A trip for the shoulder season.
The strongholds of golden leaves will soon surrender to winter. But for a moment, their reign across southwest Montana is brilliant. Snow is moving into town, but it waxes and wanes in the fluctuating temperatures. This is the shoulder season—conditions for summer activities are fading while conditions for winter activities are still brewing. But in Red Lodge, there is still plenty to do.
The Beartooth Highway portal to town is closed to through traffic, returning Red Lodge to the locals and adventurers. By day, the number of people in the mountains rivals the number of patrons on Broadway Avenue, Red Lodge's main drag. And when the warmth of the sun no longer penetrates the cooling air, glowing neon signs will guide you to a warm seat. When planning your trip, don't hesitate to reach out to the nice folks at the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce. They're always in the know regarding upcoming events in town.
Hiking & Camping
This time of year in Montana, it’s not unheard of to experience all four seasons in a single day—or even a single hour. If you’re planning on going hiking or camping, plan for all types of weather. Red Lodge has a number of outdoor shops that can provide you with any gear and apparel you may need.
Beautiful trails in every direction from Red Lodge are open to hike. Most of the roads that lead to the trailheads remain open until December 1. But some of the campgrounds are already closed. Check the Beartooth Ranger District’s website for its seasonal closures.
The road to the Palisades trailhead is open year-round and is a great hike to see fall colors. The aspen groves along the trail shimmer gold this time of year. Some other favorites for fall hiking are Basin Lakes Trail, Willow Creek Trail, and Lake Fork Trail. Year-round camping options include M-K, Parkside, and Rattin campgrounds, which are along Rock Creek south of Red Lodge.
Fall colors aren't just for the trees in southwest Montana—spawning brown trout flash brighter colors this time of year. And you needn't go far to find trout in Red Lodge. Rock Creek flows right through town and now that most of the tourists are gone, you're likely to find ample space on this small-water stream. Head north of town to the many forks of Rock Creek, where you're sure to pull out some trout.
For a bigger stream nearby, cast into the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River south of town. But before you hit the water, stop by one of the local fly shops—they'll point you in the right direction.
There are times when staying in town is a more fun option. When it’s alternating between heavy rain and sleet outside, sometimes the dry and cozy choice beats any potential for the sun coming out mid-outing. But bad weather doesn’t have to be the only reason to opt for spending a day in the town of Red Lodge. It’s a genuinely fun town, lined with beautiful art galleries, good restaurants and bars, and lovely gift shops.
You can get all the supplies you need for a cozy day inside at Babcock & Miles. A great wine selection, gifts, cheeses, spices, and more cover its walls. It’s also a great place to cozy up in, enjoying hot drinks in the café.
But when the weather gets rough and you don't want to camp, the Pollard Hotel has great rooms to keep you warm. This locally owned and operated hotel is in the town's center on Broadway Ave. The historic hotel has been around for about as long as the town itself. Built in 1893, the building is host to stories of famous visitors and alleged ghosts.
Under the roof of the Carbon County Historical Museum, you can learn about the history of Red Lodge. It’s nice to appreciate a place for everything it is today, but getting an understanding of a place’s history can enrich your appreciation. The Carbon County Historical Museum offers 11 exhibits, covering its history among the Crow Tribe, mountaineers, cowboys, and ranchers. One of the town's most notable figures is Liver-Eatin' Johnson (aka, Jeremiah Johnson), who was Red Lodge's colorful constable.
If you enjoy Red Lodge in the shoulder season, you'll want to come back in a couple of months. Winter brings a whole other aspect to the town’s allure—Red Lodge Mountain. In the midst of this ski mountain rises the 9,416-foot summit of Grizzly Peak.
The snow isn't ready yet, but Old Man Winter is already working on his base layer. Before we know it, lifts at Red Lodge Mountain will be in full rotation. Don't wait to plan your next trip to Red Lodge.