As springtime begins to take hold, the entire landscape of the state of Montana begins to change. As the snowmelt accelerates, wildflowers bloom, roads open, and many of the state’s many hiking trails are finally clear to traverse.
This is a great time to visit Glacier National Park and Yellowstone as many of the roads will be open by the middle of the month, and the summer tourists will not yet have arrived. Though there can still be occasional storms in May if you’re lucky you could find yourself enjoying a near-empty park with warm breezes under bluebird skies.
Universities will still be in session, so Montana’s cities like Missoula, Bozeman, and Billings will feel extra lively as students spend more time outside. From parks to patios, everyone in town will be spending more of their time reconnecting with their communities; it’s the perfect time to grab a pint and strike up a conversation at one of Montana’s many eclectic bars and restaurants.
And even if you don’t plan on spending a considerable amount of time in the park, this is a great time to drive Beartooth Highway. This 68-mile highway connects Red Lodge with Gardiner, dipping into Wyoming through Yellowstone. The views are incredible, so although it only takes about three hours, you’ll probably want to schedule a bit more time to stop for photos along the way.
What’s The Weather In Montana Like In May
While days in May are considerably warmer, the weather can still be unpredictable, and the occasional snowfall is not unheard of. Possibly the hardest month to pack for the entire year, you could expect anything from an impromptu dip in the lake or a sudden snowstorm, so be sure to bring a swimsuit and a coat. Just in case.
Travel To Montana in May
This is the perfect time of year to fly to Montana and rent a car or an RV. Prices for flights drop considerably compared to April, especially from the west coast and Chicago into Bozeman, but the throngs of summer tourists haven’t yet arrived to rent all the available vehicles.
In addition, most roads open in May. By the middle of the month, you can enjoy nearly full access to drive in the state, except for a few high-altitude passes and Beartooth Highway, which opens toward the end of the month. But keep in mind: some portions of Going to the Sun road may still be inaccessible or closed completely depending on conditions.
Events in Montana in May
In St. Regis over Memorial Day Weekend is their annual flea market. Locals wait the entire year for this event, which has grown to become the largest market of its kind in the state. Over three days, over 200 vendors will buy, sell, and trade thousands of items, and you’re welcome to join in on the fun.
Up in Bigfork at the end of May is the extreme whitewater kayaking competition, Whitewater Festival. As the glacial melt goes into high gear toward the end of the month the rivers surge and the locals take advantage by hosting this competition, most of which takes place in class V rapids. You can come as a spectator or sign up to compete.
Every year on May 18th, museums all over the world participate in International Museum Day. Montana is no exception, and many museums, especially in Bozeman, offer free admission to visitors for the “holiday.” You can take advantage by going to see the Montana Science Center, the Bozeman Art Museum, or the Museum of the Rockies.
Things To Do In Montana In May
If your number one goal of visiting a national park is to see wildlife, a trip to Glacier or Yellowstone in May is the perfect time to go. Not only have the bears come out of hibernation, but baby animals start to fill the parks this time of year. There will be lots of baby elk near Mammoth Hot Springs, and “red dogs,” or baby bison, around the Lamar Valley.
And luckily, lodging inside Yellowstone reopens in May. While Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel both reopen by May 7th, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for the slightly more remote Canyon Lodge & Cabins to open in the last week of the month.
As temperatures get warmer, folks start returning to the water for sports like paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming. The glacial melt begins in earnest this time of year, so rivers and lakes are at their highest, but keep in mind that the water streaming from the mountains can render them quite cold.
If a frigid dip isn’t your thing, then you can use this time of year to visit a hot spring. Montana is home to several hot springs resorts that divert the natural, geothermal waters into manmade basins ranging from the quaint to the epic.
Just outside of Bozeman near Big Sky Resort is Bozeman Hot Springs. Total, they have 12 pools, 8 of them are indoor. This is one of the more economical hot springs in Montana, even when you want to stay overnight: just next door is a campground where you can pitch a tent or park your RV for a very reasonable fee.
If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, Quinn’s Hot Springs combines rustic charm with only the best service and amenities. In addition to their grotto-like hot springs, there’s also a fine-dining restaurant and a tavern onsite.
If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, Fairmont Hot Springs Resort offers all-inclusive packages with access to their pools, accommodations at their facility, and maybe most uniquely, ride on their water slide. As you can imagine, the latter makes Fairmont very popular with kids, and they’re more than accommodating to folks who want to bring the whole family.
Planning Your Trip To Montana In May
- The snowmelt accelerates considerably in May, leaving roads and trails free of snow and rivers and lakes engorged with glacial water.
- Beartooth Highway reopens, allowing unfettered access between Gardiner and Red Lodge.
- Lodging inside Yellowstone reopens, so visitors can plan multi-night trips inside the park.
- Temperatures in May become much warmer but be prepared for the occasional cold snap.
- May is an ideal time to rent a car or RV, as there are far fewer tourists than in the summer high season and roads are generally open.
- Watersports return to Montana at this time, and those without gear can rent equipment at many facilities throughout the state.
- For those still feeling the chill in the air, Montana’s many hot springs resorts usually have low occupancy in May, so they’re easy to book for a last-minute trip.