Find great food, wildlife, shops, and art in a western Montana ski town.
Many people know Red Lodge only as a gateway to Beartooth Pass and Yellowstone National Park. But visit on a spring day before the high-elevation pass opens, and you’ll find plenty of enchanting spots. And that’s worth a trip. Area code is 406.
TO DO AND SEE
Some of the town’s most interesting residents live at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, a refuge for native animals too injured or tame to survive on the outside. Speedy the bison, abandoned by her mother, springs to life at the sound of the hay truck. Expect to get a little creeped out when the crow Poe cries out “hello” and “mama” in a voice like that of a 4-year-old girl. 446-1133, yellowstonewildlifesanctuary.com . Roping and riding rank high at the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum, a well-curated showcase of local treasures. 446-3667, carboncountyhistory.com . For an easy-access taste of the wilds, sit and listen to Rock Creek, a rollicking stream flowing right near town. Or drive a few miles up into the mountains to have lunch in the pines beneath snow-covered peaks.
Along six blocks of Broadway, shoppers mill about on the sidewalks in every season. Anyone with kids is contractually obligated to visit the Montana Candy Emporium, where molasses taffy and Atomic Fireballs sell by the pound. 446-1119, montanacandyemporium.com . The Beartooth Gallery, bigger than it looks from the outside, displays glowing tepee paintings by Allen Knowshisgun, sage-and-metal horse sculptures by Brenna Tyler, and bear faces captured in a full palette of colors by Carol Hagan. 446-1292, beartoothgallery.com . Like any self-respecting ski town, Red Lodge also has lots of mountain gear. Find boots, bear spray, and made-in-Nepal hiking shirts at Sylvan Peak Mountain Shoppe. 446-1770, shopredlodge.com/index.php/sylvan-peak .
Among Red Lodge’s best food options is the Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen & Wine Bar, where you can get tuna tartare, duck breast, or tenderloin with a huckleberry demi-glace. 446-9900, eatfooddrinkwine.com . Bogart’s is known for big burgers and fill-the-plate Mexican fare. 446-1784, redlodgerestaurants.com/bogarts . Lately, locals have been lining up at Más Taco, a small kitchen turning out delectable combos of shrimp, carne asada, and chicken with lime and cilantro wrapped in homemade soft corn tortillas. There are only a couple of tables inside, so you might as well get your tacos to go. 446-3636, facebook.com/mastaco .
Photography by Lynn Donaldson 
This article was first published in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.