by Susie Wall
Throughout the summer months, travelers departing Yellowstone National Park along the Bear Tooth Highway eventually spill out into the picturesque town of Red Lodge, Montana. In the winter, the highway is closed, but that doesn’t mean the community of Red Lodge takes a break. This small town 60 miles south of Billings offers visitors a wonderous array of winter fun once the snow starts to fly.
Red Lodge averages over 100 inches of snow each year, making it a paradise for skiers. Visit the local ski hill, Red Lodge Mountain at an elevation of 9,419 feet. Swish down black diamond runs dubbed Hellroaring and True Grit or float down simpler terrain along Miami Beach and Easy Street. The resort prides itself on offering reasonable prices and a laid-back Montana vibe.
Those looking for lower elevation adventures won’t be left hanging. More than 15 miles of trails spread out over Red Lodge Nordic Center and nearby West Fork Road taking cross-country skiers and snowshoers through aspen groves past sparkling snow crusted meadows. Lessons are available for novice skiers at the Nordic Center, and some trails are lighted for moonlit adventures. A small fee of five dollars is required at the Nordic Center, and kids under 18 are free.
After playing in the powder, head to Red Lodge proper, a town with a long and celebrated history. Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane spent time here over the years. Liver Eatin’ Johnson, the mountain man depicted in the Robert Redford movie, Jeremiah Johnson, was sheriff for a time. Ernest Hemingway cites Red Lodge in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Many buildings from this past still stand today operating as stores, restaurants and galleries. Pick up locally produced bath products at Lotions and Potions and view exquisite artwork at Coleman Gallery and Studio. The shelves of Montana Candy Emporium are lined with baskets of sweet goodies, hunks of huckleberry fudge and bags of salty hot popcorn. Spend the night in the heart of downtown at the historic Pollard Hotel. Legend says guests of the hotel witnessed the Sundance Kid rob the Carbon County Bank in 1897.
Yellowstone National Park may not be easily accessible in the winter, but you can still watch its wildlife at Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to rescued animals that are native to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Large spacious enclosures are more for the animals’ benefit than the people looking in, but you still have a great chance of seeing lynx, gray wolves and black bears.
Getting through a Montana winter can be hard, so the citizens of Red Lodge have devised ways to party through the cold. Broadway Avenue is blocked off for the annual Christmas Stroll, held the first week of December. Bonfires light the street; shops offer holiday bargains; and carolers serenade the crowds. The Winter Carnival held each March is packed with snow-filled events celebrating the season, including costume contests, a downhill Cardboard Classic race, an evening torchlight parade and a fireworks extravaganza.
Plan a winter vacation in Red Lodge at redlodge.com.