Montana’s two big stars in any season–including winter–are its national parks: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
In Glacier, while Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed during the winter, there’s still plenty of the park to be seen. Plus, you’ll enjoy at least two big benefits: you’ll share Glacier’s beauty with fewer other visitors, and you’ll have a better chance of seeing wildlife since the dense ground cover of summer is gone. Popular cross-country and snowshoe trails include McDonald Creek, Autumn Creek and SnyderLake. Please note that snowmobiles are NOT allowed in GlacierNational Park.
If you want to snowmobile in a national park, Yellowstone is the place to do it. It’s a snowmobiling mecca, in fact, with many of the park’s roads becoming groomed trails. Both Mammoth and West Yellowstone are gateways to the park’s 96-mile snowmobile loop, which takes you past Old Faithful, YellowstoneLake and the Grand Canyon of the YellowstoneRiver.
Wildlife are also plentiful in Yellowstone’s geyser basins during the winter. Why? The geyser activity warms the ground, making easier foraging for buffalo, elk and other animals.
Believe it or not, winter is a great time to visit some of Montana’s ghost towns. In fact, some ghost towns are accessible only by snowmobile in winter, giving you a chance to experience these relics of the past in true isolation.
Garnet, outside of Missoula, was once a booming mining town. Today, all that’s left are remnants of about 20 buildings, including a jail, a post office, a blacksmith shop, a school, and a hotel. If you’re up to it, you can even rent accommodations to make sure the town has at least one or two overnight residents; two cabins are available for rent during the winter.
The ghost town of Coolidge, named for president Calvin Coolidge, was once home to about 500 people. Today, it’s home to ruins, including a giant mill and a railway station. Like Garnet, Coolidge is only accessible by snowmobile in winter.
Other ghost towns which aren’t necessarily snowmobiling destinations but still fun winter stops include Bannack, Virginia City and Nevada City. Bannack was Montana’s first territorial capital, and dead men have tales to tell at the town’s nearby cemetery. (Bannack’s infamous crooked sheriff, Henry Plummer was hanged by vigilantes and buried here.) Virginia City and NevadaCity have enjoyed restoration efforts–you can stroll along boardwalks, catch a bite to eat in the Nevada City Star Bakery, and sleep in a comfortably-restored sod roof cabin, or a historical hotel.
Some of Montana’s ghost towns are state parks (including BannackState Park, Elkhorn State Park and Ghost Town and GraniteGhostTownState Park). But the State Parks that aren’t haunted by spooks are great winter getaways, too.
For instance, Makoshika State Park near Glendive is a scenic badlands landscape of caprocks, pinnacles and fluted hillsides–even more striking covered in winter snow. Dinosaur lovers will love seeing the ten preserved dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceus period, as well as the Triceratops skull at the VisitorCenter.
Ulm Pishkun State Park near Great Falls is another prehistoric wonder of a different kind: it is a prehistoric bison kill site with a mile-long buffalo jump (or “pishkun”). It’s thought to be the longest such pishkun in the United States.
Or, follow the Lewis & Clark Trail at some of Montana’s state parks in the winter months. Stops include Clark’s Lookout State Park, Giant Springs Heritage State Park and Missouri Headwaters State Park.
In Montana’s state parks, you’ll find a Perfect Natural Wonderland,
whether you’re interested in wildlife,history or scenery.
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