Red Lodge, Montana and its 2,000-ish friendly residents inhabit the place where a glacier-carved valley’s curvy bottom opens into high, sagebrush plains, and where Rock Creek tumbles off the northeast side of the Beartooth Mountains and into eastern Montana. With its altitude of 5,500 feet above sea level, its annual dousing of more than 250 inches of snow, its one and only Red Lodge Mountain ski resort, its proximity to public lands aplenty, and its tiny wealth of lodging and dining facilities, the mining-turned-tourist town has what it takes to be a winter recreation destination.
But we’re not talking about an Aspen, a Jackson, or even a Big Sky out there in Red Lodge. We’re talking about the teeter-totter edge of the wilderness, a place where you can still jaywalk the main street (which is called Broadway Avenue) without danger of death via Escalade, a town where not just the rich and famous can afford a cabin. But Red Lodge is not the land that time forgot, it’s just a small town sporting a homey vibe—and some fine, white pow. As a result, it welcomes a couple thousand winter tourists each year for downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and other winter sports.
From the trails you’ll want to snowshoe to where to lay your tired head, from who serves the best food to what store can help with whatever you forgot at home, this guide contains what you need to do a Red Lodge snowshoeing vacation right.
As we snowshoers know, we can snowshoe in winter most of what we hike by summer. Things get a little more serious in the winter, however, with cold temperatures, the navigation challenges associated with snow-covered trails, and avalanche danger. Bring the right gear and do your homework on any trail to make sure it’s right for you.
Lake Fork winter trails
Located south of Red Lodge and just off Highway 212 in the Custer National Forest, this area has a couple groomed trails totaling six miles of traveling terrain. A thick conifer forest and sneaking high-peak views will keep you entertained as you snowshoe. Keep in mind that this is a multi-use area, so please snowshoe on one side of the groomed track.
West Fork Road
This road leaves Red Lodge and heads west into the Custer National Forest following the West Fork of Rock Creek uphill. In the winter, the road is barricaded and becomes a multi-use trail. It’s occasionally groomed and used by skiers, snowshors, and snowmobilers. The groomed roadbed continues for eight-ish miles, and can facilitate a full-day, out-and-back outing. Possibilities for a wild, multi-day, backcountry experience extend beyond the end of the groomed road, as first an ungroomed roadbed and then a trail lead to the Beartooth Mountains high country. This type of trip is for experienced winter travelers.
Red Lodge Nordic Center trails
The Red Lodge Nordic Center has about 10 miles of groomed and ungroomed trails used by skiers and snowshoers. The terrain here is largely rolling sagebrush plains that yield the long views for which Montana is famous. Kindly keep in mind that this is a multi-use area, so please snowshoe on one side of the groomed track (Web: beartoothtrails.org/nordic-center, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Lay Your Head
Because I’m a sucker for history, I love overnighting at this downtown Red Lodge hotel. It’s more than 100 years old and has been remodeled and restored to preserve its original character. The Pollard Hotel doesn’t offer serious luxury, but it does provide a great glimpse into the town’s origins (Web: thepollard.com, Phone: 406-446-0001).
Vacation Rental By Owner rental homes
About two dozen homes in Red Lodge are offered as private rentals. These rentals, generally, fit into two categories: restored, quaint, historic mining homes in downtown Red Lodge and mountain cabins in the open space outside of town. Some homes are small and sleep just a couple folks, while others can harbor a weekend get-together with your best ten friends. My personal favorites are the restored mining homes in town because of their history and accessibility (Web: vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/montana/yellowstone/red-lodge).
On the outside, it looks like a 1950’s-style café or store. The inside is totally different, however, with its folksy feel and health food. Curl up for breakfast and lunch with an array of fresh, local foods and gobs of vegetarian options (Web: caferegis.com, Phone: 406-446-1941).
Carbon County Steakhouse
Named for the county in which Red Lodge is perched, it prepares well the food for which Montana is known: steak. The cuts of meat aren’t cheap, but they’ll melt in your mouth like a good steak should (Phone: 406 446-4025).
Scoops Ice Cream
Step off Broadway Avenue and into this old-time ice cream shop. After a day of hard snowshoeing work, everyone deserves dessert and there’s nothing like experiencing a little history while you’re at it (Phone: 406-446-0160).
Forgotten Gear and Snowshoe Rentals
Sylvan Peak Mountain Shop
Located on Broadway Avenue, it has about everything outdoor-recreation related that you might have left behind, including multiple snowshoe models. And, as a bonus, you can rent snowshoes here (406-446-1770).
Billings is the nearest town with a commercial airport. It’s a one-hour drive southwest from Billings to Red Lodge. If you’re renting a car there, I recommend it be a four-wheel drive vehicle. Montana winter weather is totally unpredictable, so you want wheels that are ready for anything.