backcountry or Nordic. At the end of the trail or the bottom of the mountain, there’s always an après ski experience that’s just your speed, too.

Ski above the clouds—and don’t forget to savor the moment. Photo: Noah Couser

Downhill Skiing + Snowboarding

There are seven places to ski and snowboard in Western Montana, each one offering a unique downhill experience. From large ski resorts with luxury ski-in/ski-out accommodations to local-favorite ski hills flying under the radar with record snowfall and exciting terrain, you’ll find a Montana ski experience you’ll never forget. Combined, our ski areas offer almost 12,000 acres of skiable terrain, epic vertical drops and hundreds of inches of annual snowfall.

Nordic Skiing

Glacier Country is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of pristine Nordic skiing trails. This is one of the most popular ways to take it slow and really witness the wonder of winter around here. At the historic Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Nordic ski against the peaks of Glacier National Park and overnight in a cozy caboose. Experience cross-country skiing in Glacier National Park itself during its most peaceful season with a guided tour from Glacier Adventure Guides. In Whitefish, Glacier Nordic Club operates the Glacier Nordic Center at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course, where you’ll find 13 km of trails groomed daily for skate and classic skiing. Just a short drive from Whitefish, enjoy 27+ km of groomed Nordic trails at Dog Creek Lodge and Nordic Ski Center and don’t miss the delicious wood-fired pizzas from the lodge.

Backcountry Skiing

Glacier Country is home to thousands of acres of untouched off-trail powder, whether you’re looking for an easy escape or technical terrain. Glacier National Park itself is open year-round and offers a sublimely beautiful and surreal location for an alpine tour. Explore the heart of Montana’s backcountry—the Swan Mountains on a backcountry yurt ski-and-stay adventure with Montana Backcountry Yurts. In the beautiful Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Downing Mountain Lodge offers an exceptional winter retreat complete with a private, gladed backcountry skiing (or split snowboarding) experience. Access even higher elevations by snowcat on a guided backcountry cat skiing trip with Great Northern Powder Guides. Their custom snowcats access terrain as high as 7,500 feet in the Stillwater State Forest—a powder playground with diverse terrain for cat skiers and boarders—even first-timers.

As always, play it safe, especially when it comes to snow and recreating near ice and frozen waterways. Be avalanche aware, stay in bounds at ski areas, stick to activities that match your skill level, and always be prepared with the right gear. When in doubt, go with a guide. Learn more about recreating responsibly in winter here.

Please note: We ask that all our visitors and residents Recreate Responsibly by being mindful of the following: know before you go; plan ahead; play it safe; leave no trace; tread lightly; and help build an inclusive outdoors.

January 16, 2023

Related: Backcountry Skiing, Bigfork, Bitterroot Valley, Dog Sledding, Downhill Skiing, Essex, GNP Surrounding Area, Hot Springs, Hot Springs (town), Lolo, Montana, Nordic Skiing, Northwest Corridor, Olney, Paradise, Seeley Lake, Seeley-Swan Corridor, Snowmobiling, St. Ignatius, Trego, Vacation, Whitefish, Winter Fun


Walt LaRonde
Sleigh rides in December/January horse drawn.

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