My husband and I often want to get away from our busy lives in Missoula, Montana, but like many people, we don’t always have time for an extended vacation. Our perfect solution is a fun and relaxing weekend in Whitefish, a picturesque mountain town in the Flathead Valley about a 3-hour drive north of Missoula.
Whitefish is well known as a premier ski destination due to Whitefish Mountain and its namesake resort. But it’s also a great destination year-round. One of the main things I love so much about Whitefish is that it does not put on airs despite its resort town status. The residents are friendly and welcoming and have managed to maintain that small-town Montana vibe. Whitefish has you covered whether you’re looking for that luxury resort experience or looking to relax and disappear among the locals.
Things To Do In Whitefish
Whitefish offers a multitude of activities. Explore the quaint downtown, immerse yourself in nature around town and beyond in nearby Glacier National Park, and have your own adventure on Whitefish Mountain.
1. Play At Whitefish Mountain Resort
The folks at Whitefish Mountain Resort refuse to rest when the snow melts. From late May to mid-September, the resort hosts a wide range of activities for all ages just a short and easy 7-mile drive from downtown. Once you’re up top, you can fly above the treetops on Montana’s longest zip line, careen down the mountain on the alpine slide, or explore one of the many hiking trails. There are also 25 miles of mountain bike trails. Bring your own bike or rent one at the resort.
2. Stretch Your Legs
Continue your exploration of the outdoors on the many hiking and biking trails in and around Whitefish. The Whitefish Trail consists of 42 miles of multi-use trails broken up into seven segments surrounding the town. Choose from rugged steep trails or level-wide paths. The Lion Mountain segment offers a wheelchair-accessible route. Just north of downtown, the Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail winds through the Averill’s Viking Creek Wetland Preserve. Pick up a trail guide at the main trailhead off Wisconsin Avenue and follow the numbered signs to learn about the flora and fauna all around you. The path is wheelchair accessible and bicycles are not allowed to ensure a slow and safe pace.
3. Sip The Flavors Of Whitefish
Like many towns in Montana, Whitefish celebrates the love of a locally made drink. Bonsai Brewing Project specializes in small-batch craft beers in a lovely setting. Visit their public house just north of downtown and grab a seat in their tree-shaded beer garden. Their rotating selection of brews ranges from hoppy IPAs to fruity sours. You won’t have to leave downtown to sample the goods at Spotted Bear Spirits. Step into their lively tasting room across from Depot Park to enjoy a flight of their unique spirits distilled with local ingredients like sugar beet vodka and mint schnapps. You can also order from their selection of seasonal cocktails like the Dear Rosemary, featuring their floral gin.
4. Shop ‘Til You Drop
The heart of Whitefish is its walkable downtown consisting of three square blocks of boutique shops, art galleries, and a wide range of restaurants and bars. You could easily empty your wallet or simply browse without spending a penny. The shop owners are always happy to help you find the perfect souvenir. As the name suggests, The Toggery sells outdoor clothing and just about any type of shoe you need from hiking boots to sandals. Then, browse the exquisite paintings and sculptures by local artists at Dick Idol Signature Gallery and create your own fragrance at Sage & Cedar.
5. Visit A Spa
If you prefer to spend the weekend getting pampered, Whitefish has you covered. The Spa at Whitefish Lake is located in the Lodge of Whitefish Lake, but you don’t have to stay at the lodge to enjoy their services, like Swedish massages and facials for both men and women. Natural Elements Massage and Spa offers chair massages and hydrating body wraps to combat the dry Montana air.
6. Explore A Backroad Into Glacier National Park
Once you’ve indulged in all the activities in Whitefish proper, take a drive out of town along a backroad, that few outsiders know exists, into Glacier National Park. Head to Columbia Falls, about 10 miles from Whitefish, and take Nucleus Avenue through town. At the end of the road, turn right onto North Fork Road which takes you into the western side of Glacier National Park, bypassing the entrance gate. The North Fork Road runs along lush forests and the Flathead River through over 20 miles of stunning wilderness. The road is a mixture of pavement and gravel, so take it slow, which you’ll want to do anyway so you can make frequent stops to scan the hillsides for grizzly bears.
Best Restaurants In Whitefish
Whitefish boasts a smorgasbord of dining choices from bakeries to burger joints to fine-dining establishments. It’s a challenge to sample all the options in one weekend, but here are a few definitely worth the stop.
7. Buffalo Café
Fuel up for a day of adventures at the lively Buffalo Café. The café is open for lunch, but it’s their breakfast that brings in the hungry crowds. The Buffalo Pies are their signature items. A mountain of crispy hashbrowns is topped with a variety of choices like eggs, veggies, bacon, and sausage gravy. The café fills up quickly, so get there early to avoid a long wait.
8. Craggy Range Sports Bar And Grill
Craggy Range serves lunch and dinner in the heart of downtown. It’s the perfect place for a relaxed meal paired with a local brew. Go light with the beet salad or go big with a huckleberry pulled pork sandwich. They also feature a full bar and unique cocktail menu. Bear in mind that Craggy Range can get raucous during big sporting events due to the dozens of giant televisions surrounding the dining room, but it’s spacious enough that you’re likely to find a quiet corner.
9. Latitude 48 Bistro
When you’re ready to relax for dinner and enjoy expertly prepared dishes in an intimate setting, head to Latitude 48 Bistro. The menu features house-made pastas like the elk bucatini as well as seafood and steak selections such as black cod and beef tenderloin. Your server will know just what wine to pair with dinner with a recommendation from their extensive wine list. Downstairs from the restaurant is the Red Room Lounge featuring small plates and inventive cocktails. Reservations in the tiny restaurant are essential. The lounge is first come, first served.
Best Hotels In Whitefish
Whitefish is surrounded by great lodging options from luxury resorts to campgrounds. There are a few hotels located downtown so you can limit the amount of time you spend in your car, but there are also options in more rustic settings that hold the promise of solitude.
10. Firebrand Hotel
The Firebrand Hotel anchors downtown Whitefish and is within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. This luxury hotel features rooms with king and double queen beds, beautifully tiled showers, a rooftop patio and hot tub, and a full bar and restaurant. At this time, only dinner is served at the hotel. They also offer a spa, yoga classes, and guests can borrow one of the hotel’s several bikes at no cost. Each floor is accessible by elevator.
11. Grouse Mountain Lodge
If you’re looking to get out of town, but not too far, Grouse Mountain Lodge is a perfect choice. The lodge is just over a mile from downtown, but isolated enough that you can still find privacy and quiet. Choose from rooms with views of the Whitefish Lake Golf Course or spacious suites designed for family gatherings. You don’t have to leave the hotel for meals. Logan’s Grill offers pastries and coffee in the mornings and a full menu for dinner. An elevator is available as well as ADA-accessible rooms.
12. Whitefish/Kalispell North KOA Holiday Campground
If you’re camping or just wish to spend a little less on lodging, Whitefish/Kalispell North KOA Holiday is the perfect choice. The sprawling 33-acre site is tucked back from Highway 93 and only a 4-mile drive from downtown. There is room to roam among the pine tree forests and secluded campsites. If camping isn’t your thing, the property also boasts several cabins with rustic to deluxe accommodations.
Pro Tip: Whitefish can be pricey and packed with visitors in the height of the winter and summer seasons. If you can swing it, I recommend a weekend during May or October when the skiers are absent and children are in school. The crowds are almost nonexistent and lodging rates can plummet. You may not find as many activities offered, but the trade-off of being able to find a parking spot downtown and an open table at a restaurant is worth it.
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