There is a little extra friendly bantering going on between baristas and regulars at downtown hubs like Coffee Traders in Whitefish—everyone has given a collective sigh of relief to see the busy season pass and the majority of travelers go home.

Montanans relish summer along with everyone else, but the entrance of cold weather gives locals permission to relax and let their hair down. Winter is when Montana stills and Flathead communities spring to life—the local way!

Visit during this time of year, and you’re in for a real treat. And don’t let the blasé remarks fool you: Montanans love winter, and here’s why.

1. Experiencing Art at Whitefish Gallery Nights

 dick idol gallery in whitefish
Dick Idol Signature Gallery in Whitefish | Photo courtesy of Daily Inter Lake

Whitefish Gallery Nights Art Walk is offered the first Thursday of the month. It’s available year-round, but the cozy community feel is at its finest in the winter months, from December through March. Fifteen participating galleries offer artist exhibitions, entertainment, and refreshments. Some local-favorite spots are The Purple Pomegranate, Going to the Sun Gallery, and of course McGough & Co. for an incredible selection of fine jewelry.

You can find out more at the official Whitefish Gallery Nights website here.

2. (Date) Night Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort

Night skiing in whitefish
Night skiing | Photo courtesy of kcxd

Night skiing is one of Montanans’ favorite wintertime activities, and the start to the perfect date night. For only $20 per ticket, it’s super budget friendly when you want to ski without breaking the bank—and who doesn’t want to hit the moonlit slopes with their special someone? Top the evening off by heading to Ed and Mully’s on the mountain for beer and a bite.

3. Taking the Penguin Plunge at the Whitefish Winter Carnival

Penguin Plunge at the Whitefish Winter Carnival
Taking a penguin plunge in icy water | Photo courtesy of sasastro

Whitefish Winter Carnival is held in early February each year. This fun-filled tradition has been celebrated for 56 years and counting. Festivities include a penguin plunge, where participants jump into the icy waters at City Beach—which is every bit as terrifying and awe-inspiring as it sounds. If you are up for the challenge, you’ll raise money for charity and respect from all your friends.

Over the weekend, there’s a fabulous parade that, in our opinion, is the best of the season. We can’t make any promises, but one year, the theme was “Viva Las Vegas” and Wayne Newton himself was carnival marshal.

4. Skating at the Stumptown Ice Den

Kids ice skating
Ice skating | Photo courtesy of pcutler

Open to the public year-round, the Stumptown Ice Den has all of the fun of wintertime ice skating with the advantage of a temperature-controlled indoor space. If you have kids along, they’ll love getting out on the ice—even if their first try involves clinging to the wall (or to you) and trying not to slip! Public skating is only $6 per person, with an extra $3 for renting ice skates.

5. Snowshoeing Through the Backcountry

Snowshoe walk
Photo courtesy of Karen Neoh

There’s a serene kind of quiet that can only be found in Montana in the winter, when the visitors slow down and the snow begins to softly blanket the earth in white. If skiing and snowboarding aren’t your thing (or even if they are and you’re in the mood for something a little different), there’s nothing like a peaceful day spent snowshoeing through the woods.

In Whitefish, start your adventure at the Lion Mountain Trailhead or the dog-friendly Swift Creek Trailhead. Whitefish Mountain Resort also offers two designated uphill routes, separate from the cross-country skiing trails. If you want to snowshoe through Glacier National Park, free, guided snowshoe tours are offered weekends at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. from the Apgar Ranger Station from January through mid-March. If you want a self-guided tour, we recommend Lake McDonald.

To explore local Montana, come in the winter: It will be an experience to remember.

Featured image courtesy of Jim Handcock

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Author: Rachael Decker

A Seattle native, Rachael first fell in love with travel on a trip to visit her grandparents in Palm Springs when she was five years old. Some of her other favorite destinations include the Amalfi Coast, Prague, Edinburgh, and London, where she studied abroad for four months. At home in Portland, you'll find her sampling regional ciders and taking weekend trips to the coast and Mt. Hood.