Sitting at the crux of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, Montana truly encompasses all the dramatic beauty borne of such geographical juxtaposition by offering some of the most jaw-dropping scenery not just in the country, but arguably the world.
Cruising right through the middle of it all is the state’s famous Highway 2.
The road cuts an epic 666 miles across Big Sky Country, passing by even more epic tableaus along the way.
Yet, while the highway is notoriously audacious in the best of weather, it makes a particularly gnarly route come the winter months.
White outs, black ice, and snow-slicked switchbacks are all markers of the season. Making Highway 2 especially dangerous is its remote nature. Should the worst occur, medical assistance can take anywhere from 80 minutes to several hours to arrive.
Still, travelers who dare—and who are prepared—are rewarded with soft, snowy seclusion and cozy winter wonderlands of which others could only dream.
Trekking the entire route, especially in the winter, is an undertaking as grand as the road itself, but for those looking to fit in a cold weather road trip during a holiday break, there’s plenty of places to get some of the best the highway has to offer in just a 200-mile stretch.
If you’re looking for the ultimate winter getaway, pack some seriously warm clothes, make sure your car’s heater is alive and well, and head out to Montana.
Begin your abridged journey down Highway 2 in the tiny town of Libby, Montana: population 2,691.
The area’s small size means it often flies under the radar, but that only makes a visit there more charming, genuine, and special.
Cradled in the Kootenai River Valley, the scenic hamlet bursts with small town magic, boasting a bustling Main Street and offering its own brewery as well as a number of museums, shops, and restaurants to get some respite from the cold.
But those raring to jump right into the weather will also be treated with a number of options.
The nearby Kootenai River and Ross Creek Cedar Grove both offer plenty of unique and spectacular sights—not to mention numerous trails and places to play in the wild. And towering above the town is the Cabinet Mountain Range, a rugged and gorgeous subset of the Rockies that offers all the usual amenities sought after by outdoor junkies.
If you’d rather keep things more local, there’s also the Libby Dam and Kootenai Falls, a stunning waterfall that especially intrepid explorers can view from along a suspension bridge strung across the waterway.
As you continue to wend down Highway 2, you’ll skirt the border of several national forests and be treated to the outstanding sights of all that preserved and pristine alpine wilderness, including soaring mountains, crystalline lakes, and no shortage of rugged pine and fir.
You’ll skirt the border of several national forests and be treated to the outstanding sights of all that preserved and pristine alpine wilderness, including soaring mountains, crystalline lakes, and no shortage of rugged pine and fir.
And in just 89 short miles, you’ll find yourself at your next destination: Flathead Valley’s largest metropolitan area, the town of Kalispell, population 23,212.
Its larger size means there’s no shortage of things to do in town, including scoping out the local stores and restaurants, taking in the art museum, and keeping body temperatures in check at some of the area’s best breweries, wineries, and distilleries.
Yet even the winter months don’t slow down this active retreat, with Kalispell hosting a number of ice fishing and pond hockey events during the season, as well as plenty of places to get off the beaten path for some backcountry fun.
While you continue moving eastward, the road will dip into the lowlands, but that doesn’t mean you’re done sightseeing. Wildlife abounds along the route, and there are even more mountains in your future.
Just 33 miles northeast of Kalispell along Highway 2 lies the gateway to one of the country’s most precious gems, Glacier National Park.
But save the exploration of the sprawling preserve for its own journey, and take some time to enjoy the gateway itself.
West Glacier boasts plenty of its own natural blessings, with nearly endless places to hike, camp, and appreciate the fresh—and brisk—air.
You can also line up any number of guided tours and other ways to take in Glacier National Park from in town, which may be especially helpful in the winter months, when special precautions may be needed while exploring the park.
And you can easily find a nice, warm place to stay in West Glacier while you prepare yourself for the Crown of the Continent.
Glacier National Park
A true standout of nature’s exquisite artwork at any time of year, Glacier National Park is especially stunning in the winter, when travelers will be treated to uniquely snowcapped views across a rarely-so-empty expanse.
Some of the area’s more well-known sights, including the famous Going to the Sun Road, may be off-limits, depending on the weather. (Check ahead with local authorities for the most up-to-date information.) But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty to see in this impeccable wonderland.
The park truly earns its nickname as the Crown of the Continent, not just because of its role as the birthplace of many of North America’s headwaters, but also because to its truly princely views. And in the winter, many of these waterways will be touched with the magic of sparkling ice crystals and snow, making the trip even more enchanted.
Hardy travelers wishing to get—and stay—lost can explore miles of backcountry and camping options within the region.
But those wanting to continue on have one more date with Highway 2.
Located just on the eastern edge of the park—about 78 miles from the entrance proper—is the entrance to what seems like another world all together: the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
The region is home to more than 17,000 members of the tribe and offers plenty of poignant places for reflection and repose at the end of your trip.
Those interested in the area’s history can take in the Museum of the Plains Indian or the Blackfeet Heritage Center & Art Museum. And those really looking for an authentic experience can check out the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village in the nearby town of Browning.
Still, the best option may just be the simplest: cruising around the area’s Blackfeet Trail, marked by several signs along the way that offer tidbits of the area’s history and cultural import. Soak it all in while you revel in the true beauty of the Montana plains.