As you dive into planning a Western Montana group tour, you’ll likely discover there’s no wrong season to visit—so consider a winter holiday tour. The holiday season is pure magic here. Our charming small towns are chock-full of holiday cheer, events are in full swing, recreation is year-round, and nights are spent fireside in cozy lodges. December is an ideal time for a hub-and-spoke holiday tour or for an international FIT in Glacier Country.
Most of our communities offer an array of winter activities and events, like a Parade of Lights. A charming and traditional event that usually includes a parade, firepit and vendors selling Montana-made goods and artisan crafts. Local businesses participate by offering hot chocolate and special treats, so stay around and enjoy some shopping. Historically these communities hold a Parade of Lights: Polson, Missoula, Thompson Falls, Whitefish, Columba Falls, Kalispell, Stevensville and Ronan. These events are usually the first or second weekend in December.
Holiday musicals, symphony concerts, Christmas light tours and magical sleigh rides will be the highlight of your winter wonderland tour. Organized by city for convenience, below are a few of the best things to do with a group during Glacier Country’s holiday season.
In Whitefish, start your morning with a white-glove service of Holiday High Tea at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, served the first three Sundays in December. Then book a sleigh ride through a winter wonderland with Bar W Guest Ranch. For a unique experience, opt for a chuckwagon dinner and a sleigh ride with Cripple Creek Horse Ranch, 40 minutes outside of Whitefish. Then head to Alpine Theatre Project for their production of “Yuletide Affair,” a mix or holiday music and theatric satire. This show has been sold out for 19 years and counting and is put on for three nights only, the weekend before Christmas.
In Kalispell, start by taking a docent-guided tour of the Conrad Mansion, home of one of Kalispell’s founders Charles Conrad. The month of December they deck the halls with Christmas decorations. The Conrad Mansion also puts on “A Christmas Carol” radio show—think purely auditory storytelling via vintage radio—presented by the Gypsy Theatre Guild.
Then head to Snowline Acres Christmas Market for some local shopping at this pop-up retail market in a historic venue. At night, grab some hot chocolate and hop aboard a cozy trolley to view the best holiday lights in Kalispell with Montana Trolley Co. Tours generally start the second weekend of December and run through December 31.
The Glacier Symphony and Chorale has brought sensational music to the Flathead for more than 410 years. Each year they perform Handel’s “Messiah” in Kalispell in early December. Then in mid-December they partner with San Diego Ballet Company for an excellent musical and dance production of “The Nutcracker.” Lastly, to add some cowboy fun to your tour, check out the schedule for the Brash Rodeo Winter Series, where an indoor arena allows year-round competitions to be held.
Located on the bay of Flathead Lake, the Hallmark-esque village of Bigfork goes all out for Christmas. From early November through New Year’s Eve, the Bigfork Christmas Village captures the spirit of the season, so much so that it’s been dubbed Montana’s Christmas Village. Stop downtown for a meal, then explore the boutiques, shops and galleries along Electric Avenue.
Missoula is Western Montana’s cultural hub, so there’s no shortage of performances here. A community favorite, each year, the Montana’s Garden City Ballet (a youth ballet group) performs “The Nutcracker” for three days mid-December. The Missoula Community Theatre presents a new holiday theatrical production every year; this year’s production is a jazz-style show about an elf named Eubie. “The Happy Elf” runs December 1 – 18. A holiday tradition, each year, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and Chorale puts on “Holiday Pops!” a choral and symphony performance of popular festive songs like “O Holy Night” and “A Charleston Christmas,” the first weekend in December.
Of note in Hamilton (a 45-minute drive from Missoula), take a guided tour and discover a vintage Christmas at the Daly Mansion. Bows and bells, ribbons and a breathtaking Christmas tree transform the 24,000-square-foot historic home of copper king Marcus Daly.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Glacier National Park is open year-round. However, park services and amenities close late-September. One way to see Glacier National Park during the winter is to take a ride on Amtrak’s Empire Builder through the park. Depart from Whitefish and ride through the park to Browning or Cut Bank.
You can also snowshoe in the park, including on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. However, this winter of 2022/2023 the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is completely closed, including for recreation, due to construction. Recreation can still be enjoyed on the east side of Glacier National Park.
Remember that these holiday events and activities are only seasonal offerings and pair well with museums, galleries, shops, sightseeing and recreation that can be found year-round. For more information, visit our tour operators website. If you need help planning a Glacier Country Holiday Tour, reach out to Aerionna.
AS & DP
November 16, 2022