We love all the seasons out here in Southeast Montana and winter offers some unique opportunities to get outside and experience the big, open spaces in different ways. Whether you’re looking for activities for the whole family, a quiet day on the water or a night out on the town, find your perfect winter day in Southeast Montana.
Visit Pompeys Pillar National Monument to experience the only in-the-field, physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery trip. While the gates are closed during the winter months, visitors are welcome to park by the gates and make the mile walk to the grounds from sunrise to sunset all year round. Follow the nature trails, look at the outdoor exhibits that explain the history of the site and walk along the Yellowstone River. Download the Agents of Discovery App to find the perfect trail for you. On a warm winter day, bring lunch and take advantage of the picnic tables. Or, if it’s snowy and cold, bring snowshoes or try cross-country skiing. Bring your own or rent locally at the Base Camp. Hungry after your activities? Stop at Cowboys in Huntley, known for their steaks, burgers and smokehouse specials.
Note: The staircase and boardwalk to the top of the monument are currently closed for rock stabilization work.
Montana’s only zoo is open year-round, and winter is one of the best times to visit. The outdoor animals at ZooMontana come from the 45th parallel – meaning they are accustomed to the colder weather and don’t hibernate all winter. Less foot traffic around the grounds offers a chance to get right up next to the exhibits and see the tigers, wolves, bears and more.
Head inside to warm up and observe all the reptiles and birds, such as the laughing kookaburra. And don’t forget about Winston! ZooMontana’s two-toed sloth made his debut in the fall of 2020. If you stop by to say hi, he’s most likely to be hanging out in the back-left corner of the exhibit.
Make sure to stop by the barn and say hi to the goats, donkeys, chickens and more call that call this area home. Many are likely to walk right up to the gate to greet you. And keep your eyes peeled - this side of the zoo is where you’re the most likely to spot the peacocks roaming about.
ZooMontana is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the winter, with guests allowed to stay on the grounds until 3 p.m.
Fishing the Bighorn
The Bighorn River offers world-class trout fishing year-round. While fall is considered the prime time to cast your flies, there really isn’t a bad time to test your luck on these waters, as the river doesn’t ice over. Winter fishing in Montana may not be for everyone – make sure your waders are warm enough for the ice-cold water temperatures – but you’re much more likely to have the waters to yourself. Winter conditions in Montana can vary, with some days reaching 60 degrees. Make sure to pack layers and sunscreen and always check conditions before heading out.
There are three public access points along the river on the dozen or so miles below Yellowtail Dam: Afterbay, 3 Mile (Lind Ranch) and 13 Mile (Bighorn Access). Much of the surrounding land is private, and you are asked to stay below the high water mark to avoid trespassing.
If ice-fishing is more your thing, head to Bighorn Lake, Castle Rock Lake or Tongue River Reservoir (make sure to check conditions before heading out). Trout and walleye are two examples of fish that can be caught on the waters out here.
Movie Time at the Theatre
Looking for an indoor activity? Try one of Southeast Montana’s small movie theatres. The Roxy Theatre in Forsyth was built in 1930 and while the lobby remains historically accurate, other areas are majorly upgraded. Late 2020 saw the latest round of changes, including new seats, reserved seating system and a mobile application to allow movie-goers to buy tickets online. With social distancing and limited seating in place, tickets can sell out fast, so you are encouraged to purchase your seats early.
And in Billings, the historic Babcock Theatre and Art House Cinema & Pub are open for movies five days a week. The Babcock, built in 1907, is a can’t-miss building with its large, colorful marquee lighting up downtown Billings. After many years of ups and downs, the 750-seat theatre re-opened in 2018. Just around the corner, the smaller Art House Cinema and Pub offers a cozy movie-going experience. With a bar offering food and drinks in the same room as the seats, you’re guaranteed not to miss a moment of action on the big screen. Book your ticket now to experience a movie in downtown Billings.
Traveler Alert: Please remember to check ahead of time as services may not always be open or may change, stay home if you’re sick and follow local guidelines and protocols. For more information, visit SafeOutHereMT.com.