Duration

21 days/22 nights

Distance Traveled

3,020 miles (4,860 kilometers)

Gateway Cities

Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)

Kalispell (FCA)

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  • Ralph Engelstad Arena, North Dakota

  • Black Hills, South Dakota

  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

  • Lava Hot Springs, Idaho

  • Whitefish, Montana

Overview

Arrival Gateway – Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
Day 1: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Day 2: Devils Lake, North Dakota
Day 3: Fargo, North Dakota
Day 4: Fargo, North Dakota
Day 5: Spearfish, South Dakota
Day 6: Deadwood, South Dakota
Day 7: Southern Black Hills, South Dakota
Day 8: Rapid City | Black Hills, South Dakota
Day 9: Thermopolis, Wyoming
Day 10: Dubois, Wyoming
Day 11: Yellowstone, Wyoming
Day 12: Grand Teton National Park | Jackson, Wyoming
Day 13: Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
Day 14: Ketchum | Sun Valley, Idaho
Day 15: Ketchum | Sun Valley, Idaho
Day 16: Island Park, Idaho
Day 17: West Yellowstone | Big Sky, Montana
Day 18: Big Sky, Montana
Day 19: Big Sky | Whitefish, Montana
Day 20: Whitefish, Montana
Departure Gateway – Kalispell (FCA)

Winter

Day-by-day Itinerary

Catch a connecting flight into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) for your arrival day into the region. Relax, catch up on sleep, and prepare for your big adventure through the region!

Ralph Engelstad Arena; Credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

We’ve all seen the movie “Fargo” and its dreary depiction of life here in the dead of winter. And while North Dakotans took it at face value and got laugh out of it, others saw it as a representation of the vast nothingness of the Northern Plains locked in the dead of winter. Well, that was a movie. The reality is that North Dakotans relish winter for a change of recreational opportunities. Instead of biking or motorcycling, they snowmobile on more than 2,000 miles of groomed trails. Instead of jogging, they cross-country ski or snowshoe along wooded trails or river bottoms. Instead of boating to their favorite fishing spot, they drive across the frozen lake and set up the icehouse. All of these activities are great ways to spend sunny winter afternoons. And on the weekends, make your way to Grand Forks for a University of North Dakota hockey game in the evening. The eight-time national champions play in arguably the greatest arena in college sports, the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Then visit the Red Pepper, a Grand Forks Landmark and UND mainstay for over 50 years that was voted the “Best Late-Night Food” in the USA by Esquire magazine.

Overnight: Grand Forks

Devils Lake; Credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Devils Lake is the top destination for North American ice anglers. More than 15,000 fishermen head onto the ice with guides each winter, and thousands more travel to north-central North Dakota for their DIY fishing adventures. In January, nearly 22,500 tickets are sold for one of the largest ice fishing tournaments in the world – The Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Tournament. Just make sure to buy your ticket in October – they sell out fast! Even if you don’t have a ticket to fish, the sight of thousands of fishermen in one area is awe-inspiring. And what better way to get outdoors than Shiverfest! Check out the website for all of the events located around town and on the ice of Devils Lake. Take in many educational programs available to the public in the newly constructed outdoor amphitheater at Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, and climb the stairs to the top of the Sullys Hill overlook for a panoramic view of the surrounding rolling hills and prairie. The Devils Lake Vista provides spectacular views of the lake and the hardwood forest that contains American elm, basswood, bur oak and green ash. The auto tour route is open throughout the year from 8 a.m. to sunset, but portions may be closed during winter months.

Overnight: Devils Lake

Frostival; Credit Fargo Moorhead CVB

Activities:

Head to Fargo and be sure stop at the Fargo Convention and Visitors Bureau to see a replica of the famous “Fargo” woodchipper. Frostival is a two-day celebration of winter fun including more than 50 family-friendly events across Fargo. Fargo and sister cities Moorhead and West Fargo will be hopping with winter-themed fun that will have you believing #ColdIsCool. Some past events include the Norseman & Norsewoman Challenge, where competitors show off their inner Viking with a three-hour test of endurance, agility, strength, stamina, balance and perseverance with events like an obstacle course, uphill snowshoe run and log flipping; the Brrrew Trail, which has participants pick up a “passport” at a brewery or the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center and then collect stamps from all of the participating local breweries; and the Undie Run, where racers zip down Broadway in just their knickers!

Overnight: Fargo

Plains Art Museum; Credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Want to completely avoid the cold? There’s plenty to do indoors as well! Visit the Plains Art Museum, Fargo Air Museum, and Rourke Art Gallery and Museum, or take in a movie at the Historic Fargo Theatre. Built in 1926 as an art house cinema and vaudeville theatre, the beautiful Fargo Theatre has stood as a pillar of the arts for over 90 years. Inside the restored, art deco-style interior, you can still see independent and foreign films. The theatre is also one of downtown Fargo’s hottest venues for concerts and other live events. Besides being one of the coolest places in town to see a show or movie, the theatre itself is a Fargo attraction. The iconic marquee is the most-photographed spot in Fargo, so make sure you stop by to get your picture taken with it.

Overnight: Fargo

Snowmobiling in the Black Hills; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Winter travelers can enjoy an incredible scenic drive and frozen waterfalls that create a magical setting in Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway or explore the snow-packed nature of Spearfish Canyon on a snowshoe hike along the Roughlock Falls Trail. Just south of Spearfish, visitors can climb aboard a horse-powered sleigh and go dashing over 350 miles of marked, mapped and groomed snowmobile trails. Most of the 1.2 million-acre Black Hills National Forest permits snowmobiling, and the state’s enhanced trail system has earned the Black Hills national prominence. Snowmobile rentals are available at locations throughout the Hills.

Overnight: Spearfish

Terry Peak; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Family-friendly ski resort Terry Peak is located in the northern Black Hills near historic Deadwood. The summit stands at 7,100 feet and features the highest lift service between the Rockies and the Alps. Or, if downhill isn’t your cup of tea, take advantage of some excellent cross-country skiing at Cheyenne Crossing. In the mid-1980s, local skiing enthusiasts developed the Eagle Cliff Trails in the Black Hills National Forest for cross-country skiing, and the sport’s popularity in the area grew rapidly. With 21 intertwining loop and dead-end trails, the system offers classic and skate skiing. Trails range from short, rugged and remote to longer, looping trails with a range of difficulty.

Overnight: Deadwood

Mount Rushmore; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Mount Rushmore is open year-round, offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy snow-tinted presidential faces each winter. After a soft snowfall, pick your way up the rocky, tree-strewn 3-mile trail that leads to Black Elk Peak, the tallest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees in Europe. You can easily find Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska from the top. Nearby Wind Cave National Park features the world’s largest concentration of rare boxworth formations along with 33,851 acres of forest and prairie on the surface, creating a sanctuary for bison and other wildlife. Then, warm up at Hot Springs’ Evans Plunge, the oldest tourist attraction in the Black Hills (established in 1890). You can swim, splash and soak in the 87-degree, crystal-clear mineral water provided by a natural thermal spring.

Overnight: Southern Black Hills (Edgemont, Hot Springs or Custer)

Main Street Square; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Take the Badlands Loop (Highway 240) for dreamy winter views of this 244,000-acre national park. Or, bring some friends and make lifelong memories while you skate on an outdoor rink larger than the Rockefeller Center’s at Main Street Square.

Overnight: Rapid City 

Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Thermopolis is best known for Hot Springs State Park, and for good reason. The park features water that flows from natural hot springs at a temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit and offers several areas where you can see the colorful mineral water that pours from these hot springs and its effects on the landscape. For a relaxing soak, settle into the free Wyoming State Bath House. If you’re looking to entertain the kids, head to Star Plunge, a public pool within the park that features water slides, a steam cave and more. Then, take a drive along Pasture Road and Big Springs Drive to get a glimpse of bison in their natural habitat. Located less than 2 miles from Hot Springs State Park, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center features a museum filled with educational information about the rise of dinosaurs, including hundreds of displays and over 30 mounted skeletons. Among the many natural gems in the area, Thermopolis also has tons of great shops and unique attractions that are worth your while. Wyoming Whiskey, while not located directly in Thermopolis, is located just north of town in Kirby. Lucy’s Sheep Camp is another interesting stop that conveys the authentic, Western familiarity of Thermopolis. The family that runs the business have been long-time ranchers and stewards of the land there, offering classes on knitting and spinning with sheep wool.

Overnight: Thermopolis

National Bighorn Sheep Center; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Dubois is home to the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, where visitors can learn more about Wyoming’s magnificent and unique bighorns, and the Dubois Museum, featuring artifacts from prehistoric Native Americans and memorabilia from Mountain Man explorers, century-old homesteads and guest ranches, and the tie hack woodsmen who helped build the railroads. The Whisky Mountain area just east of Dubois is the stomping ground of the largest wintering sheep herd in North America. For a real treat, call the center to schedule a winter tour of nearby sheep herds. The areas where these majestic animals roam are also home to ancient petroglyphs carved by native tribes; see if you can spot ones depicting bighorn sheep. Togwotee Pass, between Dubois and Jackson Hole, is known for its deep powder ideal for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. The region also is home to large herds of elk, grizzly bears, wolves, moose and mule deer. And don’t miss the annual Christmas Open House at the Dubois Museum that offers decorations, delicious goodies and discounts.

Overnight: Dubois

Yellowstone National Park; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Something special happens to Yellowstone National Park in the winter. The snowy forests take on a mystical silence, clouds of steam billow up gently around deserted hot springs and an air of solitude permeates the pristine, snow-covered wonderland. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are both great ways to experience Yellowstone’s backcountry in the winter. Miles of trails winding through the vast wilderness are open for exploration on foot. The trails of Yellowstone may be explored only with an authorized commercial guide or with a Non-Commercially Guided Snowmobile Access Program permit. Several hundred snowmobilers are allowed each day, but since permit applications are due each year by the end of August, exploring the park in this way requires advanced planning. Bison, elk, river otters and other animals who call Yellowstone National Park home are even more magical to watch among snow-covered ground and steaming rivers. The intimacy a less-crowded park provides when observing wildlife face the elements of winter is not to be missed. It is important to note that travel into and around the park requires more planning during this time of year, so get an early start!

Overnight: Yellowstone National Park

Bighorn sheep in Grand Teton National Park; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:

Snow has a way of transforming even the most stunning and familiar landscapes into worlds beyond recognition. This is especially true for Grand Teton National Park. The jagged Teton Mountain Range, pristine alpine lakes and forested trails all take on a muffled stillness when covered in layers of ice and snow. Diminished crowds and expanded possibilities for adventure make the winter months an ideal time to visit Grand Teton National Park. Avid summer hikers will love the chance to strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis to best explore a snow-covered landscape. The same lakes that offer boating options with mountainous views during the summer can be accessed for ice fishing in the winter. Jackson Lake, Jenny Lake and Phelps Lake are among the best options for ice fishing in Grand Teton National Park. Moose, elk, bison, wolves, trumpeter swans and other local wildlife are exciting to watch now, when more extreme conditions play a role in already fascinating behavior. Go out for a stroll on your own or learn about Grand Teton National Park’s fauna by going on a guided tour.

Overnight: Grand Teton National Park

Lava Hot Springs; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

It’s time for a day of relaxation. Once you’ve arrived in the town of Lava Hot Springs, take an extended soak in the famous Lava Hot Springs hot pools. The natural mineral pools are one of the best ways to relax and submerge yourself in the soothing wonder of nature. The world-class facility and spa features five indoor and outdoor sulfur-free pools heated to 38-44 degrees Celsius. If you’re feeling a bit bolder, float the winter-chilled water of the Portneuf River. This might seem counterintuitive, but the polar float is a local favorite – especially during the annual Fire & Ice Winterfest each February. In addition to hotel rooms, coordinated rentals including cabins and yurts are available in Lava Hot Springs.

Overnight: Lava Hot Springs or McCammon

Skiing Bald Mountain, Sun Valley; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

America’s first destination ski resort. The birthplace of modern skiing. Sun Valley (and neighboring Ketchum) is an iconic destination known for snow-packed winter adventures. Experience a true Idaho winter with a day on the slopes skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or fat biking. Sun Valley is consistently ranked one of the best skiing destinations in North America and the world. Limited lift lines and over 3,400 vertical feet and 2,000 acres of terrain covering two mountains make for endless runs.

Overnight: Sun Valley/Ketchum

Sun Valley Lodge; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

Day two in Sun Valley is all about embracing the cozy, rustic vibe of the area. Go ice skating at Sun Valley’s outdoor rink or even get front-row access to watch Olympic skaters. If you’re looking to make good on your own Olympic figure-skating dreams, lessons are also available. Traverse the picturesque terrain on Nordic skis or fully relax and recharge at the world-class The Spa at Sun Valley. A one-hour sleigh ride tour through the snowy hills will have you living a fairytale. The tour passes by beautiful scenery and iconic locations like the Hemingway Memorial. In Ketchum, you’ll find a mix of luxury and charm strolling through the streets filled with boutique shopping and gourmet cuisine.

Overnight: Ketchum/Sun Valley

Big Springs, Island Park; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

Home to Harriman State Park, part of the 16,000-acre wildlife refuge in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Island Park is an ideal spot to go snowmobiling. Local outfitters have you covered with snowmobile rentals and lodging. The area is often referred to as one of the best-groomed snowmobile trail systems in the world, with over 950 miles of groomed trails. Bring your camera if you want to capture common sightings of moose, elk and other wildlife. Just south of Island Park, hop on a sled dog tour for a truly unique way to see Idaho’s high desert country with views of the Teton Mountains rising in the distance. You might also be able to catch the professionals at work during the American Dog Derby in mid-February. The famous dog sled race has been a tradition for over 100 years – the oldest in the lower 48.

Overnight: Island Park

Snowcoach into Yellowstone; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Welcome to Montana’s winter playground! Visit West Yellowstone, the West Entrance and gateway community to Yellowstone National Park. Enjoy breathtaking scenery while snowmobiling or cross-country skiing on trails on the edge of town, or experience a guided winter tour in Yellowstone National Park with one of many outfitters located here. Snowcoaches (heated vehicles with tracks or large over-inflated tires) and snowmobiles are the only options for motorized travel into Yellowstone’s wintery interior.  Tour options include travel to Old Faithful or to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River’s waterfall area.

Overnight: Big Sky

Skiing at Big Sky Resort; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

One day just won’t be enough for enjoying “The Biggest Skiing in America.” Big Sky Resort is known to have some of the most consistent snowfall in the Northern Rockies. Add that to massive terrain, seamless skiing between four mountains, 36 lifts and more than 300 runs and you will ski or board for days! Ride the Lone Peak Tram to 11,166 feet for 300 degrees of skiing and views of three states and two national parks. Apres-ski options include relaxing spa facilities, lively bars and saloons, live music and restaurants with spectacular views of Lone Peak and its surrounding mountains.

Overnight: Big Sky

View of Glacier National Park from Whitefish Mountain Resort; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Enjoy the Rocky Mountain scenery as you make your way from Big Sky Resort to the northern part of Montana and Whitefish Mountain Resort. Relax during the journey and explore some lesser-known towns along the way. Interested in snowmobiling or cross-country skiing? Take the route through Seeley Lake and explore the many trails in the area. Travel along Highway 83 between the Swan and Mission Mountains past small towns that offer a glimpse of how locals enjoy other winter activities like ice fishing, winter carnivals and dog sledding races.

Overnight: Whitefish

Whitefish; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Despite its seemingly remote location, Whitefish boasts among the closest direct air service into a mountain ski town (just 11 miles away) in the United States. Its Northern Rockies location, adjacent to the peaks of Glacier National Park, Big Mountain (home to Whitefish Mountain Resort) and the Whitefish Range, includes Whitefish Lake, wild and scenic rivers, and an enormous valley that stretches 60 square miles and features Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Whitefish’s average snowfall is 300 inches, the summit elevation is 2,078 meters and base elevation is 1,361 meters.

Overnight: Whitefish

Drop off your rental car and make your way to Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) to head back home with a new set of memories to take with you!