Experience the magic of winter on the cross-country and skate ski trails woven throughout Western Montana’s Glacier Country and Yellowstone Country Montana. Nordic skiing the world-class terrain between Montana’s two national parks is one of the most popular ways to discover the enchantment of the season here.
The land of big blue skies and fresh mountain air offers wintry woodlands and wide-open meadows blanketed in white. Cruise pristine corduroy and classic tracks among captivating small towns offering cozy lodging, arts and culture, dining, breweries and distilleries, plus the kind of charm and hospitality you just won’t find anywhere else.
One of the best-kept Nordic secrets in the West, the Seeley Lake Nordic Trails offer 18 km of classic and skate ski trails and loops for all skill levels. The area gets reliable snow and more of it than surrounding valleys. The trails are groomed regularly and there’s a warming hut near the parking lot, which is located about an hour north of Missoula. The town of Seeley Lake is also a popular Montana winter recreation destination and offers numerous overnight and dining options. Just northeast of Bigfork—a storybook village on the shores of Flathead Lake—the Bigfork Trail System offers 10 km of flat and gently rolling trails maintained by the Bigfork Community Nordic Center.
The Missoula area offers no shortage of Nordic opportunities. Lubrecht Experimental Forest maintains nearly 20 km of trails through pristine meadows and wooded terrain. Trails are groomed regularly and the inner loops are very family-friendly—i.e., appropriate for all skill levels. Adjacent to the forest, Garnet Ski Trails offer more than 186 km of trails, including the 51 km Garnet National Winter Recreation Trail through the beautiful and quiet Garnet Mountain range. Closed to vehicular traffic in the winter months, this is a unique and fun way to explore Garnet Ghost Town and even stay overnight in one of two rental cabins on the property. Closer to town, Pattee Canyon Recreation Area provides 10 km of groomed classic and skate trails in this pretty, wooden canyon area. The south side trails offer hills and the north side is much flatter. In Missoula’s Rattlesnake National Recreation Area ski a slight but easy upgrade to Pilcher Creek on 8 km of trail groomed for classic skiing.
Glide through the Lolo National Forest and open meadows along the Montana-Idaho border at Lolo Pass, where you’ll find some of the most reliable snow in the region and 13 km of trails groomed for classic and skate skiing, as well as a warming hut and the Lolo Pass Visitor Center. Along the trail you’ll pass the historic Glade Creek area where Lewis and Clark camped. Farther south down the Bitterroot, Skalkaho Pass—east of Hamilton—offers 19 km of groomed skiing on the Skalkaho Highway and 45+ km on Skalkaho/Rye Road. These seasonal roads wind through the rolling Sapphire Mountains. At the southern tip of the Bitterroot Valley, Chief Joseph Pass, on the Continental Divide, offers 49 km of trails—33 km groomed for skate and 16 km for classic. Eight loop trails provide a variety of lengths and skill levels ranging from beginner to expert.
Montana’s Flathead Valley is a year-round vacation destination and transforms into a wonderland every winter. The Blacktail Mountain Nordic Trails between Blacktail Mountain downhill ski area and the town of Lakeside offer 25 km of trails groomed daily for skate and classic skiing. Half a mile from downtown Whitefish, the Glacier Nordic Center at Whitefish Lake Golf Course has 12 km of trails also groomed for skate and classic skiing—providing excellent views of Big Mountain and Whitefish Mountain Resort. Night skiing is available from dusk until 10 p.m. on 4 km of the trail. For advanced skiers, the Big Mountain Trails offers 25 km of cedar forest trails groomed daily and exceptional views of Whitefish Lake, Flathead Valley and the surrounding mountains. North of Whitefish, Round Meadow Winter Trails have seven interconnecting nicely wooded loop trails totaling 20 km on easy to difficult terrain that’s groomed weekly. Round Meadow offers a quiet escape in the Flathead National Forest.
The park's main roads—including the famously gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road—become trails each winter when the snow falls. Though the trails aren’t groomed, they’re well maintained by other ski traffic. Before you clip in, check with rangers for local weather and snow conditions. Upper Lake McDonald is the most popular skiing area in the park. From West Glacier, follow Going-to-the-Sun Road for 12.9 km along Lake McDonald, to Lake McDonald Lodge. Other areas include Polebridge, Marias Pass, Two Medicine Valley, St. Mary, and Apgar-West Glacier. Skiing in the park requires the purchase of a park entrance pass.
The Izaak Walton Inn in Essex is an idyllic Montana winter destination boasting more than 30 km of gently rolling skate and classic trails with views of Glacier National Park. Rental equipment is available on-site and ski lessons are offered daily. Bonus: Overnight in a luxury caboose. In Columbia Falls, ski 6 km of skate and classic trails at Meadow Lake Golf Course. Meadow Lake Nordic Trails offer gently rolling terrain for all skill levels, and there’s a coffee shop located at the trailhead to boot.
Ski among giants in Montana’s quiet northwest corner. The Ross Creek Cedars Ski Trail in Troy is a 5.3 km intermittently groomed single track that gains 400 feet in elevation to the Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area, where you’ll find 1,000-year-old western red cedars up to 12-feet in diameter. If you ski to the observation point, you’ll find breathtaking Cabinet Mountain views. Near downtown Libby, the popular South Flower Creek Cross Country Ski Trail consists of nine trails and several loops totaling 14 km. Bonus: Friday night skiing features lanterns and a warm bonfire. Also near Libby, spend the day at Bear Creek Cross Country Ski Trails with four trails on mixed terrain covering 5.5 km.
Some of the highest snowfall amounts in the state are recorded at Lookout Pass downhill ski area just off Interstate Highway 90 on the Montana-Idaho border. The Lookout Pass Cross Country Ski Trails surrounding the mountain offer multiple options for a day on the skis. Take an 8 km loop around Lookout Pass starting from the parking lot. Multiple trails fan out from the lot, covering ground around Taft and the Hale Fish Hatchery. There are also some backcountry routes in the area, for expert Nordic explorers.
Just west of Yellowstone National Park in the idyllic town of West Yellowstone, the Rendezvous Ski Trails begin right in city limits, offering 35 km of gently rolling, impeccably groomed trails winding through a wonderland of wintry forests and meadows at the edge of the park. The dog-friendly Boundary Ski and Snowshoe Trail is a local’s favorite and runs 7.9 km from West Yellowstone to the Baker’s Hole Campground along the western border of the park. Inside the park, the Riverside Trail follows the famous Madison River. Skiers can combine Riverside’s Upriver and Downriver loops for 10K of incredible views and wildlife sightings. West Yellowstone’s South Plateau Trail offers 21 km of scenic riding, eventually joining the Black Bear Cutoff (leading to Idaho) or, at 26 km, to the Black Canyon Trail.
A stone’s throw from Big Sky Resort, this historic guest ranch offers 85 km of groomed skate and classic ski trails and over 2,200 vertical feet right outside your cabin door. Lone Mountain Ranch was voted the No. 1 Nordic Ski Resort in North America by Cross Country Skier Magazine. Guides and shuttles are available and the views are spectacular. Lone Mountain offers the quintessential Montana Nordic experience with a diversity of trails on pristine woodland, creekside and meadow terrain.
16 miles north of Bozeman adjacent to Bridger Bowl Downhill Ski Area, Crosscut Mountain Sports Center—formerly Bohart Ranch—offers 35 km of trail that’s groomed daily. This is one of the region’s premier Nordic ski areas for classic and skate skiers, offering lesson and rentals as well as spectacular Bridger Canyon scenery.
Five miles south of town, the 23 km Bozeman Creek/Sourdough Canyon trail provides a wide track and a gradual climb along Bozeman Creek. Groomed regularly, it’s 7.6 km to the bridge. To Mystic Lake and back is 32 km, and to the Moser Divide, up to Mystic Lake and back is 45 km. Connect to the Moser Trailhead in Hyalite Canyon, where you’ll find 30 km of scenic trails as well as explore-worthy ungroomed terrain. Grooming is intermittent in the canyon and not all sections are groomed. The majority of the groomed trails are marked with blue diamonds. For in-town Nordic skiing, the Bridger Creek Golf Course provides some of the city’s best beginner and intermediate trails plus captivating views of the Bridger Mountains. The trails are groomed regularly. Also in town—and for a quick Nordic fix—the 3.8 km Sunset Hills Trail is a community-centric loop that winds through a large field nestled between Bozeman’s Lindley Park and the Hospital. The trails in the Highland Glen Nature Preserve area offer a good mix of terrain for all skill levels.
In Gardiner—the only year-round entrance to Yellowstone National Park—Eagle Creek transforms from a Forest Service road to a cross-country ski trail when the snow falls. Switchbacks up the mountain provide great Yellowstone views. Also in Gardiner, Bear Creek is a local’s favorite winding through tranquil, old-growth forest. Take the trail to Timber Camp and back for a half-day 9.6 km glide with views of Yellowstone’s Electric Peak. Further north in Montana’s stunning Paradise Valley, Mill Creek Road offers a nice and easy Nordic adventure, or, for a more difficult ski, continue on to the East Dam Creek trailhead. For an authentically western ski experience, B Bar Ranch, located in the beautiful Tom Miner Basin, offers multiple groomed trails ranging from easy to difficult. Rent a backcountry cabin or overnight at the guest ranch. Another Paradise Valley overnight ski and stay option is Chico Hot Springs. This historic resort and spa makes a great basecamp for Nordic fun, and they even offer guided trips.
The 3.2 km Bannock Trail offers a mostly flat traverse across open meadows and mixed forestland just west of the northeast entrance to the park. The trail ends outside of the park in Silver Gate, where you can follow the road for another 4.8 km to Cooke City for a little post-adventure food and drink. Note that wildlife frequent the area, as the Lamar Valley is wolf country.
The park’s 2.4 km Upper Terrace Loop is the quintessential Yellowstone Nordic excursion, complete with incredible views of Mammoth Hot Springs and northern Yellowstone. Also popular, the 12.8 km Blacktail Plateau trail offers panoramic views and a wintry forest landscape. Ski to frozen Tower Falls on the easy 8 km roundtrip, family-friendly Tower Fall trail—a popular summer destination turned winter wonderland when the waterfall freezes over. All three trails are prime for wildlife sightings.
Just a few miles west of the quaint town of Red Lodge on the scenic Aspen Ridge Ranch, over 15 km of rolling loop trails wind through open meadows and snow-covered aspen stands at the base of the Beartooth Mountains. Classic and skate ski trails are groomed regularly, and skiing ranges from easy to difficult, making this a perfect spot for the whole family. Children’s programs and ski lesson are offered on site.
You’ll find Nordic ski rentals and gear at friendly outfitters all over Western Montana’s Glacier Country and Yellowstone Country Montana. Guided Nordic tours are also available throughout the region, and offer a serene way to tour Montana’s wintry terrain.
Groomed trails are maintained by local Nordic skiing clubs in the charming communities throughout the region. Check the following clubs for trail specifics before you head out, as some trails are not groomed as frequently as others, and some require permits. You’ll also find information about parking, trail access, and pet restrictions (some trails are dog friendly).
The region’s trails crisscross exceptional terrain among some of the best small towns in the West. You’ll find plenty of unique and comfortable lodging options in the area—from luxury to rustic and everything in between. Book a stay at a guest ranch, bed-and-breakfast, timbered lodge, cabin, hotel or motel, and don’t forget to make time for an après ski hot springs soak.
After a day on the skis, take in the Montana flavor at an authentic steakhouse or local watering hole. Between the two regions you’ll find exceptional food no matter your taste, as well as plenty of places to grab a drink. With 40+ breweries and a number of historic western bars full of authentic Montana character, there’s no shortage of places to pull up a barstool.