Montana is best known for its wide-open vistas and expansive wilderness. It is a state built for adventurers — be that adventure on snow, trail, or waterway. Montana’s two high seasons, winter and summer, couldn’t be more opposite. Winters are long and snowy, drawing visitors who want to ski snow-covered mountains, while summers are colorful, with long, sunny days and cool nights.
For a quieter visit with fewer crowds (and often lower rates), plan your trip for one of the two shoulder seasons
To determine the best time to visit Montana for your travel goals, let’s start with some basic information about the state’s tourism seasons:
High Seasons: December to March and July to September
Shoulder Seasons: April to June and October to November
In Montana, it’s noticeably quieter in the spring and fall. Once the ski areas close in early spring, a wonderful, crowd-free quiet descends on most ski towns. And in the fall, when the kids go back to school and the weather begins to cool, hikers need only to pack an extra layer to enjoy the wide-open trails. Just be aware that some outfitters, hotels, and tour operators will close during the shoulder seasons, so you’ll want to double-check opening dates before you travel.
If your idea of good weather is a powder day, plan your trip between December and March, when ski areas like Big Sky see up to 60 inches of snow a month on average.
Smaller crowds tend to correspond with lower prices, so travelers looking for a deal should plan their trip north in the spring or fall. These shoulder seasons are known for their fickle weather — it might be snowing one day and hot and sunny the next — so travelers should come prepared. That said, the prices couldn’t be better. Hotels that are booked out in the winter and summer will often have more open rooms — at lower rates — in the spring and fall.
Boldt says that the prime hiking season near Glacier National Park typically runs from late July to mid-October when the snow has melted and hiking trails are clear.
That said, both say that hiking in September is hard to beat.
In Montana, ski season tends to start in late November and run through mid to late April.
If you want to travel to Montana without worrying about shops being closed and activities being unavailable, avoid visiting Montana in the spring and fall, when many summer and winter resort towns practically shut down. You can avoid the crowds and snag a deal, but you may not be able to experience everything Montana has to offer.