Red Lodge is a small city located in south, central Montana with a population of approximately 2,200. It was established in the late 1800’s and relied on coal mining until the Great Depression. Upon many mines closing, residents turned to bootlegging, selling its “syrup” as far away as San Francisco and Chicago.
The city was linked to Yellowstone National Park after the Beartooth Highway opened in 1936. This access to the park coupled with the largest coal mining disaster in Montana in 1943, steered the Red Lodge economy toward the outdoors and tourism.
Over time, it’s lovely downtown has been redeveloped, and the red brick buildings donning American flags feature a variety of boutiques, restaurants and hotels. Despite the recent Yellowstone floods which heavily affected the area, Red Lodge is a great little city to visit with many things to do.
Things to Do in Red Lodge
As I came in from the north, my first stop in Red Lodge was at the Visitor’s Center. The lady suggested a few local restaurants and provided information on trail access that was still difficult to reach due to the 2022 flood.
Where to Eat in Red Lodge
According to the Visitors Center, locals enjoy at beer at Natali’s Front Bar and eat breakfast at Café Regis. Café Regis is off the beaten path, so that’s where I went to stay out of the throngs of tourists. Café Regis serves breakfast and lunch, with breakfast available all day until it closes at 2pm. I went with a make your own omelet that did not disappoint.
Another popular breakfast place is Cattail Bakery. The display case full of pastries made it hard to pick just one, but I decided on a delicious sticky bun.
Where to Stay in Red Lodge
For a nicer meal, try Marli’s, located in the famous Pollard Hotel. The Pollard Hotel, formerly known as the Spofford Hotel, was Red Lodge’s first brick building, constructed in 1893 for $20,000.
When Thomas Pollard purchased the hotel in 1902, he added on 25 guest rooms, an ornate lobby, a bar with card and billiard tables, and even a bowling alley. Up until World War I and the Great Depression, the Pollard offered a free midnight lunch served on a silver platter.
Many famous people frequented the Pollard including the copper kings, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill, and Liver Eatin’ Johnson, an Indian Scout that lived near Red Lodge. The Pollard was situated directly across from the Red Lodge Bank which was subject to a foiled bank robbery attempt by the Sundance Kid!
Take a Historic Walking Tour
There is so much history in Red Lodge that you must take a historical walking tour around the picturesque streets. Be sure to pick up a brochure in the Visitor Center and follow the historic trail. Some of the buildings are marked with plaques, including the foiled bank robbery.
Browse the Farmers Market
After a walk through town, browse the Farmers Market. The Red Lodge Farmers Market is held every Saturday morning from the end of June to mid-September at Lions Park. The market features local produce and meats along with crafts.
Admire the Art
It is located next to the Carbon County Arts Guild & Depot Gallery. The Arts Guild hosts a variety of events including workshops, exhibits, and even a monthly art walk. The art walk takes place the second Saturday of the month from 3-8pm.
Go for a Hike
If you’d rather hike the hills rather than stroll the streets, there are plenty of options. I particularly loved the hike to Lower Basin Lake flush with yellow lily pads. Other easy hikes in Custer National Forest include Wild Bill Lake Loop, Broadwater Lake via Lake Fork, and Timberline Trail. They range in distance between ½ mile to 10+ miles.
Some more moderate hikes include West Fork of Rock Creek and Gertrude Lakes in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. At the time of my visit, the flood had damaged a bridge on the way to these trails which added several miles to already long hikes, so I did not get to check them out. They are still marked on my list in AllTrails, so perhaps I will try them another time.
Rent a Slingshot
If walking and hiking are not your thing, consider renting a three-wheel slingshot for a ½ day, full day or even a week. You can tool around in the sporty, open-air three-wheel vehicle if you know how to drive stick shift. Take the Slingshot along Beartooth Highway!
Drive the Beartooth Highway
The Beartooth Highway is known as one of America’s most beautiful drives. The 68 mile-long, engineering marvel, winds past granite peaks and cobalt lakes as it gains 5,000 feet to Beartooth Pass at nearly 11,000 feet. It is open seasonally due to snow.
Keep an eye out for wildlife, the state line, the 45th parallel, the ski lift at Beartooth Basin, the Bear’s Tooth for which the mountain range is named, and many hiking trails and campgrounds. You may even stay at the Top of the World Resort.
Visit Yellowstone National Park
The Beartooth Highway connects Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest a side trip. Since I have visited Yellowstone a few times, I didn’t take the drive past the turn off to Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, but if you haven’t been to Yellowstone, you should definitely visit America’s first national park known for its wildlife and hydrothermal and geological features.
Check out the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary
If you don’t have time for the drive, but you want to see a wolf or a bear among other wildlife, you may stop in the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary which cares for animals that cannot be released into the wild.
With tall, chain link fences, the facility is nothing to write home about, especially for photographers, but it was fun to see the wolves play in the water tank and the bears eat their fruity breakfast.
Overall Red Lodge really affords visitors a lot of options which is probably why its population balloons in the summertime. I felt like Red Lodge was quite busy while I visited, but the locals said due to the flood it was still quiet! Go support them, as Red Lodge is open for business! ETB