Named for the rich coal mines that gave rise to the region, Carbon County, Montana is east of the continental divide in south-central Montana bordering Wyoming. It’s home to the Beartooth Mountains and their eponymous seasonal thoroughfare, Beartooth Highway.
Popular pastimes in Carbon County include many outdoor pursuits. Hiking and fishing are popular here, but skiing and snowboarding, when they’re in season, reign supreme. Red Lodge Mountain, arguably the best local’s mountain in the state, is a favorite ski area among Montanans.
The seat of the county is Red Lodge, where you’ll find plenty of lodging, dining, and tourist information for visitors. A quaint but well-maintained historic district runs through its downtown.
Visit the Carbon County Government website.
Annual Events in Carbon County, Montana
Keeping the spirit of small-town Montana alive, Carbon County is home to several annual events that bring the community together.
March – National Finals Ski-Joring Races
Skijoring, a sport imported from Scandinavia wherein a skier is towed by a horse or a dog, is a Montana favorite. You can join them in Red Lodge for the National Finals to find out who’s the fastest, cleanest skijorer that year.
July – Independence Day Fireworks Display
As the seat of Carbon County, Red Lodge goes all-out for the Fourth of July. This fireworks display is held on the East Bench and begins after dark.
July – Home of the Champions Rodeo
This annual rodeo coincides with the Fourth of July, held annually on July 1-4 and hosted by the Red Lodge Rodeo Association. They also arrange a parade that goes through downtown on Independence day.
September – Labor Day Arts Fair
Hosted by the Carbon County Arts Guild & Depot Gallery, this annual art fair in Lions Park brings nearly 80 artists and artisans together to showcase their work. Visitors to this free event are invited to stroll from booth to booth to view and buy handmade art and handcrafts.
November – Opening Day at Red Lodge Mountain
Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area usually opens the day after Thanksgiving, and hitting the slopes for opening day is a Carbon County tradition.
November – Turkey Trot
This Thanksgiving morning fun-run raises money for local food banks. Although pre-registration is required, it’s free to participate (but please be generous with your donations!)
December – Christmas Stroll
For two nights at the beginning of December, businesses in Downtown Red Lodge stay open far past normal closing hours to welcome residents and visitors alike to share the opening of the holiday season. You can expect plenty of lights, hot chocolate, carolling, and streets filled with Christmas cheer.
December – Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
Red Lodge Erects a Christmas tree at the Carnegie Library every year for the holidays, and the Beartooth Electric Cooperative sponsors its decoration and lighting. They hold a small celebration when the tree is lit for the first time every year.
Attractions in Carbon County, Montana
If you’re visiting Carbon County for the first time, here are a few can’t miss attractions to keep on your radar.
Bad Pass Trail
Originally established in pre-Columbian times by the indigenous people of the region, the Bad Pass Trail has been used for at least 12,000 years. The trail flanks the western edge of Bighorn Canyon, and has been used historically by bison trackers and later by fur trappers. Today, it’s used mostly as a pleasure trail by day and thru-hikers.
From the late 1800s until 1928, this modest building housed the preeminent bank in the region. Today, the Bearcreek has repurposed the building as the town’s City Hall.
Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area
Montana’s favorite local ski spot, Red Lodge Mountain is famous for its winning combination of excellent snow and friendly clientele. This is a family-oriented, unpretentious ski area with extremely reasonable prices.
This narrow, four-mile-long canyon may be small, but it holds a wealth of important ancient petroglyphs. The carvings here feature depictions of people and animals, including bison, and sheep. The canyon was added to the National Registry of Historic places to help protect it from vandalism and to highlight its immense historic value.
Red Lodge Commercial Historic District
Running along Broadway between 8th and 13th streets, the Red Lodge Commercial Historic District is home to independent shops, restaurants, and bars. As part of a revitalization project that began in the mid-80s, the historic buildings of Red Lodge’s downtown have been carefully maintained, including the historic Carbon County Courthouse and the Iris Theater.
Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary
This fully licensed wildlife refuge offers animals native to Montana that are unable to live in the wild a home. They offer educational programs, guided tours, and have regular visiting hours that change by season.
Stretching all the way to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park near Cooke City, Beartooth Highway begins in Red Lodge and winds through some of the most incredible landscapes in Montana. It was recognized as an All-American Road and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.