Tucked at the base of the rugged Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Red Lodge is a bucket-list stop for anyone visiting Montana. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this quaint hub of barely 2,000 residents has become a destination all its own—a quiet getaway from the more well-known attractions in the state. There’s something for everyone, whether you want to ski, fish, hike, spend the day golfing, or relax with a locally brewed beer.
In fact, there’s so much to choose from that we’ve rounded up 10 of the most incredible experiences you can have in Red Lodge—including a day on a lake, a quad-busting hike in the surrounding wilderness, a historical look at the region, and much more.
1. Drive (or Bike) the Beartooth Highway
Rising nearly 11,000 feet above sea level, the Beartooth Highway is a National Scenic Byway and one of the highest-elevation highways in the U.S. Pull over at one of many awe-inspiring viewpoints and look for mountain goats grazing on the hills. If you drive this route at the right time, take a photo next to the 15-foot-tall snow banks plowed by the hard-working road crews. Avid, fit cyclists can ride the Beartooth Highway, but be sure to brush up on your road etiquette and be vigilant of cars on this challenging, winding ride. The highway is 68 miles long and leads all the way to Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance.
2. Explore the Northeast Side of Yellowstone National Park
Since you’re here already after driving the Beartooth Highway, don’t miss a day exploring the northeast side of Yellowstone National Park. You’ll enter the park via one of the most iconic entrances. Be sure to stop in Lamar Valley and look for wolves. This side of the park is truly incredible and houses one of the most diverse array of large animals in the Lower 48. On the way back, time your drive to catch the sunset from the top of the Beartooth Highway.
3. Raft the Stillwater River
Strap on a life jacket, grab a paddle, and get ready for some whitewater excitement. An assortment of local outfitters will regale boaters with tales of the region while providing a guided rafting trip through the region. The Stillwater River is a tributary of the mighty Yellowstone, flowing between the Absaroka Range and the Beartooth Mountains. It is prime for fishing and rafting, and there are many options for tour duration and difficulty.
4. Hike the Beaten Path through the Beartooth Mountains
If you’re looking for one of the most incredible multi-day hikes in the country, look no further than the 26-mile Beaten Path. The trailhead for this incredible trek is located just 25 minutes from downtown Red Lodge, starting a path that traces across the Absaroka Wilderness all the way to Cooke City. Shuttle logistics and backpacking gear are all you need to spend 1-3 nights camped in this incredible country. The trail is easy to follow, and there are so many lakes you’ll lose count along the way.
5. See Mountain Lions, Bears, and More at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary
See the animal residents of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem up close and personal at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit facility located just minutes off Red Lodge’s main drag. The sanctuary provides lifelong care and habitat for non-releasable Montana wildlife while educating visitors about conservation and rehabilitation for their 35-plus animals. Take a stroll around the different habitats, or for a few extra bucks, schedule a private wildlife encounter or sanctuary tour. Educational programs run year-round as well—check online for schedule updates.
6) Land a Trout on Rock Creek
Rock Creek begins in the mountains of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness before flowing more than 55 miles to the confluence with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. This scenic body of water passes right by Red Lodge, packed with brook and cutthroat trout above town, and full of rainbow and brown trout downstream. This river is ideal for fishermen without drift boats, as it is accessible, makes for easy wading, and can be crossed in multiple shallow areas depending on runoff and season.
7. Relax at Wild Bill Lake
This peaceful lake and recreation area sits right outside town, located on the West Fork of Rock Creek Road. The family-friendly, wheelchair-accessible body of water is stocked with rainbow trout several times per year, and it is easily reached via a short trail. Picnic sites and maintained toilets make this a perfect place to spend the afternoon relaxing, picnicking, or practicing your cast.
8. Stroll the Historic Downtown Shopping Area
Park your car and stroll from one end of Broadway Avenue—Red Lodge’s historic main street—to the other. Grab a fresh-brewed coffee, a bite to eat, and check out the unique local shops, some of which still have their original facades. Whether you’re looking to browse fine art, poke through antique collections, or gear up for your next wilderness adventure, you’ll find it here.
9. Discover Local History at the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum
Looking for an entertaining and educational way to spend a few hours? Check out the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum to discover the mining history of the area, follow the journey of early explorers, and examine artifacts from the Apsaalooke Indian Tribe. This local attraction was created in 1959 by Alice Greenough to preserve and display her rodeo family’s extensive collection. Today’s visitors will see collections of rodeo, firearm, and geologic artifacts, in addition to an interactive coal and hard-rock mining exhibit. Lectures, visiting authors, and other events take place throughout the season.
10. Grab a Pint at the Red Lodge Ales Brewery
Thanks to a dry climate, soft water, and high-quality Montana-grown malting barley, Red Lodge is an optimal place to brew beer. Stop by the Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company after a day on the river or trails and enjoy locally brewed beer, laid-back vibes, and enough food to help you recover from your day of activities. Beer drinkers of all tastes will find something here, whether you’re in the mood for an IPA, a porter, or one of its seasonal specialties. Plus, all Red Lodge beers are brewed with energy-efficient practices, which means you can feel even better about your pint.
Written by RootsRated Media for Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce.