Four special ways to explore Montana’s state and national parks this winter
Some people think summer is the best time to visit Montana’s National -- Yellowstone and Glacier -- and state parks. However, winter visitors can enjoy several activities at the parks, including cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, with easier access to explore more. For those who want to see the nation’s natural treasures dressed in blankets of pristine snow, here are a few ways to enjoy a winter trip to Montana’s parks.
When the first snowfall blankets the country’s first national park, there’s nothing better than exploring Yellowstone National Park than by snowmobile. Start your trip in West Yellowstone, a charming small town that’s known as the snowmobile capital of the world for its snowmobile-friendly culture and breathtaking backcountry along the spine of the sweeping Rocky Mountains. West Yellowstone’s mountain trail system begins in the heart of town and continues along 400-miles of trail past the snow-capped trees of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. For traveler’s looking for a guided experience, take a snowmobile tour through the heart of Yellowstone National Park to see all its snowy wonders.
Glide through this winter at Bannack State Park, home to Montana’s first gold rush and one of the west’s most famous ghost towns. After exploring the abandoned streets of this former boom town, visitors can head to Bannack’s frozen dredge pond and enjoy a day on the ice. This is true old-fashioned winter fun for the entire family, as parents and kids will enjoy this intimate outdoor setting in the shadow of the mountains and the Bannack ghost town. Visitors can rent or bring their own skates, and the nearby warming house offers sweet winter treats and soothing, hot drinks. Ice skating at Bannack State Park is available every day from December 26 to New Year’s Day and every weekend until the first week of March.
Summer may be peak season for Glacier National Park, but no crowds and the beauty of sweeping, snowy mountain peaks, winter visitors headed to the Crown of the Continent will feel like they’ve discovered their very own secret. The Izaak Walton Inn in Essex is a great spot to strap on a pair of skis and explore. Start on the inn’s 20 miles of carefully groomed trails, which range in difficulty and are in perfect view of the surrounding Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park. The Izaak Walton Inn also offers guided ski tours in Glacier, a fun way for the entire family to see the park this winter. Skiers looking for more of a back-country experience will want to check out Glacier Adventure Guides. They’ve been leading ski tours through Glacier for more than 15 years and their insight and experience offers visitors a genuinely local and safe “insider” experience.
Most people don’t think about fly fishing in the winter. But Montanans and fly fish enthusiasts know winter is Montana’s secret season. Those looking to cast a line may even find they have the entire river to themselves, which makes for a relaxed and productive fishing experience. One great spot for a winter outing is the Missouri Headwaters State Park, where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers merge to form the mighty Missouri River. Anglers are sure to catch a variety of trout while enjoying the soft sounds of the river and the mountains towering on the horizon.
Visitors on the hunt for a tranquil winter vacation will find the perfect nature hike at Makoshika State Park in Southeast Montana. Lace up your boots or strap on a pair of snowshoes and take to the trails, which lead through the painted badlands of Montana’s largest state park. There’s plenty of opportunities to enjoy the snow covered landscapes and a number of natural rock formations, including sun-kissed canyons, elegant spires, and the towering Cap Rock. Named one of the top 10 hidden gems in the nation by Country Magazine, Makoshika State Park is a peaceful destination for the family looking for some winter solitude.