Editor's Note: Unfortunately, this year's Red Lodge Christmas Stroll was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but be sure to include this magical event in your 2021 holiday plans!
Red Lodge, Montana, with a population of about 2,300 people, lies in the shadow of the Beartooth Mountains. I’ve heard it described as a town that is as perfect as one in a snow globe. And in this idyllic mountain town, the Christmas Stroll, held on the first weekend in December, is magical.
Red Lodge is 60 miles south of Montana’s largest city, Billings. About 50 of those miles, on Highway 212, are a well-maintained but busy two-lane road, as many people from Billings make their way to Red Lodge for the festivities.
With the traffic, it’s best to take your time and take in the scenery along the way. You’ll see Christmas card-worthy rustic barns set against a backdrop of rugged, snow-capped mountains, hay bales dusted with snow, and ranchers tending their cattle.
You can choose to attend for the evening or arrive early and start your day by exploring Red Lodge’s recreational areas. No matter how long you stay, it’s a perfect way to get in the Christmas spirit. Here you’ll experience old-fashioned hospitality, an atmosphere of joy and merriment, and a sense of accomplishment when you find some perfect Christmas gifts.
Here are nine reasons you will fall in love with the Red Lodge Christmas Stroll.
1. You Can Honor The Fallen
The Christmas Stroll kicks off with the Fallen but not Forgotten Blue Light Ceremony. The year’s fallen Montana law enforcement personnel are each mentioned by name, and an evergreen tree is lit with blue lights. The memorial is at the Elks Lodge on Broadway Avenue, a continuation of Highway 212. All of the stroll’s events take place on this main thoroughfare.
During the Christmas Stroll, Broadway Avenue is pedestrian-only -- except, of course, during the parade.
2. The Blade Parade Is One Of A Kind
I’m not sure if it’s the only parade of its kind, but it must be close. Anyone can enter the parade with their decorated snowplow, pick-up truck with snow blade, or snow shovel. Whatever they use to clear the heaps of snow Mother Nature dumps on Red Lodge is fair game. In years past, giant snow-removing devices for plowing the nearby Beartooth Pass -- with blades standing almost 6 feet tall -- have dwarfed spectators.
Snow generally blankets Red Lodge as early as September. You can be certain that the blades in the parade aren’t just for show, but a necessity. The blades are decked out with twinkling lights, wreaths, antlers, and even depictions of the Grinch. Each year, the most imaginative entries take home a prize. You can expect to see Santa at the parade, too.
3. Your Grandkids Can Visit With Santa And His Elves
If you have grandchildren, be sure to bring them along. The Christmas Stroll is a family-friendly event! After the Blade Parade, Santa and his elves welcome little visitors and listen attentively to their heartfelt requests.
You’ll likely see the professional clown Trixie the Elf. She and her balloon creations are popular with the kids. I’m always amazed at the novel creatures she can come up with.
4. There’s Plenty Of Live Entertainment
Each year, Red Lodge invites the Alte Kameraden Band to entertain Christmas strollers in an outdoor venue at the Carbon County Steakhouse. Alte Kameraden means “old friends,” which perfectly describes this accomplished group of musicians. The band has deep roots in Red Lodge, even though its name has changed since it was founded as a coal miners’ band in 1896. The brass band plays German, Finnish, Italian, and American music. They’ll entertain you with marches, waltzes, and polkas.
Cloggers and Red Lodge School of Dance students also perform at outdoor venues.
5. You Can Vote For Your Favorite Window Display
The historic buildings lining Broadway date to the late 1800s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district is home to shops, restaurants, bars, and businesses, and these merchants all decorate their windows for the Christmas Stroll and the holiday season. With ballot in hand, you can vote for your favorite window display.
6. You Can Peruse The Galleries
The local galleries host open houses during the Christmas Stroll. These are a fantastic way to appreciate the creativity and talent of local artists, and there are plenty of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and pottery items to admire. If you’re in the market for Western art, you’ll have lots to choose from.
The first gallery you’ll find when you enter Red Lodge is the Carbon County Arts Guild & Depot Gallery, which sells fine art, folk art, and handcrafted items by regional artists. They also have temporary exhibits by featured artists.
Downtown, more galleries line Broadway, offering everything from pottery to landscape photographs to original artwork featuring Native Americans, cowboys, and wildlife.
Be sure to buy a raffle ticket to win an original oil painting by a local artist. This -- plus the proceeds from reproduction posters and mugs -- is the only fundraiser for the stroll.
7. You’ll Be Sure To Find The Perfect Gift
During the Christmas Stroll, Red Lodge’s stores keep their doors open late and offer refreshments for strollers. Upscale boutiques, clothing stores, antique shops, sporting goods stores, gift shops, and a mercantile offer plenty of shopping opportunities.
Here are just a few shops with made-in-Montana items to buy as a treat for yourself or as a gift for someone on your list.
The Montana Candy Emporium makes saltwater taffy and fudge that are worth every calorie. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, the shop is worth a walkthrough. It’s part museum, with collections of antique bicycles, telephones, and bin after bin of old-time candies.
The Phoenix Pearl Tea Tavern carries teas from 30 countries and makes custom blends. With at least 150 varieties available, it can be a challenge to choose. Coowner Kathy Robson recommends the Warsong of the Sugarplum Faeries with plum, hibiscus, and cinnamon. This bold herbal tea smells like Christmas.
Lotion & Potions Bath & Fashion Boutique sells handcrafted smudge sticks. Burning these bundles of sage blesses people or places. Everything in the bundles is foraged or sourced locally, from traditional sage to in-season flowers and berries.
David Cruz’s Red Lodge Jewelers specializes in unique pieces and special collections. Here you’ll find Yogo sapphires that are mined in Montana in very limited quantities. They are the rarest sapphires in North America and have a cornflower blue color. He also sells Vintage Bison, a collection of handmade bison leather goods.
8. You Can Go For A Hayride
Nothing says Montana quite like a horse-drawn wagon ride. A local ranching family supplies the horses and wagons for a unique trip past Red Lodge’s historic buildings, which were built back when horses were the area’s main mode of transportation.
9. You Can Spend Some Time On The Slopes Or Trails
If you’ve opted to spend a full day in Red Lodge, you’ll have time to explore the Beartooth Mountains on skis, snowboards, cross-country skis, or snowshoes.
Red Lodge Mountain is just 7 miles from downtown and has six chairlifts and 70 runs, ranging from beginner to expert. They welcome skiers and snowboarders and have equipment rentals and lessons for both.
Groomed trails for cross-country skiers are even closer to town. Just 3 miles from downtown, the Red Lodge Nordic Center maintains looped trails that vary from flat trails that weave around aspen groves to more challenging trails that gain elevation.
The Silver Run Loop Trail, 6 miles from Red Lodge, is a cross-country ski and snowshoe trail that’s pet friendly. You’ll hear the babbling Silver Run Creek that the trail follows. Because of the access to fresh water, you may see wildlife along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a cow moose and her gangly calf. Moose can be temperamental, so I gave her the right of way.
With the close proximity of these recreation areas, you can allot anywhere from 4 to 6 hours for your outdoor adventure and be back in Red Lodge in time to enjoy the evening’s Christmas Stroll.
What To Know Before You Go
To make the most of your stroll, you’ll want to dress in layers. Winter comes early in the mountains, and the town is at an elevation of 6,658 feet. Dressing in layers and wearing gloves, a hat, a scarf, and insulated boots will keep you toasty under the winter conditions. If the streets and sidewalks are icy, Yaktrax -- traction cleats you attach to your shoes -- can make walking on the slick pavement safer. Physical exertion may be more taxing due to the altitude for those who are unaccustomed to it.
If you’re spending the night, The Pollard Hotel is conveniently located on Broadway Avenue and serves a delicious breakfast. The Prerogative Kitchen prepares farm-to-table meals that are sure to satisfy.
For the most up-to-date information, visit the Christmas Stroll Facebook page.