You may have heard the old cliché “if you don’t like the weather in Montana, wait five minutes.” Tired as the saying is, it is true. After all, Montana holds the U.S.’s records for largest temperature change in a 12 hour period, and in a 24 hour period. In general, however, Montana summers are warm and dry, while winters are very cold. Typically, the region west of the Continental Divide has a wetter, more temperate climate, with more defined spring and fall seasons. Montana weather also depends on elevation, winters come sooner and last longer in the higher elevations. So, while flowers may be blooming and gardens thriving down below, winter could still be in full swing on the peaks. When you come to Montana can depend a lot on what you want to do when you get here. Whenever you come, prepare for a variety of different weathers. Here are some general descriptions of the seasons.
The majority of visitors come to Montana during July and August. June is usually the wettest month, making the state brilliantly green. July and August are usually the hottest months, and the warm weather attracts many visitors. Visitor centers, museums and seasonal businesses are most likely to be open during the summer, which can result in a fuller experience. In addition, the mountains are more accessible, allowing for extended hiking and camping. Montana’s outdoor activities and festivals are in full swing during the summer months. People come from all over to bike, swim, float, camp, hike and attend the countless festivals, fairs, rodeos and farmers markets.
September is one of Montana’s nicest months, with crisp days and brisk nights. The early part of the month usually offers excellent hiking, camping and swimming. However, many tourist attractions, including museums and visitor centers, close on Labor Day or during September. The fall months can be cold, with rainstorms and occasional snow, so it is best to prepare for many different types of weather in a single day. Fall fishing is considered to be very good, and of course, late fall means hunting season, which is a major draw to Montana. November is usually cold and windy, the earliest ski hills open at the end of the month.
Winter in Montana means snowsports. Downhill and cross-country skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, snow mobilers and dog sledders occupy Montana during the winter months. Opportunities to view wildlife can also pick up during the winter as animals move from the mountains into lower country. Snow geese around Freezout Lake and swans in the Yellowstone region migrate to Montana during the winter. Although snow necessitates partial closures of National and State Parks, both Glacier and Yellowstone welcome visitors throughout the year, offering unique winter experiences.
Spring in Montana can vary from cold and snowy to warm and sunny, often over the course of a week. March is often quite cold, and snow continues in the mountains into April and May. Late May and early June are usually the wettest time of the year (although wet in Montana is still quite manageable). Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier usually doesn’t completely open until late June. Fewer visitors brave the unpredictable weather of spring, rewarding those who do come with a less crowded experience.