If the mention of Montana conjures up images of wide-open spaces, big blue skies, and herds of bison, you’re right on track. But what some folks don’t know is that there’s just as much to do during snowy Montana winters as any other season — outdoor activities, stunning views, hot springs, and all things cozy to keep you warm at the end of the day. From fun-filled pastimes in cities like Big Sky, Bozeman, Cooke City, and other surrounding areas, here are 15 bucket list-worthy activities to try this winter in Montana’s beautiful Yellowstone Country.
15 Reasons to Visit Yellowstone Country This Winter
1. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is undoubtedly breathtaking year-round, but come wintertime, the park transforms into a dreamy winter wonderland. With fewer visitors than in the summer months, there is more space to spread out and take in the beauty of steaming geyser basins against a backdrop of fresh white snow. To take full advantage of the gorgeous landscape and see its wonders up-close, the park offers everything from snowmobiling and snowcoach tours to Nordic skiing … but more on all of those fun-filled winter activities later.
2. Snowcoach Tours
When early November comes around, most of the roads in Yellowstone National Park close to vehicular traffic; however, visitors can still explore the park via snowcoach tours. Operating as both a shuttle for skiers and a guided tour bus, this is an excellent option if you’d rather take in the park’s beauty from the comfort of a heated bus. Plus, many of the tours offer one-of-a-kind views of wildlife and even include lunch. West Yellowstone offers the most snowcoach tours, which include access to Old Faithful Village and Canyon Village. Private and group tours are also available through Yellowstone Vacations in Gardiner.
Yellowstone Country is also home to some of the most sought-after snowmobiling. In fact, West Yellowstone is often referred to as “one of the best places to snowmobile on the planet,” offering a season that starts early and ends late. Cooke City is another hotspot for snowmobilers, as its season often extends into June or July. Additional cities frequented by snowmobilers include Bozeman and Big Sky. Visitors can opt to rent their own vehicle or choose to take a guided tour from one of the area’s outfitters.
4. Wildlife Viewing
From bears to moose, bison, elk, deer, and so much more, you never know what sort of wild animals you may encounter in Yellowstone Country. This is what makes wildlife viewing an absolute must when visiting. Since most encounters happen from a distance, it’s recommended that visitors bring high-powered binoculars or spotting scopes. Guests are also encouraged to view wildlife through a guided tour, and luckily, Yellowstone Country is staffed with seasoned wildlife biologists, photographers, and other experts.
Be sure to keep your gaze upwards, too, as winter in Montana is an excellent time for birding. Yellowstone is home to a variety of unique species, including the green-tailed towhee, mountain bluebird, and calliope hummingbird. Trumpeter swans are also known to make frequent appearances on the Ennis Lake and Madison River complex, as well as Hebgen Lake and the surrounding area. (Note: Be sure to check migratory patterns for specific bird species before visiting, as some may be flying south for the winter!)
Stunning displays of constellations, galaxies, nebulae, and planets make stargazing in Yellowstone Country incredibly special. In fact, on a clear night, spectators can catch views of the Milky Way with the naked eye, and perhaps even see the northern lights if conditions are just right. In addition to Yellowstone National Park, Hyalite Canyon and Beartooth Pass Overlook are great spots to view Montana’s star-studded night sky.
7. Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding
In addition to snowmobiling, Yellowstone Country is the ultimate spot for downhill skiing and snowboarding, receiving 400+ inches of snow each year on three of Montana’s largest ski areas. Big Sky Resort is a popular destination among skiers, offering the Biggest Skiing in America®. At more than 2,000 acres, Bridger Bowl in Bozeman is popular among locals and has been named one of “the world’s top 25 ski towns” by National Geographic Traveler. In Red Lodge (aka the “coolest ski town you’ve never heard of”), visitors can enjoy all the fun without the crowds.
8. Nordic Skiing
If you prefer a more scenic skiing experience, Yellowstone Country also offers Nordic skiing (also known as cross-country skiing). Popular well-groomed trails include West Yellowstone’s Rendezvous Ski Trail area, Bozeman’s Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, Big Sky’s Lone Mountain Ranch, and Red Lodge’s Nordic Center. For a variety of groomed and ungroomed trails, Hyalite Canyon is a great choice. Guided Nordic skiing tours are also available to help you safely navigate the terrain.
Snowshoeing is one of the easiest ways to explore Yellowstone Country — and almost anyone can do it! Simply slip on a pair of snowshoes, grab some poles, and hit the trails. Opt for a self-guided tour on one of the many trails in Bozeman, Big Sky, or Red Lodge, or take a guided tour through Yellowstone National Park.
10. Dog Sledding
Dog sledding takes a classic winter pastime to a whole new level. Glide through snow-packed terrain, across frozen lakes, or to the hot springs as a team of sled dogs pulls you through Yellowstone Country. Outfitters and lodges in Big Sky, West Yellowstone, and Paradise Valley offer half-day, full-day, and overnight guided excursions.
11. Hot Springs
There’s no better end to your day than unwinding in a pool of tranquil mineral water. Often called “nature’s hot tub,” Yellowstone Country’s hot springs consist of heated groundwater rising from the earth’s crust. Popular places to soak include Bozeman Hot Springs, Chico Hot Springs, Norris Hot Springs, Yellowstone Hot Springs, or the Boiling River.
12. Ice Climbing
For adrenaline-seekers, Yellowstone Country offers plenty of ice climbing opportunities. Hyalite Canyon is one of the best natural ice climbing destinations in North America, offering 200+ pitches, reliable ice, and diverse, accessible climbing. For a more adventurous journey, pay a visit to the Beartooth or Crazy mountains.
13. Ice Fishing
Yellowstone Country’s ice fishing season typically lasts from December through late May. Hebgen Lake is located north of West Yellowstone and is a hotspot among locals and visitors alike. The 15-mile lake provides ample brown and rainbow trout, sometimes offering fish up to 20 inches long! For cutthroat, arctic grayling, and brook trout, head to Hyalite Reservoir. Cooney Reservoir State Park is another popular spot, offering walleye and rainbow trout.
14. Sleigh Rides
Nothing says “winter” quite like an enchanting sleigh ride through Yellowstone Country. Perfect for families or couples, popular sleigh ride outfitters include Bozeman Hay Rides and Sleigh Rides, Cache Creek Outfitters, and Lone Mountain Ranch at Big Sky.
For hundreds of years, Scandinavian people harnessed reindeer and strapped on skis as a means of transportation. Today, the official sport is called “skijoring” — derived from a Norwegian word meaning “ski driving.” When visiting Yellowstone Country, you can watch skijoring teams race to the finish line through a course of jumps, gates, and turns. Each year, West Yellowstone hosts the Skijor West/Skijor USA National Championship Final, which is the culmination of 10 weeks of skijoring competitions.
Venture West this winter to explore the many fascinating activities that await in Yellowstone Country Montana!
This article is sponsored by Yellowstone Country Montana.