Cold and snowy, December weather in Montana presents either a winter wonderland or a frozen hellscape, depending on your point of view. But even if you’re not used to the cold and snow, you may find yourself enjoying the sparkling, snow-covered surroundings and cozy activities that Montana offers in the winter.
A well-prepared tourist can enjoy winter here as Montanans do: by bundling up outdoors, spending some time in front of the fire, and enjoying a quality local pint at a local bar.
While skiing is probably the most popular winter sport in the state, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and glacier hiking are also popular pastimes. If you’d like to participate but don’t have your own gear, most towns, especially in Bozeman, have equipment rental shops that can supply you with everything you might need.
And just because there’s snow on the ground, don’t discount a visit to the parks. While traversable roads may be limited, the ones that are open can lead you to some incredible landscapes rife with challenging trails and ideal spots for cross-country skiing. Glacier National Park even has reduced fees in December, making a visit even more enticing.
Your Guide to Montana in December
Montana residents see the daily high temperatures decrease by 5°F, from 30°F to 15°F. It is rare that the temperature dips below 13°F or exceeds 49°F. This time of year, you will need to prepare yourself with a full complement of winter-appropriate clothing so you can more manage to be outside.
Travel To Montana in December
No matter where you’re coming from, flying to Montana around Christmas or New Year’s is going to be expensive when booked last minute, but some early-bird searching throughout the year can provide some dramatic discounts. And like many destinations, traveling on Christmas Day is generally cheaper than the day before.
Snows are falling in earnest by December, so be careful if you’re planning a road trip. Aside from scheduled closures of passes and several roads within Yellowstone and Glacier, the weather often prevents travel, especially over passes and at higher elevations.
Events in Montana in December
If you still haven’t purchased all of your gifts, your trip to Montana in December should include perusing the offerings at the Little Red Truck Winter Vintage Market. This traveling vintage market pulls into Missoula every year to sell holiday-themed items as well as clothing and home goods you won’t find anywhere else.
You’ll find this European-style Christmas market at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, a venue large enough to hold the 100+ vendors that will be awaiting your visit.
And like many other parts of the world, the Montana Ballet Company in Bozeman puts on several performances of the Nutcracker around the holidays. This is a huge annual undertaking requiring months of preparation by a myriad of dancers, costume designers, production technicians, and a small army of volunteers who all band together to keep this tradition alive.
And if you’ll be in Missoula on New Year’s Eve, plan on tucking into your hotel room between 6 and 8 pm before you head to your all-night gala; this will leave you available to watch the beloved annual live broadcast of First Night Spotlight.
This is a high school singing competition that’s aired live on local television. The contestants, though they’re “only” high school students, take the event deadly seriously, and it shows in their incredible performances. Spectators of all ages look forward to the program every year, eagerly cheering on their favorite young performers.
Things To Do In Montana In December
If you were disappointed about the closing of in-park lodges throughout October and November, you’ll be excited to find out that they re-open for a short winter season to showcase the particular natural beauty of the Montanan landscape in the winter. By the middle of December, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone will be accepting guests until March.
While the only road open in Yellowstone to private vehicles this time of year is the one flanking the north border of the park, connecting Cooke City with Gardiner, you can still schedule a tour by snowcoach or snowmobile.
The latter is suited to the very adventurous, as you will be unguided through the park. You need a permit to drive a snowmobile in Yellowstone, and they are issued in a lottery system to limit harm to the natural surroundings. You can apply for a permit in the month of August, and you will be notified in September if you were successful.
But if you’d rather stay in town, a holiday tradition in Montanan cities is a Christmas stroll, where spectators gather to see the impressive local light displays and caroling, often with an appearance from Santa himself. While dates and times can vary depending on what city you’re in, these generally occur in the first half of December.
And if you’re planning a trip to Big Sky, don’t leave the area without taking at least a lap or two on the annual Big Sky Ice Rink. This Town Center outdoor ice rink is a family favorite around the holidays, and don’t worry if you haven’t brought your own skates: you can rent them at Grizzly Outfitters or East Slope Outdoors nearby.
Planning Your Trip To Montana In December
- December in Montana is cold and snowy, and legitimate winter gear is required if you’d like to be comfortable outdoors.
- Ski season will be in full swing, but other winter sports are also popular like snowshoeing, ice skating, and glacier hiking.
- You can enjoy reduced fees at Glacier National Park if you’d like to visit.
- Lodges within Yellowstone re-open for the winter season.
- Many roads, especially within the national parks, will be closed in December to private vehicles. You can schedule a tour by snow coach or snowmobile if you’d like to enjoy restricted areas.
- Travel to Montana can be expensive around the holidays. You’ll find the best deals when you book well in advance.
- There are many activities for tourists to participate in during the holidays, from caroling to Christmas markets, to annual performances of the Nutcracker.