Anyone who finds solace in the outdoors and natural landscapes will surely find many things to do in Whitefish, Montana.
The little American town just south of the Canadian border packs a punch and can deliver a heavy dose of some of the best things Montana has to offer.
Where is Whitefish?
Whitefish, Montana, is a resort town in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Montana. It’s surrounded by mammoth peaks, valleys, and beautiful lakes and is a well-known summer and winter destination. Thanks to the Whitefish Ski Resort, the town of Whitefish is one of the top places to ski in America. While during the summer, it’s a popular place given its location near Glacier National Park.
The Kootenai Native American tribe lived in the area for over 10,000 years. Throughout the 19th century, trappers, traders, and immigrants passed through the area. In 1904, the Great Northern Railway was built through town, sparking the town’s development. Whitefish was originally known as “Stumptown” due to the amount of cleared timber to develop the town, leaving plenty of tree stumps behind.
Best Things to Do in Whitefish, Montana
Visit Glacier National Park
We’re no strangers to the Rockies, and they are unarguably one of the best places to go for a hike. The jagged peaks are often snow-capped, and the alpine meadows are filled with resplendent wildflowers like fireweed and paintbrushes.
Glacier National Park may not have much for glaciers these days. You’ll need to head further North to the Canadian Banff National Park for that! Regardless it’s a spectacular national park abundant in wildlife and natural beauty.
It’s not uncommon to witness bears, alpine goats, and elk. If you are visiting here in the summer, heading to Glacier is easily one of the best things to do in Whitefish.
Hike the Highline Trail
There’s no better way to experience the natural beauty of Glacier National Park than on foot. From the trail, you take in all the serenity you fail to miss from afar or a moving vehicle. A network of trails dots the park and ambles up and around the craggy peaks of the Southern Waterton Rockies.
While there are many trails, the Highline trail in Glacier National Park is regarded as the most serene hike in the park. The trail starts at Logan Pass and begins to climb up alongside the mountains on a ledge only a few meters wide. In many ways, it reminds us of the thrilling and unique Crypt Lake Trail just over the border in Canada’s Waterton National Park.
At the trail’s end, hikers reach the Glacier Park Chalet, where they can purchase some snacks or even spend the night (if you’re lucky enough to get reservations).
Drive the Going To The Sun Road
The historic Going to the Sun Road is world-renowned for being one most scenic drives in America and arguably one of the best road trips in the world. Completed in 1932, the 50-mile two-lane highway crosses Glacier National Park and over the Continental Divide at 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass.
Along the way, drivers will pass a wide variety of landscapes, including glacial lakes, cedar forests, jaw-dropping viewpoints, cliffs, and alpine tundra mountain passes. Many scenic viewpoints and parking lots are conveniently placed along the road so you can grab some excellent photographs.
Make sure to drive both directions on the highway as the views change, and you’ll notice a lot you missed the first time. This drive and the Icefields Parkway in Canada are arguably two of the best mountain drives in North America. It’s easily one of the top things to do in Whitefish.
Rip Through the Trees at the Whitefish Ski Resort
With an annual snowfall that’s nothing to dismiss, Whitefish is revered for its tree skiing. This old school hill is called the “Last Best Thing.” What was once a small local ski hill has turned into a full-service resort with a lot of the old charm.
It’s not the resort to see and be seen at; but instead, it’s for those who come to ski and have a good time. Our first visit to Whitefish Ski Resort was in 2018, and it has left us itching to return ever since. If you’re in the area for skiing, consider hitting up some other excellent resorts after visiting Whitefish. Others like Fernie in Canada or Schweitzer in Idaho have similar vibes in the region
Stroll Through Downtown Whitefish
Downtown Whitefish is delightful, and it’s easy to fall in love with the town. You won’t find any chain stores along the historic town front. Browse the local art galleries, antique shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and sports equipment stores.
In the morning, it’s tough to beat a cup of coffee from Montana Coffee Traders, who serve their own delicious roasts.
Take a ride down the Flathead River through Glacier National Park in a raft. Many operators offer half and full-day trips down the roaring river with class II-III whitewater rapids.
Most tours start at the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, where parts of “The River Wild” were filmed. The scenic paddle is a thrilling and great way to stay cool on a hot summer day in Whitefish. Operators offer several tour packages, including fishing, BBQs, or even horseback riding.
Tackle the Mountain Bike Alpine Trail #7
There are some excellent mountain biking trails around Whitefish, that is, once the snow thaws. Of all the trails in the region, it’s tough to find a more destination-worthy trail than Alpine Trail #7.
Some have ranked the trail as one of the top 10 trail rides in the U.S. and one of the toughest. It’s an epic trail that is loose and physically demanding as it follows along a ridgeline. The mountain bike trail is for advanced to expert riders with brief sections of exposure and hike-a-bike.
The trail is around 55 miles long and can be divided into two sections, the North and South, each around 25 miles long. During the journey, prepare for some epic views of the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park.
Of course, you don’t need to ride the most epic trail around Whitefish. There are a plethora of other trails that are well suited for beginners, intermediates, advanced, and experts. Whitefish Ski Resort also offers lift-assisted downhill biking in the summer. I may be biased, but it’s tough to find a better summer activity than mountain biking!
Relax On Whitefish City Beach
Outside the town center is the Whitefish City Beach on Whitefish Lake. The scenic lake offers tremendous mountain views, a designated swimming area, non-motorized boat rentals, and a boat launch.
You can paddle down the Whitefish River or head to the lake for some amazing fishing opportunities. Along the western shore of Whitefish Lake is Whitefish Lake State Park offers camp spots and more recreation opportunities.
Down A Cold Beer At Moose’s Saloon
This no-bullshit bar serves up cheap pizza, sandwiches, and cold beer. Moose’s Saloon is a dive bar at its finest and an institution in the region. It’s not located in Whitefish but the larger and less attractive city of Kalispell. However, it’s well worth the drive!
The inside of the bar is dark, the floor is covered in sawdust and peanuts, and every inch of the wood interior is carved with patron’s names. It’s dark and a bit loud but still family-friendly early in the evening, and the service is quick and friendly. There is a lot to love about this place.
Visit Downtown Kalispell
None of this is to say Kalispell is not worth visiting or even staying. On our first trip to the area, we chose to base ourselves in the city as it was more affordable than the trendy and touristic Whitefish.
Similar to Whitefish, Kalispell has a historic downtown with plenty of shops and restaurants. It’s not quite as charming as Whitefish, but it serves as a great base and is well worth exploring if you’re around Whitefish for a while.
Just south of Whitefish is Flathead Lake the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi in the lower 48 states. It has a whopping 200 square miles of water and features 185 miles of shoreline.
The state operates thirteen public access sites around the lake many include toilets, boat launches, camping, swimming, and picnic facilities. Along the west side of the lake is Wildhorse Island, a 2,165-acre state park that can only be accessed via boat.
The lake is perfect for sailing, boating, waterskiing, swimming, and camping. Come summertime, watch local fruit stands that sell apples, cherries, and huckleberries.
Check Out a Craft Brewery
When visiting pretty any town or city, we love checking the local brewery. Whitefish has two great microbreweries, and they serve up tasty brews. Sadly there used to be a great one downtown, but it recently closed its doors.
Bonsai Brewing Project
Bonsai is a charming little brewery located just outside of the town center. They have a large building with seating inside and outside and often have live local music in the summer. When we visited, they even had an amazing Korean food truck outback. The vibes here are relaxed, and they serve some wonderful beer.
Location: 549 Wisconsin Ave, Whitefish (GPS)
Backslope Brewing is located in Columbia Falls on the way to Glacier National Park. It’s a few minutes outside of town and serves up some amazing pub food and beer. This place is great, and they have the best beer we found in Western Montana.
Location: 1107 9th St W, Columbia Falls (GPS)
Flathead National Forest
Glacier National Park can be busy in the peak summer months if you’re seeking some solitude in the wilderness, head toward the Flathead National Forest. The forest covers an expansive 2.4 million acres and is connected to Glacier National Park.
Since it’s a national forest, you can take to the trail via bike, like on the Alpine #7 Trail. There are also several cabins and campgrounds you can book. While there are some quiet trails, if you like a little more company, head to one of the more popular trails like Danny On National Recreation Trail, and come expecting some great views and an abundance of wildflowers in the summer.
Go Fly Fishing on Flathead River
Fly fishing feels synonymous with Montana, and it’s tough to find a more ideal location than the bodies of water around Whitefish. If you’re an experienced angler, there are a plethora of waterways to explore, but Flathead River is a classic fishing locale.
Even if you’re not experienced, you can still hire a guide to show you the ropes and take you to all the best fishing spots. Of course, experience anglers can also benefit from a local guide who knows the best holes, flies, and what’s biting at that time of year.
If you’re a history buff, love trains, or want to learn more about the town of Whitefish head to the Whitefish Depot. The historic train station has been operating for over a century and is one the busiest depots between Seattle and Minneapolis.
Inside the historic depot building, is the Stumptown Historical Museum if you care to learn more. The Depot Park is a great park with picnic benches and is also home to the Whitefish Farmers Market on Tuesday evenings throughout the summer.
Where to Eat in Whitefish
- the Wich Haus: The best sandwich shop in Whitefish! Only minutes from downtown Whitefish and Big Mountain.
- Tupelo Grille: One of the nicest restaurants in Whitefish, perfect for a romantic evening out. Tupelo serves New Orleans-style dishes such as gumbo & jambalaya.
- Loula’s Cafe: A new American breakfast restaurant that is almost always busy!
Where to Stay in Whitefish
Of course, you’ll want an amazing place to stay while experiencing all the best things to do in Whitefish. Here are our recommendations for hotels. However, if an Airbnb is more your style we break down the best rentals in Whitefish here!
Plan For Your Trip
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