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 extended vacations. Our ideal solution is a fun and relaxing weekend in Whitefish, a quaint 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 year-round destination. One of the main things I love so much about Whitefish is that it’s quiet despite being a resort town. 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 experience your own adventure on Whitefish Mountain.
1. Play Whitefish Mountain Resort
People at Whitefish Mountain Resort refuse to rest when the snow melts. From late May to mid-September, the resort offers a wide range of activities for all ages just 11 km from the town centre. Once at the top, you can soar over the treetops on Montana’s longest zipline, zip 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 outdoor exploration on the many hiking and biking trails in and around Whitefish. The Whitefish Trail consists of 42 miles of multi-use trails divided into seven segments surrounding the city. Choose from rugged steep trails or wide level paths. The Lion Mountain segment offers a wheelchair accessible route. Just north of downtown, the Living Wetlands Nature Trail winds through Averill’s Viking Creek Wetland Preserve. Pick up a trail guide at the main Wisconsin Avenue trailhead and follow the numbered signs to learn about the flora and fauna around you. The path is wheelchair accessible and bicycles are not permitted 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 beverage. Bonsai Brewing Project specializes in small-batch craft beers in a charming setting. Visit their pub just north of the city center and sit in their shady beer garden. Their rotating selection of beers ranges from hoppy IPAs to fruity sours. You won’t have to leave downtown to sample the products of Spotted Bear Spirits. Step into their bustling 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 till you drop
The heart of Whitefish is its walkable downtown consisting of three square blocks of shops, art galleries, and a wide range of restaurants and bars. You can easily empty your wallet or just browse without spending a penny. Traders are always happy to help you find the perfect souvenir. As the name suggests, The Toggery sells outdoor clothing and just about every type of shoe you need, from hiking boots to sandals. Then browse exquisite paintings and sculptures by local artists at Dick Idol Signature Gallery and create your own perfume at Sage & Cedar.
5. Visit a spa
If you prefer to spend the weekend being pampered, Whitefish has you covered. The Whitefish Lake Spa is located in the Whitefish Lake Lodge, but you don’t have to stay at the lodge to enjoy their services, such as Swedish massages and facials for men and women. Natural Elements Massage and Spa offers chair massages and hydrating body wraps to combat the dry Montana air.
6. Explore a side road in Glacier National Park
Once you’ve indulged in all the Whitefish proper activities, drive out of town along a side road, which 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 west side of Glacier National Park, bypassing the entrance gate. The North Fork Road runs alongside 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 sides of the hills for grizzly bears.
Best white fish restaurants
Whitefish offers a wide selection of restaurants, from bakeries to burger joints to fine dining establishments. It’s a challenge to sample all the options in a weekend, but here are a few that are definitely worth checking out.
7. Buffalo Cafe
Fuel up for a day of adventure at the bustling Buffalo Café. The cafe is open for lunch, but it’s their breakfast that draws the hungry crowds. Buffalo Pies are their flagship products. A mountain of crispy hash browns is topped with a variety of choices like eggs, vegetables, bacon, and sausage gravy. The cafe fills up quickly, so arrive early to avoid a long wait.
8. Craggy Range Sports Bar and Grill
Craggy Range serves lunch and dinner in the heart of downtown. This is the perfect place for a casual meal accompanied by a local beer. Go light with the beet salad or go big with a blueberry pulled pork sandwich. They also have a full bar and a unique cocktail menu. Keep in mind that Craggy Range can get noisy during big sporting events due to the dozens of giant TVs surrounding the dining area, but it’s spacious enough that you’ll likely find a quiet spot.
9. Bistro Latitude 48
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 pasta like elk bucatini as well as seafood and steak selections like black cod and beef tenderloin. Your server will know exactly which wine to pair with dinner with a recommendation from their extensive wine list. Downstairs in the restaurant is the Red Room Lounge offering small plates and inventive cocktails. Reservations in the small restaurant are essential. The lounge is first come, first served.
The best hotels in Whitefish
Whitefish is surrounded by excellent accommodation options, from luxury resorts to campgrounds. There are a few hotels located downtown so you can limit the time you spend in your car, but there are also options in more rustic settings that promise solitude.
10. Firebrand Hotel
The Firebrand Hotel is anchored in downtown Whitefish and is within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. This luxury hotel offers rooms with king and double queen beds, beautifully tiled showers, a rooftop patio and hot tub, and a full bar and restaurant. Currently only dinner is served at the hotel. They also offer a spa, yoga classes, and guests can borrow one of the hotel’s many bicycles for free. Each floor is accessible by lift.
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 secluded enough that you can still find privacy and tranquility. Choose from rooms overlooking 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 morning and a full dinner menu. An elevator is available as well as rooms accessible to the disabled.
12. Whitefish/Kalispell North KOA Vacation Campground
If you’re camping or just want to spend a little less on accommodations, Whitefish/Kalispell North KOA Holiday is the perfect choice. The sprawling 33-acre site is tucked away from Highway 93 and just a 4-mile drive from downtown. There is room to wander among pine forests and secluded campsites. If camping isn’t your thing, the property also has several cabins with rustic to luxurious accommodations.
Pro Tip: Whitefish can be expensive and packed with visitors during the height of the winter and summer seasons. If you can swing it, I’d recommend a weekend in May or October when the skiers are away and the kids are at school. Crowds are almost non-existent and accommodation prices can drop. You might not find as many activities on offer, but the trade-off of being able to find a parking spot downtown and an open table at a restaurant is well worth it.
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