Montana's Sweet Small Towns
Jan 17, 2020 at 10:00 AM in Things to Do by
Sure, many travel to Flathead Valley to soak up some of the most glorious scenery in the world. From the crystalline waters of the lakes to the soaring peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the sweeping verdant valleys and the thick pine forests, there is much to behold in this part of Montana. And that’s before you even venture into Glacier National Park, often the main reason why people visit this part of northwestern Montana in the first place. What’s equally as awesome is that Montana seems to know how to do small towns right. Hey, doesn’t every respectable outdoorsman or outdoorswoman need a proper outpost?
Fortunately most of the towns you find here–portrayed in your Flathead Valley Discovery Map and some that are not–are so full of charm and authenticity that you’ll want to hang your hat here for a good spell.
Let’s start with West Glacier, Montana, the smallest of towns located at the west entrance of Glacier National Park where you can access the renowned Going-to-the-Sun Road. Aside from the actual entrance to this magnificent park, Belton Chalet is the main attraction here. Originally built in 1910 as the first Great Northern Railroad hotel at Glacier National Park, today it is a Registered Historic Landmark and its assemblage of buildings ranks as tops among Montana’s most historic properties.
Adventuresome types might best enjoy a stay at the Great Northern Whitewater Raft & Resort where, as the name indicates, you can experience firsthand all the outdoor thrills that the area has to offer. Whether you spent a day touring in your vehicle or rafting or fishing on one of the “River Runs Through It” spots in the region, throw one back afterward at the Glacier Distilling Company and/or sit down for a tasty meal at Josephine’s Bar & Kitchen.
Originally known as Stumptown because of the abundance of tree stumps left in the streets from the logging industry and the building of the railroad, today Whitefish exudes a vibe that would marvel the early settlers. From a happening sushi place (Wasabi Sushi Bar & Ginger Grill) to an oh-so fabuleux French bakery (Fleur Bake Shop), there’s something for everyone in this happening town. Shopping here is fun, too, and if you only have time for one place go to Chill Clothing Co., a small boutique label that started out by selling their clothing and accessory creations at farmer’s markets and art shows. In addition to Whitefish, Montana, they also have a store in Kailua Kona, Hawaii–doesn’t that say it all?
Whitefish, of course, is known for Whitefish Mountain Resort, a ski resort that also offers tons of summertime fun.
Where two rivers, the Flathead River and the Swan River, flow into Flathead Lake lies Bigfork. All this water makes this town especially scenic. It also makes the surrounding area super fertile. The climate here is also more mild than one would imagine, which makes the region particularly well suited for the growing of produce. As early as 1892, in fact, an abundance of fruit trees were planted here on Flathead Lake’s eastern shore. The tradition continues today at farms such as Bowman Orchards where you can delight in all kinds of sweet treats, including cherries and chocolates.
While in Bigfork and weather permitting, head out onto the lake with Flathead Lake Sailing & Charters. A tour on one of this company’s historic boats is a great way to embrace the full grandeur of the West’s largest natural freshwater lake and the majestic peaks that stretch into Glacier National Park. Photo!
Kalispell also offers access to Flathead Lake and all the glorious vistas it promises. From here, you can take a cruise with Far West Boat Tours or buzz out on a seaplane for some views from above with Backcountry Flying Experience.
Kalispell, with a population of over 20,000, is the largest of the small towns within the Flathead Valley. This makes it a recreation center par excellence where you can line up all kinds of outdoor adventures. Their shopping, arts and dining scene is also praiseworthy, so there’s no end to the fun you can have here. Craft breweries and distilleries also reign supreme and for a guaranteed good time, line up a Big Sky Brews Cruise, a fun and safe way to tour and taste the many house-made brews within the region, including in Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls and the overall Flathead Lake area. Just make sure you don’t have to wake up too early in the morning for a fishing or ski trip!