100 years of Red Lodge.
A visitor to Red Lodge in the winter of 1921 had many options for spending leisure time. Pheasants released by the Montana Fish and Game Commission “under direction” of the Red Lodge Rod and Gun Club were thriving in the face of cold weather. There was a world-champion wrestling match at Workers’ Hall. The Finnish Dramatic Society presented the drama “The Eternal City” (in Finnish) at the Theatorium, where the Masque and Frolic Club later hosted a “monster” celebration and reception for Santa Claus. Shopping could be found at Bloom & Company Shoe Store, and Kellogg’s cornflakes were 12 cents at J.M. Sawyer Company. The first ski lifts, at Willow Creek, Shangri-La, and Sundance weren’t installed until 1941, 1947, and 1966, but injuries were treated at the Mount Maurice Hospital and Sanitarium.
A hundred years later, a winter visitor will find an equally rich smorgasbord of activities going on.
You could spend your evening at the Beartooth Park Ice Rink, decorated by the Beartooth Outing Company with nearly 100 Christmas trees, or at the Roman Theater, where there were different movies every night, such as “The Saphead” with Buster Keaton, and “The Law of the Yukon.” In the spirit of lawlessness, which remained a part of the community identity until recently, three men were arrested for cattle rustling, and a moonshiner was arrested when his still was found in the foothills. In the county seat of Carbon County, Northwestern Improvement Company was moving forward with plans for a new tipple at the coal mine on the east bench of town. The Red Lodge Town Site Company was encouraging folks to build a home due to “advancing rents,” and the School Board backed the Board of Health by announcing that a law requiring vaccination (against smallpox) would be strictly enforced.
A hundred years later, a winter visitor will find an equally rich smorgasbord of activities going on. To start, it’s worth a stop at the Museum of the Beartooths in Columbus to learn about the historic human presence along the Beartooth Face, beginning with the Apsáalooke people whose reservation included what is now Red Lodge. The museum is also home to a massive relief map of the Greater Yellowstone Area constructed by mountaineer Fred Inabnit. Leave time for a meal at the excellent Wild Flower Kitchen north of Absarokee on Hwy. 78.
Once you make it to Red Lodge, you have some choices to make. The obvious one is Red Lodge Mountain, where you’ll need a pass if you plan to skin up Lazy M to the Hancock Hut and take in the sunrise views of 10,000 ft. Basin Peak and beyond. After earning those turns, take your pick of 70 runs with 2,400 ft. vertical drop, and be sure to finish the day at the Bierstube, with kick-ass music and the shotski.
The ice rink and the Roman Theater still exist; check out redlodgeice.com for the rink schedule, including hockey practice, and romantheater100.com for movies and events at the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the state, established in 1917.
A newer option includes the Red Lodge Nordic Center, operated by Beartooth Recreational Trails Association. The center includes regular grooming, a recent expansion that connects to national-forest lands, and enthusiastically reviewed ski clinics and kids’ programs. You can’t do better than to plan your trip around the XCulinary (Cross Culinary) event in late February, a novel winter evening that blends cross-country skiing with exquisite food prepared by local culinary artists. Hosted at the scenic Red Lodge Nordic Center, skiers glide on groomed trails, stopping for gourmet bites under aspens at the base of the Beartooth foothills. All proceeds benefit Silver Run Ski Team and Beartooth Recreational Trails Association. In early February, the Silver Run Ski Team hosts the Mind Bender Nordic ski event, designed for all ages and abilities around obstacles and fun.
For those interested in a bit more adrenaline, guided ice climbing and backcountry skiing are provided by Beartooth Mountain Guides, and fatbikes routinely use the unplowed West Fork Road and Silver Run Trail. With an increase in search-and-rescue calls over the last couple winters, it’s worth noting that many of these activities occur in areas with no cell service, so be prepared to get yourself, or your rig, out of trouble, and think about your pup’s welfare as well. As always, be aware of how our activities impact our fellow wilderness travelers, critters, and the landscape itself.
The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, with its wolves, bears, bobcats, and raptors will especially enchant families with kids. The night events are a personal favorite. No doubt, the kids already know about the overflowing baskets at the Montana Candy Emporium, and parents will pause to look at the vintage motorcycles on display.
You can’t do better than to plan your trip around the XCulinary (Cross Culinary) event in late February, a novel winter evening that blends cross-country skiing with exquisite food prepared by local culinary artists.
Two hundred years ago, Crow chief Arapooish wrote “The Crow Country is a good country. The Great Spirit has put it in exactly the right place; while you are in it, you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever way you may travel, you fare worse.” The fabric of Red Lodge that was subsequently woven by the miners, outfitters, and guides of 1921 still exists and continues in a modern form. As with most mountain communities in 2021, Red Lodge is facing another transformation. In the same way that the first Europeans who settled here set the tone for facing the times’ challenges, visitors and new businesses are bringing energy to help develop 21st-century solutions to this community in the shadow of the Beartooths. Come see for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
Just as in 1921, Red Lodge loves its winter events, starting with Christmas Stroll, scheduled for the first weekend in December each year. Broadway is closed, snowplows line up for the Blade Parade, fire pits line the streets, and businesses stay open late offering food and music. Over the first two weekends in March, there’s Winter Fest, bracketed by Winter Carnival at Red Lodge Mountain, and national finals skijoring, with many other events in between, such as the Backcountry Film Fest.
For outdoor gear, clothing, and answers to all your questions, you’ll find the outstanding Sylvan Peak Mountain Shop in the heart of downtown. Across the street is Rocky Mountain Market with local food, beer, wine, outdoor supplies, and even guitar repair. The specialty food-and-wine store, Babcock & Miles, is a food-lover’s paradise. Going back in history, you might be surprised to find the nationally recognized Red Lodge Clay Center in the old Finnish Hall and Opera House, built in 1897.
Red Lodge Low-Down
Red Lodge Nordic Center – Check out the trail map at beartoothtrails.org/nordiccenter. Note that there’s a daily fee and no dogs, snowshoes, or sledding allowed here.
The Yodeler Motel – Room 133 at the Yodeler is named for the Beartooth Basin Ski Area (formerly Race Camp, on the Pass). They've even got a designated ski waxing room—that should tell you what the vibe is here.
The Pollard Hotel – Between the train depot and booming downtown, this 1893 hotel was the first brick building constructed in Red Lodge.
Blue Sky Cabins – Located on a quiet back-road just outside of Red Lodge, Blue Sky is surrounded by wildlife and sits at the foot of the Beartooths.
Eats & Refreshments
Prerogative Kitchen – You don’t want to miss “PK,” with food and fun for everyone in the repurposed City Bakery building. They're dedicated to cooking sustainably by using local ingredients and cutting down waste. Plus, the food is delicious.
One-Legged Magpie – This brand-new establishment specializes in artisanal pizza, but they've got some more eclectic items on the menu as well. Be sure to check their live music schedule, too.
The Wild Table – A quaint cafe with locally sourced seasonal dishes, stop in here for a coffee and pastry, or sit down for the full brunch experience.
Mas Taco – A small gem offering Mexican eats such as tacos, empanadas, and burritos.
Cattail Bakery – Local scratch bakery and coffee shop.
Babcock & Miles – Wine, beer, cheese, and loads of yummy snacks. Delicious coffee, too.
Café Regis – A Red Lodge staple, especially for breakfast.
Red Lodge Ales – A true community hub.
Natali’s Front Bar – 1930s bar with a casual atmosphere.
Snow Creek Saloon – Iconic small-town Montana bar. ’Nuff said.