It doesn’t take much imagination to conceive how the features of a Montana landscape could transform into a magical ice terrain come mid-winter. You won’t need to rely on imagination for this one though, as that is exactly what happens through the eyes of anyone seeking a spot of outdoor winter ice-climbing.
If that sounds like your thing it may be time to gather up those crampons and head for the Montana landscape with its wide and impressive array of frozen features. These include icefalls and iced outcroppings, not to mention a few world-renowned ice climbing spots like Hyalite Canyon.
If you haven’t yet tried this breathtaking pursuit amongst some of the most impressive scenery in the world, keep in mind that ice climbing isn’t necessarily the kind of activity you can pick up in a day or two. This means finding some decent instruction or even attending an event like Bozeman Ice Fest which has events aimed at novices.
There’s also a ton of gear involved that most weekend climbers are unlikely to shell out for, but won’t mind renting so much. And aside from the scenery and excitement, safety should always be a top priority—being particularly mindful of potential avalanche scenarios, etc. is nothing less than essential.
With that said, let’s take a ‘peak’ at some of the best ice climbing spots in Montana for you to set your sights on for your next visit to Big Sky Country.
The Top Ice Climbing Spots in Montana
1. Hyalite Canyon
Montana’s Hyalite Canyon is one of the most-visited recreation spots in the entire state. It is close to Bozeman and is renowned by ice climbers the world over as one of the nation’s premier ice climbing destinations.
Those with the heart and experience will encounter ‘world-class’ cliffs for ice climbing, many of which are accessible by just a 15-minute walk from the parking lot. The climbers can choose from a range of options in terms of difficulty ratings.
Hyalite encompasses glacially-carved ice cliffs and endless frozen waterfalls backed up by winding mountain trails. Once the usually cascading water starts to freeze, it’s action time for ice climbers seeking legendary scenarios.
Although Hyalite covers a huge area the majority of the climbing tends to be based above the reservoir, particularly around upper Hyalite Creek. The road stays open year-round and provides some fairly easy access to a lot of the best spots in and around the canyon area.
2. Ousel Falls
Ousel Falls is an iconic and highly-visited Montana waterfall near Big Sky. Set along a cold canyon, the falls tend to freeze quite early and feature four decent ice climbs.
The ice climbs here are not more than 25 feet in height, which makes Ousel Falls a favorite half-day option in winter, although it isn’t often crowded. The frozen water from the otherwise cascading falls commonly forms an excellent solid pillar and takes on a chandeliered appearance.
The falls may not look that imposing to experienced climbers due to the shallow heights, but they still manage to attract novices and veterans alike. It is ideal for anyone just starting out with ice climbing, although experienced climbers may use this location to get rid of any ‘ring rust’ for the new season.
Many will plan their climb according to the fact that the left side of the route will be shaded by 12 pm. It takes another couple of hours for the rest of the climb to be completely shaded though.
3. Glacier National Park
It’s no surprise to find yet more world-class ice climbing within the boundaries of one of Montana’s iconic national parks.
It could be the diverse and inspiring terrain of the park or the sheer size. Maybe it’s the expansive, open views—but many climbers agree that many climbing routes in Glacier National Park lean towards the realm of more-experienced climbers.
In a nutshell, this is the place to find steep and exposed climbs with some fairly amazing aesthetics if that sounds at all up your street. That’s not to say inexperienced climbers should shy away from Glacier Park—at least if they are up for a challenge.
If you are relatively new to ice climbing and find the prospect of navigating the landscape of the national park slightly daunting, you might consider checking out a specialist Ice Climbing Tour or another type of Ice Climbing Tour Experience just outside of the park.
It’s worth noting that Columbia Falls is not much more than 15 minutes from West Glacier. This is a popular starting point for tours as it is for anyone not wanting to venture too deeply into the park itself.
4. Bad Rock Canyon
Bad Rock Canyon is just 3 miles more down the road from the highly picturesque Columbia Falls. As you can imagine the canyon area is also amazingly picturesque and is thus ideal for ice climbing.
With its own distinct variety of different ice walls, Bad Rock makes it easy enough for anyone to find something to fit their requirements. The climbing area is accessed by a short, inclined walk, and the route leads to a few walls with average heights of 30 or 40 feet.
Climbers looking to test existing skills will find the canyon has plenty of steeper routes. For this reason, Bad Rock Canyon is one of the places experienced ice climbers can find a challenge.
That said the area does cater to less experienced climbers looking for a playground in which to improve their burgeoning ice-climbing skills.
The canyon features a plethora of manageable yet challenging walls. This in turn makes the canyon a desirable spot for full and half-day climbs and tours.
It wouldn’t be right not to include the amazingly-scenic and iconic ski resort scenarios offered by Montana’s Whitefish. At least in terms of anything connected to ice and the outdoors, the scenery here takes some beating on a number of levels.
The Whitefish ice climbing terrain features plenty of frozen waterfall cascades and ice climbs. There’s no specific level in mind for many climbers in the region as there is largely something to suit all comers. Ice climbing scenarios in Whitefish range from beginner-friendly to expert-only.
Many of the popular ice climbing routes in and around the town are easily accessible just off the main road, and if you fancy the idea of a two-day ice climbing course anytime soon then what better place to stop off and do just that than Whitefish?
Ice Climbing Spots in Montana – The Bottom Line
In all, it’s safe enough to say that some of the most wonderful ice-climbing scenarios on the planet can be found in Montana.
Unlike skiing or boarding though, this may be a skill that takes a little more practical application and expertise before picking up any real speed. This is one of the reasons you’ll find the various organizations in and around key climbing areas offering tuition, clinics, and tours.
Experienced ice climbers or anyone looking to try their hand will find some great options in Montana. This goes for the scenery and the different levels.
If you fancy a bit of traveling around the state on your ice climbing adventures you’ll find it easy enough to fill your itinerary with half or full-day climbs and even set up a spot of training beforehand if necessary. You can almost imagine the feel of the crampons and the sinking in of the ax with those glorious peaks and other landmarks as a backdrop!