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Montana

"The Mountains continues as fer as our eyes could extend."

Published online: Nov 12, 2007 Feature

Montana's mountains were an ominous sight to some of the earliest white travelers who traversed the state more than 200 years ago on their way to the Pacific Ocean.

One journal entry by Patrick Glass, a member of the Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark, reads, "We renewed our march early, though the morning was very disagreeable, and proceeded over the most terrible mountains I ever beheld." (Sept. 16, 1805). Later in the same journal entry, Glass noted, "The snow fell so thick, and the day was so dark, that a person could not see to a distance of 200 yards."

Fellow Corps traveler John Ordway noted in a Sept. 18, 1805 journal entry, "the Mountains continues as fer as our eyes could extend. they extend much further than we expeted."

Most definitely the Corps would have a different perspective if they could have traversed those same mountains on snowmobiles using horsepower of a different kind (and not having to eat the ponies, which they were forced to do for want of food).

Today, it's those very mountains that "continues as fer as our eyes could extend" that draw winter enthusiasts and especially snowmobilers, to Montana.

Mountain range after mountain range dominate the western third of Montana, most all of which are part of the famous Rocky Mountains. That's also where a majority of snowmobiling takes place because that's where the nearly all of the developed trail systems as well as the biggest mountains are. Ranges including the Swan, Gravelly, Bitterroot, Big Belt, Purcell, Absaroka, Madison, Pioneer and more provide some of the best snowmobiling available anywhere in the West.

Several of those mountain ranges (Bitterroot and Coeur d'Alene) separate Montana from Idaho, including the Continental Divide/Rocky Mountains, which form the boundary between the two states in southwest Montana before heading into Big Sky Country at the Lost Trail Pass. Still smaller mountain ranges-such as the Big and Little Belts-create islands of riding in the state, which is known across the snowbelt for its abundant dry powder.

Montana has two dozen well defined riding areas where trails are groomed-3,500 miles in all-but that doesn't include all the backcountry areas where there is no grooming. The trail systems are scattered all over the western part of Montana, from its border with Canada south to its border with Idaho and Wyoming.  

Riding in Montana will take you past places rich in history, mining towns, awesome scenery, spectacular mountain ranges, scenic lakes and rivers, pristine backcountry areas and impeccable trails. Diversity is a key trait of sledding in Big Sky Country. You should easily be able to find a kind of riding to your liking.

Because of the concentration of riding in the western third of the state, trailering from one area to another is a breeze, allowing sledders to explore more country without having to spend all their time on the road.

In addition to the two dozen areas detailed below, we've come across information on a handful of other areas where you can ride in Montana. One of those areas is in the Sioux Ranger District of the Custer National Forest in far eastern Montana. Log on to www.fs.fed.us/r1/custer/recreation and click on the Sioux District. Riding here is in the 3,000-4,000-foot range. While you're on that website you can also click on the Beartooth Ranger District to find all the riding there (in addition to the Beartooth area), which includes the Pryor Mountain Unit adjacent to the Crow Indian Reservation.

In northcentral Montana, up near Havre, are the Bears Paw Mountains and Beaver Creek Park. The 10,000-acre Beaver Creek Park is 12 miles south of Havre and extends to the north slope of the Bears Paw Mountains and allows snowmobiling. For more information on this area contact the Havre Chamber of Commerce (406-265-4383).

Another couple of smaller areas include near Choteau (29 miles northwest of town) on the east flank of the Rockies and another in the Big Snowy Mountains south of Lewistown near Crystal Lake. For information on both these areas log on to www.russell.visitmt.com/winter.

The state of Montana does a good job of promoting snowmobiling and other winter sports. In addition to the state's tourism website (www.visitmt.com) try www.wintermt.com.

 

Travel Montana www.visitmt.com

Road Conditions 800-226-7623

Montana Snowmobile Association www.snowtana.com

Groomed Trails 3,500

Number of Registered Snowmobiles 23,440

Highest Point Granite Peak (12,799 ft)

Greatest Average Annual Snowfall Kings Hill 305.5 in.

Record Winter Snowfall Kings Hill 426.0 in.

Coldest Recorded Temperature Rogers Pass minus-70 degrees F

 

King's Hill/Little Belts

Elevation 6,000-8,000

Snowfall 150-200 inches

Groomed Trails 325 miles

Full-Service Town Great Falls, White Sulphur Springs, Neihart

Nearest Airport Great Falls (65 miles)

Information Russell Country Travel Region 800-527-5348

 

Libby/Ten Lakes

Elevation 2,000-5,800

Snowfall 150-250 inches

Groomed Trails 153 miles

Full-Service Town Libby, Eureka

Nearest Airport Kalispell (90 miles)

Information Libby Chamber of Commerce 406-293-4167

 

Flathead Valley

Elevation 3,000-7000

Snowfall 150-250 inches

Groomed Trails 220 miles

Full-Service Town Kalispell

Nearest Airport Kalispell (15 miles)

Information Flathead Convention and Visitors Bureau 406-756-9091

 

Cut Bank

Elevation 5,280-8,000

Snowfall 150-250 inches

Groomed Trails 38 miles

Full-Service Town East Glacier, Essex

Nearest Airport Kalispell (70 miles)

Information Cut Bank Chamber of Commerce 406-873-4041

 

Haugan/Thompson Falls

Elevation 4,700-6,400

Snowfall 127 inches

Groomed Trails 120 miles

Full-Service Town Haugan, Thompson Falls

Nearest Airport Missoula (90 miles)

Information Glacier Country Travel Region 800-338-5072

 

Lolo Pass

Elevation 3,200-6,500

Snowfall 200-300 inches

Groomed Trails 250 miles

Full-Service Town Missoula, Lolo Hot Springs

Nearest Airport Missoula (45 miles)

Information Lolo Hot Springs 800-273-2290, Missoula Convention and

Visitors Bureau 800-526-3465

 

Mission Mountains

Elevation 3,200-7,000

Snowfall 100-150 inches

Groomed Trails 45 miles

Full-Service Town Ronan

Nearest Airport Missoula (55 miles)

Information Glacier Country Travel Region 800-338-5072

 

Lincoln

Elevation 4,600-8,200

Snowfall 100-150 inches

Groomed Trails 250 miles

Full-Service Town Lincoln

Nearest Airport Helena (60 miles)

Information Lincoln Valley Chamber of Commerce 406-362-4949

 

Garnet

Elevation 4,200-7,000

Snowfall 100-150 inches

Groomed Trails 116 miles

Full-Service Town Missoula

Nearest Airport Missoula (30 miles)

Information Missoula Convention and Visitors Bureau 800-526-3465

 

Seeley Lake

Elevation 4,000-7,000

Snowfall 100 inches

Groomed Trails 230 miles

Full-Service Town Seeley Lake

Nearest Airport Missoula (60 miles)

Information Chamber of Commerce 406-677-2880

 

Helena

Elevation 4,000-8,000

Snowfall 100-150 inches

Groomed Trails 245 miles

Full-Service Town Helena

Nearest Airport Helena (45 miles)

Information Helena Chamber of Commerce 800-743-5362

 

Skalkaho/Hamilton/Rye

Elevation 3,500-8,000

Snowfall 150-200 inches

Groomed Trails 58 miles

Full-Service Town Hamilton

Nearest Airport Missoula (50 miles)

Information Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce 406-363-2400

 

Georgetown Lake

Elevation 6,400-9,000

Snowfall 150-200 inches

Groomed Trails 140 miles

Full-Service Town Phillipsburg, Anaconda

Nearest Airport Butte (50 miles)

Information Gold West Country 800-879-1159

 

Deer Lodge

Elevation 5,300-8,000

Snowfall 100-150 inches

Groomed Trails 59 miles

Full-Service Town Deer Lodge

Nearest Airport Butte (40 miles)

Information Gold West Country 800-879-1159

 

Butte/Elk Park

Elevation 5,200-6,500

Snowfall 100 inches

Groomed Trails 38 miles

Full-Service Town Butte

Nearest Airport Butte (10 miles)

Information Gold West Country 800-879-1159

 

Wisdom/Jackson

Elevation 6,000-7,500

Snowfall 150 inches

Groomed Trails 150 miles

Full-Service Town Wisdom, Jackson

Nearest Airport Butte (80 miles)

Information Gold West Country 800-879-1159

 

Wise River

Elevation 5,500-9,400

Snowfall 150 inches

Groomed Trails 150 miles

Full-Service Town Wise River

Nearest Airport Butte (40 miles)

Information Gold West Country 800-879-1159

 

Dillon/Polaris

Elevation 5,100-8,400

Snowfall 150-175 inches

Groomed Trails 200 miles

Full-Service Town Polaris, Dillon

Nearest Airport Butte (65 miles)

Information Gold West Country 800-879-1159

 

Virginia City

Elevation 5,800-8,000

Snowfall 100-125 inches

Groomed Trails 130 miles

Full-Service Town Ennis

Nearest Airport Bozeman (52 miles)

Information Gold West Country 800-879-1159

 

Big Timber

Elevation 4,000-9,000

Snowfall 150 inches

Groomed Trails 15 miles

Full-Service Town Big Timber

Nearest Airport Bozeman (60 miles)

Information Yellowstone<