Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

5-Day Winter Road Trip in Montana

by Danielle Lattuga Dec 9, 2009
Missoula Montana local Danielle Lattuga lines out an amazing 5-day itinerary for travelers in Montana this winter.

[Editor’s note: This post is sponsored by our friends and partners at, the State of Montana’s official travel site.]

Starter tips:

  • Rent a car from an airport vendor.
  • Lodging and activities described are frequently offered in time- and money-saving packages. Check out the links for current deals.
  • Always make reservations where possible.
Day 1

Fly into Bozeman and plan to spend the night. Unique lodging suggestions:

    • The Gallatin Gateway Inn: Built in the 1920s, this hotel was the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul railroads’ luxury stopover in the Rocky Mountain West. Accommodations include three resident ghosts — the most renowned being the “bridegroom,” who is known to firmly grasp the waist of brides descending the curved staircase into the great room. Rooms start at $135.
  • Howlers Inn Bed and Breakfast: Set on 42 acres in Bridger Canyon, this B&B doubles as a wolf sanctuary. Mountain and wolf views. Rooms start at $105.

If you have time before nightfall:

  • Soak or get the full spa treatment at Bozeman Hot Springs. Access to the nine pools is $8.50 for adults, kids range $4-$7.50.
  • Go for a cross-country ski or snowshoe in Hyalite Canyon. Rent your gear and get the scoop on conditions at Chalet Sports, 108 W. Main St.
  • Visit the Museum of the Rockies and find out whose footsteps you followed to Montana at the dinosaur exhibit. Admission: Adults $10, children $7.


  • Finer dining or stellar inland sushi — check out Looie’s Down Under.
  • Lighter, more casual fare, with lots of fun flavor — try Over the Tapas.
  • Locally focused eats in a historic setting with great wine — that’s Plonk.
  • The Bacchus Pub has tasty Irish fare and a lively atmosphere (complete with hand-carved Gods of Merriment staring at you from all directions).
Day 2

Get up and have breakfast at the Nova Café, a local favorite with awesome omelets, pancakes, and artwork.

Drive to Yellowstone National Park via Livingston and Gardiner. Watch weather surge and shift over the Absaroka Mountains along the way. Once arrived:

  • Take a snow coach interpretive tour through the park, and witness one of the most intense struggles for survival anywhere on the planet–bison wintering in Yellowstone
  • Get dropped off at one of many groomed cross-country ski trails (or grab a guide).
  • Stay cozy in the snow coach and cross deep snowfields, where no cars can travel. Watch Old Faithful spew — a totally different experience in winter.

Numerous tours depart from Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, starting at $55 for adults, $27.50 for children.

Recap your adventures while soaking in the Boiling River, where thermally heated water pours over black slick rock and hits the Gardiner River.

When hungry: the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, located at former Fort Yellowstone, overlooks the other-worldliness of limestone terraces and caldera steam. Meals range from $10-$30. Reservations required.

Spend the night at: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where lodging starts at $85.

Or make the short drive to your next destination: Chico Hot Springs Resort and Spa, with numerous lodging options to accommodate a quiet couple or rowdy family, starting at $49.

Individual cabins sit on the edge of the property with unobstructed views of wide meadows and big mountains. For proximity to the food and the soak, stay in the main lodge, where floorboards creek and a fire burns steadily in the soapstone fireplace.

Day 3

Traverse the landscape with the dogs of Absaroka Dog Sled Treks, starting at $110 per person, depending on length and intensity.

Take the full day Denali trek and you’ll find yourself deep in the mountains with spectacular views of Paradise Valley.

Return to Chico for a good long soak, then a well-earned meal in their rustic dining room.

Day 4

Hit the breakfast buffet on your way out. Drive back through Bozeman and south to Big Sky.

Allow two hours for the trip, as the latter half will be spent traveling through Gallatin Canyon along the Gallatin River.

Take your time. Road conditions are unpredictable.

Just before turning onto the access road to Big Sky, pick up some sandwiches to go from Bugaboo Café. Then:

  • Take a cross-country ski or snowshoe on Lone Mountain Ranch’s 85km trail system ($15-$20).
  • Spend a half-day skiing ($69) at Big Sky Resort on 11,166ft Lone Mountain.

Both options provide sweet views and good options for all skill levels.

For an exceptional meal on your last night in Montana:

  • The sleigh ride dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch; guests pile into a horse-drawn sleigh and are shuttled to the North Fork cabin for a dinner cooked on a wood-fired stove, and entertainment provided by local musicians ($85).
  • The Montana Dinner Yurt; guests are transported to a remote yurt on the flanks of Lone Mountain — via snowcat — for sledding and a bonfire preceding a gourmet meal ($79).


Big Sky has plenty of accommodations. Prices vary and lodging/ski packages are common.

Lone Mountain Ranch and The Huntley Lodge (at the ski resort) are convenient options, depending on your preference.

Day 5

Depending on where you crashed, there are various breakfast options — these three cafes are recommended: Sun Dog (in Mountain Village), Huckleberry (in the meadow), and Bugaboo (in the canyon). After eating:

  • If it’s a sunny day, take a ride to the summit of Lone Mountain in the tram for a view clear to the Grand Tetons.
  • Get a ticket for the Zip line, for one last big chill before you head home.
  • If you’re feeling especially mellow, watch skiers and boarders in the terrain park, or take a stroll through the mountain mall.

It’s a short drive back to Bozeman and home…though we won’t blame you for lingering.

Community Connection

Check out all of Matador’s resources on the Big Sky State at our Montana Focus page.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.