It's hard to pick which season is the best in Paradise – Paradise Valley, that is. Sandwiched between Gardiner and Livingston and a hub for outdoor recreation against a backdrop of scenic beauty, this area delivers in spring, summer, fall, and winter. But there's something special about the bite of cold, the crisp, clear air, and the snowy mountains that makes winter unique. And the good news is, hikers don't have to worry about missing out on snow-covered trails – that's where snowshoeing comes in.
Snowshoeing has a pretty low barrier for entry: all you need is gear to keep you warm, a little bit of knowledge of good spots to go, and a pair of snowshoes strapped to your boots. We have the details you need for routes, but if getting geared up seems like a daunting task, check out local outfitters for all the cold-weather staples, like wool socks, cozy hats and gloves, long underwear, and warm, wind-resistant outer layers.
You can also rent snowshoes while you're at it. When you're staying in Livingston, Dan Bailey's Outdoor Co. can get you ready to go with the proper size and flotation (you are walking on frozen water, after all) for your snowshoe rental. In Gardiner, contact Parks' Fly Shop to get what you need to head out on the snow.
Before you go, check the current conditions and be aware of approaching weather systems or ongoing avalanche danger. The weather can change quickly in this area, so you want to be prepared for changing conditions while you walk in a winter wonderland. When you're out on the trails, remember to stay off of cross country ski tracks if you're sharing the trail with skiers. Here are a few of the best spots to explore from a home base of Gardiner or Livingston.
We've already mentioned Paradise Valley, but it wouldn't be possible to talk about snowshoeing in Yellowstone country without saying Yellowstone! Just south of the Paradise Valley, Gardiner is the gateway to the country's first national park, and it's well worth heading into Yellowstone if you're interested in snowshoeing.
The Upper Terrace Loop Ski Trail skirts right around Mammoth Hot Springs, a groomed (for skiing) 1.5-mile loop that's perfect for beginning snowshoers. Start at the Upper Terrace Parking lot and ski clockwise for the easiest time, and be sure to stick to the path—it's easy to cause damage to the unstable geothermal features that you're there to appreciate.
For a longer hike in the park, the Bighorn Loop Ski Trail is a 5.5-mile loop that leads you through views of the winter landscape. The trailhead is at the Indian Creek Warming Hut, near the campground of the same name off Grand Loop Road.
If you really want to get out there, the George Lake Trail takes you 5.5 miles into the mountains to a small alpine lake, for a total of 11 miles and 3,200 feet of elevation gain. Of course, the perk of an out-and-back trail is that you can turn around whenever you like, so you could log fewer miles and still enjoy the forested climb with occasional valley views.
Suce Creek is just south of Livingston, and this 6.7-mile trail will help you get your snowshoe legs under you with just over 1,400 feet of elevation gain. Just keep in mind, all the incline comes right at the end. Get ready for your legs to burn before you meet the endpoint where the Suce Creek West and Livingston Peak Trails fork. From there, you could carry on further into the wild, or turn back for hot spring soaks and cozy drinks back in Paradise Valley!
For even more tips for Montana winter explorations, accommodation options, and wild fun, visit the rest of the Highline Adventures blog.