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Snowmobiling Guide to Glacier National Park and Whitefish, Montana

As the temperatures start to drop and crowds begin to thin in Northwest Montana, Glacier National Park and the surrounding area transforms into a winter wonderland that beckons all adventure seekers. Northwest Montana is a snowmobilers paradise with a wide range of terrain, guided tours and epic vistas. With over 200 miles of groomed trails you can spend a winter trying to explore it all. From Maria's Pass over to Olney and down to Seeley Swan, there is truly an incredible array of snowmobiling opportunities.

Known for its world-class skiing Whitefish, Montana has evolved into a multifaceted winter destination. The legacy of winter sports began in the 1940s when the Big Mountain Ski Resort, today known as Whitefish Mountain Resort, first opened its slopes. While skiing remains integral to the mountain town's character, many consider snowmobiling to be an equally worthwhile sport in the great outdoors.

In this guide, we'll unravel what you need to know for snowmobiling in Northwest Montana, and offer our top insights and tips to help you go beyond the ordinary. From the heart-pounding excitement of boondocking in the powder to the serene beauty and sights from atop the Whitefish Range, this guide is your key to creating an unforgettable Montana winter adventure.

How do I start planning a Montana snowmobile trip?

A group prepares for a snowmobile tour

Planning your Trip

Before embarking on your snowmobiling adventure, timing is everything. The winter months, from December to March, offer the best conditions for this adrenaline-pumping activity. However, you'd be surprised that you can find snow high in the mountains late into April, especially when getting out on an alpine snowbike tour.

If you are looking for a rental or guided snowmobile tour, there are four or five main companies in the Flathead Valley. Each one has a slightly different zone where they are permitted, but in essence they're all great options with half-day, full-day or backcountry options for those looking to get on a more powerful sled with a focus on off-trail riding.

For any winter adventure be sure to stay up-to-date on weather local information, check forecasts from the National Weather Service and local trail information from Flathead Snowmobile Assocation (FSA). This fantastic organization is responsible for grooming, signage and other facets of making snowmobiling in the Flathead possible.

Next, decide the zone and type of snowmobiling you'd like to do. If you have your own sled, use the FSA to find some of the most popular terrain around, from the North Fork drainage to the Seeley Swan. There are over 200 miles of groomed trails if you have a trail sled (shorter track and better on groomed) and an abundance of zones to get into the powder if you've got a bit more experience and mountain sled.

Local Expert Tip: Planning to visit during the holiday season? Snowmobile tours and rentals can book up quickly so be sure to plan ahead.

Access and Permits

Northwest Montana is a seemingly endless expanse of powdery terrain, but due to varying State and Federal policies, it’s crucial to remember where you can, and can’t, ride a snowmobile. Many people wonder can I ride a snowmbile in Glacier National Park? But unlike Yellowstone Glacier National Park does not permit or allow snowmobiles anywhere within its boundaries.

However, that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy the view. Adjacent to Glacier National Park in National Forest land you can find plentiful groomed and ungroomed terrain with excellent views into the park. Checkout the Skyland Zone for epic views of Glacier Park while snowmobiling. Be sure to stay up to date on current policies and requirements from Flathead National Forest.

Other locations on State land require participants above the age of 12 to carry a valid Montana Conservation License which can be purchased from Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks. Planning ahead and securing the necessary permits not only ensures a smooth experience but also contributes to the preservation of the natural beauty that makes this region so exceptional.

How do I prepare for snowmobiling?


A group dressed in snowmobile gear

A group dressed in snowmobile gear

Essential Snowmobiling Gear

Dressing appropriately for any winter adventure is the key to a comfortable and safe experience. Layering up with moisture-wicking base layers, insulated outerwear, waterproof gloves, and sturdy boots is a must. If you’re coming for a ski vacation, most ski gear is perfectly suited for snowmobiling. Invest in quality gear to stay warm in the crisp winter air. Check out local stores like REI or Sportsman Ski Haus for a selection of snowmobiling necessities or rent and ship your gear in advance with KitLender.

Safety should be your top priority, so equip yourself with essentials like a helmet, goggles, and gloves designed for snowmobiling. These items not only enhance your safety but also contribute to a more enjoyable ride. If you’re on a guided tour or rental, most outfitters ensure a helmet and goggles are always included or required.

Choosing the Right Snowmobile

Whether you're a novice or a knowledgeable rider, selecting the right snowmobile can greatly impact your experience. If you aren’t hauling your own sled, you’ll either need a local rental or guided tour experience. For most beginners, a Polaris Snowmobile Switchback 550 or Voueger Adventure is the best way to get comfortable on a snowmobile for both drivers and passengers alike. These trail sleds have a shorter track and offer a smoother and more maneuverable ride on groomed trails. Easy-to-maneuver snowmobiles with heated handlebars and comfortable seats are perfect for any winter adventure.

If you are set on getting off-trail, a mountain sled with a 154+ inch track is usually the way to go. They can be rented from local outfits like Action Rentals or Northwest Adventures. If you take a guided tour, your guides will get you set on the right type of snowmobile.

What about guided tours and rentals?

A group of snowmobilers take a break

Guided Snowmobile Tours

For those seeking a first-time or stress-free snowmobiling experience, consider embarking on a guided tour. Local outfitters offer expert-led private tours, ensuring you navigate the trails safely while helping you discover the very best hidden gems. Not only do guides help you find the good stuff, they're nice to have around if and when you get that snowmobile stuck! Don't forget to tip ;)

Guided snowmobile tours cater to various skill levels, from beginners eager to explore the basics to seasoned riders seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures. Traverse snowy landscapes with the knowledge and insights of an experienced local on a Guided Half-Day Snowmobile Tour.

More experienced snowmobilers may want to spend more time off the groomed terrain exploring more powder. Get to know the absolute best of Montana scenery with a Guided Half-Day Backcountry Snowmobile Tour through the foothills of the Whitefish mountain range.

Snowmobile Rentals

If you prefer the freedom of exploring at your own pace, renting a snowmobile is an excellent option. Before setting out, always familiarize yourself with rental terms, safety guidelines, and local trail maps. This ensures a safe and enjoyable experience as you carve your way through the snow-covered trails on a Full-Day Snowmobile Rental just outside of Whitefish.

You can rent by the day, get a multi-day discount or have snowmobiles delivered for a reasonable fee as well.

Local Expert Tip: If you aren't sure what to book for your very first time, consider an easy Guided Half-Day Tour to learn the ropes 1:1 with a pro.

This region is known for some of the most pristine snowmobile riding in Montana. It boasts a range of elevations from 2,956 feet in Kalispell to over 7,000 feet in the surrounding mountains. It has over 200 miles of groomed trails and over 2,000 miles of Forest Service Roads.

Canyon Creek Trail System

Located on the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage, the Canyon Creek trail system is renowned for some of the best guided snowmobile tours in Montana. It features over 80 miles of marked and groomed trails on the Flathead National Forest, along with abundant mountain riding opportunities that can take you to the top of the Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort where you can enjoy food and beverage from the summit house.


This area offers incredible views and riding opportunities, both in the Whitefish Range as well as west of US 93 in the Salish range. Several local snowmobile operators use this zone and it is very close to Whitefish so it can get a bit crowded on weekends, but the riding is great!

The North Fork

The North Fork of the Flathead River makes up the western boundary of Glacier National Park. As you head north from Columbia Falls, you can travel as far north as the Canadian border (not an official border crossing), mostly on a dirt road. Here, you'll find multiple points of entry to groomed trails that head into the Whitefish range from the east side and offer some epic views of Glacier National Park too.

Crane Mountain Trail System

Located in the heart of the Swan Valley near Bigfork, Montana, and Flathead Lake, this trail system provides stunning views of Swan Lake and the Swan Mountain Range. It's a great place for those looking to enjoy the natural beauty of the area while snowmobiling.

Local Tips and Insight

An experienced snowmobiler riding through powder

Insight from Local Experts

To elevate any outdoor experience, it’s always smart to tap into the wisdom of local enthusiasts. We connected with a local team of snowmobile guides in Olney, Montana for advice on how to make your experience the very best.

Top 3 Tips for Snowmobiling

  • Get the guide! If you’re new to snowmobiling or even an experienced rider, guided adventures are nothing like you expect and every bit of awesome you’re looking for.

  • Dress warm and properly for outdoor winter adventures. Moisture-wicking (non-cotton) base layers with thick well-insulated boots and gloves as well as ski-quality outerwear.

  • Safety is always the most important step so trust your guide and follow their instruction. Whether a beginner or an experienced rider snowmobiles are heavy equipment with inherent danger and risk. Remember to keep yourself, your sled, and your environment safe and listen to all guide instructions and posted rules.

Safety Reminders

Safety is paramount in the winter wilderness. Before setting out, familiarize yourself with avalanche safety measures. Visit Flathead Avalanche for real-time avalanche forecasts and critical information to ensure a secure snowmobiling experience. Save emergency contacts in your phone and share your plans with someone reliable before embarking on your journey.

However you plan to visit Glacier National Park and Whitefish, Montana in the winter you'll find a paradise for snowmobilers. With proper planning, the right gear, and an understanding of the breathtaking trails, your snowy adventure promises to be both thrilling and memorable. Embark on your winter journey, and discover the magic that awaits in the heart of Montana's winter wonderland.

Don't forget to read up on our guide to Visiting Glacier National Park in the Winter.

FAQs About Snowmobiling In Northwest Montana

Answers to the most common questions about snowmobiling in Montana

What is the best time to plan a snowmobile trip in Northwest Montana?

The prime months for snowmobiling in Northwest Montana are mid-December through late March, offering the best conditions. However, snow can often be found in the mountains as late as April, especially for alpine snowbike tours.

What gear do I need for snowmobiling?

Essential gear includes moisture-wicking base layers, insulated outerwear, waterproof gloves, sturdy boots, a helmet, and goggles. Most ski gear is suitable for snowmobiling, and you can rent or purchase necessities from local stores or services like KitLender. ALWAYS wear a helmet and a full-face helmet is highly recommended. Full outerwear is available for rent if you are getting a rental or guided tour from a local snowmobile operator. If you are venturing into the backcountry you should ABSOLUTELY have a beacon, shovel and probe and an airbag backpack can be a good addition as well.

Can you snowmobile in Glacier National Park?

Snowmobiling is not permitted within the boundaries of Glacier National Park. However, you can still enjoy stunning views of the Glacier Park while snowmobiling by riding in the adjacent National Forest land just south of the Park, which offers a mix of groomed and ungroomed terrain. Or you can catch great views from the top of Whitefish Mountain on a guided snowmobile tour or from up in the North Fork drainage as well.

man riding snowmobile outside of Glacier National park

Is it important to get a guide for my snowmobile adventure?

Getting a guide is highly recommended if you are new to snowmobiling. A guide offers help if you have issues with your machine or getting unstuck. They also can show you the top viewpoints, fun meadows for riding in and keep you from getting lost in the backcountry. With that said, there is good signage and with modern GPS many folks can just get a rental and enjoy the time out on their own as well.

Written by: Hunter

Hunter grew up in Whitefish, Montana, and loves his home with a passion for sharing it with others. A childhood spent exploring Glacier National Park and a full career in the travel and hospitality industry he's always happy to answer your questions and help you plan your next exciting adventure. Currently based in Nashville, TN with his fiancé they take frequent trips back to the Flathead to visit family, friends, and to spend time in Glacier.

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