We visited Whitefish, Montana during our tour of Glacier National Park…but here’s what many people don’t realize: Whitefish and the surrounding communities in Western Montana (like Kalispell, West Glacier, Cascade Falls, Bigfork, Somers, etc) are worthy of visits even without a trip to the park.
That’s why it’s important to us to share these 11 awesome things to do in Whitefish MT and the entire area. Time to get your adventure on!
GETTING TO WESTERN MONTANA
Our friends flying from Atlanta to this area will likely fly into Kalispell, MT – less than 30 minutes to Whitefish and under an hour into the park. United and Delta rates run about the same; Alaska Airlines tended to be higher but if you have points with them, it’s worth checking out.
You’ll find cheaper flights from Atlanta into Missoula – up to half price. But you’ll need to trek nearly 3 hours north to get to the area. It’s a gorgeous drive, though. You’ll follow the shoreline of Flathead Lake, which offers views for days!
While anytime is a great time to visit Whitefish, July and August are the most popular. You’ll find temps ranging from cool 80s in the afternoon to low perfect-for-a-campfire nights in the upper 40s. And, if you can time it right, being in town for Big Mountain Ranch’s Under the Big Sky music and art festival is a great idea!
Winter calling you? Nat Geo calls Whitefish a “Top 25 Ski Town”! Aside from things to do in Whitefish MT like skiing and snowboarding, you’ve got opportunities for sledding, xcountry skiing, and sleigh riding!
EXPLORE GLACIER NPS – WEST GLACIER
Yes, we said you can visit Whitefish without entering the park. But really? How can we talk about this area without discussing Glacier National Park just a tad when it’s only 25 miles from Whitefish?
The closest entrance from Whitefish is West Glacier, and it’s also the most popular so be prepared. It will take some time to find parking at the various lots; we entered the park before 6am to ensure we found parking at the trailheads we really wanted to visit.
Our West Glacier recommendations:
- Drive the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, with stops at the overlooks. Must-see stops include Jackson Glacier and Wild Goose Island
- Hike to Hidden Lake for chances to see animals and spectacular views of this alpine lake. If you don’t want to go the entire 5.3 miles (or you don’t have time…like us!) then just hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook at 2.9 miles RT.
- You’ll park at Logan Pass for the Hidden Lake trail. This parking lot is also your trailhead for what I think is the west side’s BEST hike: The Highline Trail.
- Hike from Logan Pass to The Loop, which is 11.8 miles one way. From there you’ll catch the shuttle back to your car.
- If 11.8 miles is too far for you (keep in mind this is a pretty easy trail) then just hike to Haystack Pass and back for an 8.2 mile trek.
- If you want something a little more challenging, then hike the Grinnell Glacier Overlook hike; it’s a hard 11.4 miles. To be clear, this is NOT the Grinnell Glacier hike that leads you down to the glacier. That one leaves from Many Glacier.
- I highly recommend the St Mary Falls to Virginia Falls trail, also. It’s an easy 2.9 miles (tough you can just hike to St Mary Falls for a shorter trip…but Virginia Falls in stunning!) Two waterfalls in one hike, for the win!
- If you’re looking for a very easy hike, then try Trail of the Cedars. It’s very flat and under a mile. If you’ve got the time, then take the spur off this trail that leads you to Avalanche Lake. It’s a little harder, but the lake is worth it.
- Don’t miss stopping in to view Lake McDonald and the Lake McDonald Lodge. This is a great place to relax with a Huckleberry pie or margarita as you watch the lake. Boat tours are also available from here.
Planning a National Parks road trip? The America the Beautiful Pass covers entrance for an entire year to all the US National Parks and over 2,000 federal recreation fee sites. Fees are covered for everyone in the car for per-vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites. This is a no-brainer, friends. While fees vary, you’ll likely break-even after two visits. Plus, REI will donate 10% of pass sale proceeds to the NPS Foundation.
SOAR AT WHITEFISH MOUNTAIN RESORT
In Winter, Whitefish Mountain Resort is a ski and snowboard mecca; in summer, it’s an amazing adventure resort. There are a million things to do here: hiking, mountain biking, an alpine slide and an aerial adventure park and more…but if you can do only one thing, make it the zip line!
Six lines take you over a mile, soaring back and forth above Big Mountain. The longest zip is 1,900 ft and the tallest is 300 ft above the forest floor. My favorite part, though, are the views. See Whitefish Lake and the entire Flathead Valley like you’ve never seen them!
The zips here use a unique trolley technology. You sort of “sit” in the seat, and you’ll hold a bar while you fly through the air. It felt super safe to me (maybe even safer than the typical zip lines we’re used to) but it does mean that you have to carry your trolley up and down the hills between zips.
It can be a little challenging if you’re not in great shape (or you just hiked a 15 miler at Glacier) but heck – our youngest did it on his 9th birthday alongside a gentleman who was 90 years old! If they can do it, you can, too!
SHOP AND EAT IN DOWNTOWN WHITEFISH
Downtown Whitefish is an adorable section of town with plenty of shopping and dining options to keep you busy all day. If you can, plan your stop here on a Tuesday when you can savor the local delicacies at the Farmer’s Market, or stop by on the weekend when you’re bound to be taken in by one of the myriad events in the center green space.
For best eats, you must grab the huckleberry French toast at Loula’s Cafe, located in an old Masonic Temple. All the food is made-from-scratch, and you’ll love the paintings from local artists that brighten the walls.
Dinner is a harder choice, with so many options to select from. Latitude 48 brings home unique selections like Korean pork buns and Montana-style ramen. Find multiple bars, live music and good eats at Tupelo Grill. Finally, if you’re looking for Italian, Ciao Mambo is where it’s at.
While you’re “between meals” then visit the Whitefish Depot train station (even if you don’t plan a trip!) The half-timbered walls and large dormers were lovingly restored, and you’ll find old photos of Whitefish here that show you how this town has grown.
What are the shops you should visit? Bookworks for great guides and local authors, Frame of References gallery (I could not afford a darn thing here, but if you appreciate local artisans then this collection will leave you in awe), Sage & Cedar for decadent soaps, Tailwaggers for your 4-legged friend, and much much more.
Finally, the Whitefish Performing Arts Center and the Whitefish Theatre Company at the O’Shaughnessy Center offer theatre, performing arts, music and entertainment for date night or the entire family, all within walking distance of Downtown.
EAT EVERYTHING HUCKLEBERRY
Huckleberries are the unofficial state fruit of Montana, and they are so delicious who can blame all the fanfare? These sweet morsels are everywhere in the summer months, and we could not get enough of them.
We picked our own on some of the trails we hiked (Be very careful…where there are huckleberries, there are bears!) and we savored them in salad dressings, ice cream, pies and even BBQ sauce in our dining experiences.
- The Huckleberry Patch was my favorite place to pick up huckleberry gifts for the family: pie fillings, syrup, and even huckleberry hot cocoa mix.
- Loula’s Cafe offered the best huckleberry pie
- Sweet Peaks‘ ice cream was delicious (I sampled a ton of flavors) and it’s no surprise they win “best huckleberry ice cream” in my book!
- While we are not typically big fans of flavored spirits, Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits makes a huckleberry aperitif that is quite impressive. Be sure to stop into the tasting Room.
RIDE A HORSE THROUGH FLATHEAD NATIONAL FOREST
There is nothing like exploring Glacier and the surrounding forest by horseback. We rode with Swan Mountain Outfitters, the only outfitter allowed to ride inside the national park.
As if that wasn’t reason enough, I cannot begin to tell you how spectacular these guide are. They are safety conscious, hilarious, kind…they are everything you want in a guide!
Packages range from trail rides to overnights….wine & dines to cowboy cookouts. We opted for the Cowboy Cookout, which included 2 hours of riding time through the forest along Glacier. We went up and down hills, kept a look out for bears and even saw black bear and grizzly scratch marks in the trees.
Afterward, we dismounted the horses and enjoyed a steak dinner with s’mores as we gathered round the campfire. We were with another party of 8 who, ironically, were also from the South (North Carolina) and enjoyed comparing stories and adventures.
Don’t worry, the wrangler is not the cook! Your dinner is prepared by a fantastic chef who cooks at ski resorts and national parks around the country. Our meal was probably the best we’d had in all of Montana. Adult beverages are not included, but you can purchase beer and liquor at the store before heading out and chef will add them to his cooler for you to enjoy at dinner.
KAYAK WITH SEA ME PADDLE
One of the best ways to get out on the water is with Sea Me Paddle. Take the Wild Horse Island tour which escorts you out to Flathead Lake where you’ll paddle to the island to hike for a while. You’ll see the wild horses, big horn sheep, and fantastic views.
The Somers Bay Adventure is another great family option. You’ll paddle in and around Somers Bay and the bay’s chain of Juniper Islands, including the historic pier system. See heron and bald eagles among the calm waters.
After you’re done, Tamarack Brewing Co is a great place for lunch or dinner with the family. The Happy Hour here was voted best in the Valley and the patio is fantastic.
TAKE A HIKE OUTSIDE THE PARK
Distance: 6.0 miles
Elevation Change: 1,912 feet
Area of the State: Kalispell, MT in the Flathead National Forest
Outside Kalispell, about 20 minutes away is a popular hike to Strawberry Lake that we highly recommend. It’s not easy, but the views will astound you.
We picked this hike because it was good “training” for our Grinnell Glacier hike..which seemed like a breeze once we’d finished this one. I loved that we climbed UP to get to a lake, which sat like a gem in the mountains.
Along the trail were plenty of opportunity to pick huckleberries and thimble berries, just be sure to hike with bear spray.
THE WHITEFISH TRAIL
Distance: 43 miles
Elevation Change: varies
Area of the State: Whitefish, MT
The Whitefish Trail covers 43 miles, but you don’t have to hike all of them. With 14 different trailheads, you decide where to explore!
The collaborative community trail is comprised of stacked loops, scenic overlooks, single-track trails and gated logging roads. It’s known as a wildlife habitat and home to mountainous recreational hubs.
LION MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Distance: 2.6 miles
Elevation Change: 351 feet
Area of the State: West of Whitefish, near Skyles Lake
Want to take a hike along the The Whitefish Trail then try this easy hike with views of Skyles Lake. Fido is welcome here.
WHERE TO STAY IN WHITEFISH
CABIN ON THE LAKE
This new listing sits on Lost Loon Lake just a few minutes from Downtown Whitefish. With 3 floors and 3,714 sq ft of living space, this rental is packed with all the comforts of home. The floor plan is open and inviting, with beautiful wood cathedral ceilings and a gourmet kitchen. You’ll love the huge windows overlooking the lake and the finely appointed living room is warm and inviting with a large fireplace.
GROUSE MOUNTAIN LODGE
Great views near Downtown and the Whitefish Golf Club paired with modern lodge-style rooms make Grouse Mountain a sure option. Enjoy delicious dining, an indoor pool and outdoor hot tub, fitness center, driving range and cruiser bikes.
THE FIREBRAND HOTEL
Looking for urban sophistication right in the center of Downtown? The Firebrand is where to stay with a sun terrace, ski storage, a great restaurant and full bar. Amenities include a rooftop hot tub and patio, bicycle use, a game library, snowshoe use, ski valet and more
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO MONTANA ON OUR SISTER SITE:
- WHERE TO STAY NEAR GLACIER: 5 Amazing Places to Stay When Visiting Glacier National Park
- WHITEFISH MOUNTAIN RESORT: A World of Summer Fun
- MONTANA SKIING: 15 Of The Best Montana Ski Resorts To Visit This Winter
- MANY GLACIER: 5 Captivating Reasons You Will Love Many Glacier in Glacier NPS
- WATERFALLS: 17 Amazing Waterfalls In Montana (Inside and Outside of Glacier NPS)
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