Red Lodge started as a Crow Native American hunting, worshiping, and resting place well before Europeans settled. The town’s name comes from the red clay-covered tepees the Crow people used.
Just like many towns in the Territory of Montana, Europeans settled in Red Lodge because of mining. Rather than the gold that brought hoards of men hoping to strike it rich in the Southwestern part of the state, discovering coal caused an influx of German, Italian, Finnish, Scottish, and Irish men to work the Rocky Fork Coal Company’s mine. Red Lodge incorporated in 1884.
With bigger and easier-to-mine coal discoveries, Red Lodge’s mining dwindled, just about the time Prohibition started in Montana (a very late adopter). Ever resourceful, Red Lodge thrived by producing and selling “cough syrup.” And when Prohibition ended, Red Lodge again adapted and survived.
In addition to being an agricultural town, Red Lodge became a tourist destination -- a place that appeals to outdoor sportsmen, nature enthusiasts, and those enamored with life in the West. It’s a lively destination in a lovely setting.
Things To Do In Red Lodge
Drive The Beartooth Scenic Byway
Constructing the Beartooth Pass, a monumental task undertaken between 1931 and 1936, was Red Lodge’s answer to a dying economy. Charles Kuralt called the drive the most scenic in the U.S. and it was named an All-American Road in 2002.
The 68-mile road links Red Lodge with Yellowstone National Park and crosses the Beartooth Mountains at a pass that’s 11,000 feet in elevation. A series of hairpin curves takes you to the scenic overlook at the summit from where you’ll see some of the 20 peaks in the mountain range that are over 12,000 feet high. Glaciers, alpine lakes, and tundra make for gorgeous scenery.
You may spot black and grizzly bears, moose, deer, and mountain goats along the way.
The road closes to cars in the winter. That’s when you can explore by snowmobile, cross-country skis, or snowshoes.
If you’re traveling to Yellowstone National Park from Red Lodge, the trip will take 3 hours, even though it’s only 68 miles to the entrance due to the steep climb, hairpin curves, and scenic outlooks.
Enjoy Red Lodge’s Historic Downtown
Red Lodge’s downtown commercial district is on the National Register of Historic Places, and what was once a fading main street is thriving with business, restaurants, bars, shops, and galleries.
Some of the buildings date from the 1880s. Take time to look up to the second stories, where you’ll see the architectural details and several retro neon signs.
You can buy anything from locally made candy to original artwork and everything in between. Look for the “Made In Montana” products that make great souvenirs.
See Creatures At The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary
This nonprofit sanctuary is home for animals and birds of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. You’ll see apex predators -- wolves, black bears, and a mountain lion -- as well as a lynx, bobcat, bison, fox, raccoon, porcupine, coyotes, birds of prey, and a handsome pair of sandhill cranes.
Each of the animals here has a story that you’ll learn about on a guided tour of the sanctuary. All the animals are rehabilitated. None are able to return to life in the wild so the sanctuary is their forever home.
Guided tours last 60 to 90 minutes. Allow the same for a self-guided tour. It’s located on the north side of Red Lodge at 615 East 2nd Street. Most trails are wheelchair accessible. Service animals are allowed.
Visit The Carbon County Historical Museum
To gain a greater appreciation for the history of Red Lodge, visit the Carbon County Historical Museum, located at 224 North Broadway. The building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places and was the first labor union hall in the state.
The museum has a collection of rodeo memorabilia, a gun and Native American artifact collection, an interactive coal mine exhibit, and an exhibit on Jeremiah “Liver-Eating” Johnson. After avenging his wife’s death by killing 300 Crow Native Americans and eating their livers, Johnson settled in Red Lodge for a while, becoming the town marshall.
To learn about the ethnic neighborhoods Red Lodge once had, and more detailed information about its historic buildings, the museum provides a free self-guided walking tour map.
Allow 3 to 4 hours for the museum visit and walking tour.
Enjoy Year-Round Sports
Every season ushers in a way to enjoy Red Lodge’s natural beauty and clean mountain air. Most noted for its winter sports, Red Lodge Mountain is open for skiing and snowboarding from the Friday after Thanksgiving until the second Sunday of April. The ski resort has six chair lifts, 70 runs, and a 2,400-foot vertical drop. Beginners to experts can enjoy the slopes. If you need to rent equipment or take a lesson, both are offered. Red Lodge Mountain is 7 miles from Red Lodge.
Groomed trails for cross-country skiers are even closer to town. Just 3 miles from downtown, Red Lodge Nordic Center maintains nearly 7 miles of looped trails that vary from flat trails to more challenging trails that gain elevation. It is open from December to mid-March.
Silver Run Trail, 6 miles from Red Lodge, is cross-country ski, snowshoe, and pet friendly. It has a 5.3-mile loop. It's open all year and makes for a great hike in the summer. Much of the loop follows Silver Run Creek, so wildlife is frequently in the area.
A number of hiking or mountain biking trails are close to Red Lodge. The length and difficulty vary but beautiful scenery, plenty of fresh air, and a crowd-free outing are the norm. Here is a rundown of the trails.
If you’d rather experience nature by horseback, Elk River Outfitters offers tours by the hour, half-day, or full-day. They kindly ask you to let them know if anyone in your party weighs more than 220 pounds so they can choose the appropriate horse.
If you’d like to spend a few hours fishing, head to Wild Bill Lake just south of Red Lodge. The lake is stocked with trout and the docks are accessible.
Rock Creek, with its crystal-clear water, runs through Red Lodge. North of town fishing access points allow you to fly fish for rainbow and brown trout. You can buy a fishing license locally.
If you prefer to fish with a guide, Red Lodge has several outfitters that know where and what the fish are biting. They welcome beginner and experienced fishermen.
For golfers, Red Lodge Mountain Golf Course offers plenty of water hazards on its challenging 18-hole course.
Best Restaurants In Red Lodge
The Prerogative Kitchen
Located at 104 South Broadway, the chef cooks up fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Here you can order a protein and small plate sides to accompany it -- or skip the main course and order the sticky toffee pudding dessert. The restaurant has vegetarian and gluten-free options. They are closed Tuesday through Thursday.
Red Lodge Pizza Company
After enjoying a hand-tossed pizza, you’ll want to make room for dessert. They cook a chocolate chip cookie in a skillet and top it with two scoops of ice cream. Their address is 115 South Broadway.
Carbon County Steakhouse
For a great steak, head to Carbon County Steakhouse at 121 South Broadway. They’ve partnered with a ranch in Wyoming to bring mouth-watering beef to the table.
If you’re hungry for Mexican food and the best margaritas in town, prepared with seasonal fruit, head to Bogart’s at 11 South Broadway.
Sam’s Tap Room
Red Lodge has come a long way since its days as a “cough syrup” supplier. Today, locally made Red Lodge Ale tastes a lot better and is legal. The ale starts with glacial water and locally-grown barley. Their ale is award-winning, with some beers available year-round and some seasonal. The ale is served at Sam’s Tap Room at 1445 North Broadway, open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Phoenix Pearl Tea Tavern
Try one of the many teas sourced from 30 countries and blended in-house. Blends range from Banana Bread Masala Chai to Blood Orange Rooibos. The tavern is located at 13 North Broadway.
Best Hotels In Red Lodge
The Pollard Hotel
Located in an 1893 building at 2 North Broadway, The Pollard is in the center of the historic downtown. If you like the idea of staying where celebrities have, you’re in luck. Calamity Jane, Liver-Eating Johnson, and Buffalo Bill have stayed here.
They serve a hearty breakfast and offer room and meal packages which make for a very affordable option.
The Alpine Lodge, at 1105 North Broadway, is noted for its comfortable beds and spotless rooms. A cooked-to-order breakfast is included.
Red Lodge has plenty to do no matter the season. If you’d like to plan around one of Red Lodge’s events, take a look at their calendar. It includes skijoring (a horse and rider towing a skier navigate obstacle courses) in March, music and songwriters’ festivals in June, a rodeo on the Fourth of July, live concerts in the summer and fall, and the Christmas Stroll in December. For more inspiration, consider all our Montana content here.