A Town We Love: Whitefish, MT

Words by John Caldwell & Ian Griffiths.

Whitefish Mountain Resort has a rich heritage starting from the creation of the Hellroaring Ski Club in 1935. The club was started by a few hardy ski pioneers who built a cabin on the flanks of the Hellroaring Basin and hiked up the mountain to ski the deep powder. Flash forward to post WW2 and a corporation was formed to formally create the resort. Due to this its history, the town of Whitefish is definitely not a cookie-cutter slopeside village packed with Gucci stores and a theme-park atmosphere. Its roots are in the community and the people who came here to make a living, their lives grounded in the high peaks, deep lakes, and strong rivers of the massive Flathead Valley of Montana. Like other towns in the West that evolved organically, Whitefish strikes a balance between being a great place to raise a family and world-class resort destination. The town is located along the shores of Whitefish Lake and sits just below the base of the ski resort on Big Mountain. The terrain surrounding Whitefish is truly spectacular and is close to the Canadian border and Glacier National Park. The vibe of the locals is friendly and hospitable. In Whitefish you will find the epitome of the authentic Mountain West experience.

Why Whitefish?

Whitefish is the complete package of authenticity: an amazing ski mountain, Montana charm, great town culture, mind-blowing natural terrain, and opportunities for year-round recreation. It offers everything from minimal crowds, tasty local craft brewpubs, consistent snowfall, popular annual entertainment events, and pure mountain stoke. In general, prices in Whitefish are shockingly good considering the return of the investment. For example, one-day lift tickets are $70 to $80. In the warmer seasons, the area offers phenomenal road and mountain biking opportunities as well as hiking, camping, and fishing.

Something for Every Season

  • Winter: Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, wildlife, Glacier National Park, skijoring, dog sledding, sleigh riding, fat biking, spas, festivals, art, nightlife.
  • Spring: Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, wildlife, Glacier National Park, fat biking, road biking, mountain biking, camping, horseback riding, wildlife, hiking, golfing, Glacier National Park, fishing, spas, festivals, art, nightlife, slack season deals.
  • Summer: Road biking, mountain biking, fishing, hiking, trail running, golfing, camping, horseback riding, backcountry tours, camps for kids, rafting, wildlife, Glacier National Park, climbing, festivals, nightlife, summer concerts, art, spas.
  • Fall: Mountain biking, fishing, hiking, trail running, golfing, disc golf, camping, horseback riding, backcountry tours, camps for kids, rafting, wildlife, 2 national parks, climbing, festivals, nightlife, summer concert series, art, spas, slack season deals.

Stay:

The Firebrand $$$

Completed this past summer, The Firebrand brings urban sophistication and an upscale boutique hotel to downtown Whitefish. The location is literally steps away from downtown’s world-class dining and nightlife options. firebrandhotel.com

Lodge at Whitefish Lake $$$

Come to this elegant lakeside resort during any season for a one-of-a-kind mountain getaway. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake features a full spa, beautiful lakefront dining room, live events, boutique shops, and ski & stay packages. The location is only minutes from downtown Whitefish and room amenities include living rooms, fireplaces, plush king beds, and more. This hotel is also the proud owner of the Four Diamond Award. lodgeatwhitefishlake.com

Garden Wall Inn $$

Sitting just one block away from the restaurants, shops, and night spots of downtown Whitefish, the Garden Wall is a boutique hotel that combines excellent homemade breakfasts with exceptional service. Adding to the mountain inn flare are individually decorated rooms as well as a wake-up coffee and tea tray delivered directly to your room. Guests rave about the Garden Wall’s friendly atmosphere and attention to detail. gardenwallinn.com

Pine Lodge $$

The Pine Lodge is a straightforward and clean modern mountain hotel that comes with many perks such as an indoor pool, fireplaces, pet-friendly rooms, balconies, and free breakfast. This hotel is located in downtown Whitefish and provides ease of access for skiing on the mountain. Some rooms feature balcony views of the meandering Whitefish River. thepinelodge.com

Hibernation House $

The Hibe House is a great accommodation for budget-minded travelers who want to be in the village of Whitefish Mountain Resort. Ski & Stay for $88 person/per night – no joke – one of the best deals in skiing anywhere. Includes Hibernation House lodging, lift ticket, a hot breakfast, and hot tub access. Offer valid Sunday-Thursday nights with skiing Monday through Friday. skiwhitefish.com

Cheap Sleep Motel $

This place prides itself on offering affordable comfort to those travelers who want to leave more in their wallet for exploring the area. They are so serious about this that they promise to meet or beat any published Whitefish motel rate for a 1 or 2 queen bed room. Just a short drive from downtown, Cheap Sleep amenities feature a free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, flat screens, and laundry facilities. cheapsleepmotel.com

 

Eat:

Truby’s

Truby’s originated in 1996 in downtown Whitefish and features a full bar, brick oven pizza, and more. Owner Kristin Voisin, who grew up in Whitefish, is as passionate about her food as she is for her guests and the Whitefish community. Don’t miss The Goddess pizza: figs, prosciutto, balsamic-dressed arugula, fontina, and goat cheese. trubysrestaurant.com

Café Kandahar

For fine dining on-mountain, trek over to the award-winning Café Kandahar, where James Beard nominee and chef Andy Blanton creates culinary masterpieces. Try the tasting menu or dive straight into game dishes such as Caribou Tenderloin. Everything is thoughtfully constructed to pair with their exceptional choice of wines. cafekandahar.com

Whitefish Lake Restaurant

If you are searching for an authentic Whitefish establishment, look no further. The historic clubhouse, or “administration building for a nine-hole airport,” was built in 1936 using timbers from the surrounding forest. The lodgepole pines were crafted to create the crisscrossed beams along with the walls and ceiling. Appetizers such as Baked Brie in Puff Pastry or Baked Escargot go well with main courses like Prime Rib and Alaskan King Crab. whitefishlakerestaurant.com

Bulldog

A true Whitefish bar with plenty of history on the walls to prove it – including a quote that proudly reads, “This ain’t no country club” – the ‘Dawg has great burgers and frosty cold drinks. As the late Earl Hunt, bartender for 28 years, told The Whitefish Pilot in 1979, the Pastime (its name in the ‘70s) served the townspeople as a place “for socializing, a little imbibing, card playing, but has never been a rough bar.” fart-slobber.com (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Tupelo Grille

This is a fine dining establishment that has been going strong since 1995. Tupelo Grille has a unique and diverse menu with plates of Cajun and Southern cuisine being offered from a friendly and experienced staff. Think fresh sea food, steaks, and pastas done with creative fusions of styles. tupelogrille.com

Pig & Olive

Pig and Olive is the go-to lunch spot for all things fresh sandwiches. Molly Burns and her husband Patrick have created a restaurant with the goal of making great food using quality ingredients and showcasing local farms around the Flathead Valley. There are vegan-friendly options as well as an array of fresh salads and soups to choose from. A few standout sandwiches include the Banh Mi (pork Vietnamese meatballs, house pate, picked daikon & carrot, cucumber sriracha, mayo, cilantro, hoagie bun) and the Onion Ring Corndog (Montana redneck sportsdawg, yellow onion, corn tempura batter, Cleveland stadium mustard). pigandolive.com

 

Drink:

The Great Northern Brewing Company

Minott Wessinger, great-great grandson of brewing pioneer Henry Weinhard, created this American craft brewery in 1994. The building was designed by world-renowned architect Joe Escherick and has the distinguished title of being the tallest building in Whitefish. Flagship brews include the multiple award-winning Wheatfish Wheat Lager, Going to the Sun IPA, Good Medicine Strong Red Ale, and the Wild Huckleberry Wheat Lager. Come to The Draught House and sip on Montana craft beer straight from the tap in a place with excellent atmosphere. greatnorthernbrewingcompany.com

The Montana Tap House

Old-timers will remember it as The Place, then the Dire Wolf, and for a while, an unfortunate antique store. Now in its third reincarnation, The Montana Tap House boasts over 50 Montana and regional brews. Halfway between the ski hill and town, it makes a great place to hop off the free SNOW Bus and grab a pint. montanatap.com

Spotted Bear Spirits

A craft distillery inspired by Montana’s wild places located in downtown Whitefish, its tasting room offers include cocktails that feature local and organic ingredients, bottle sales, and Montana-made gifts. spottedbearspirits.com

Bonsai Brewing Project

Bonsai Brewing is a small craft brewery located north of the train tracks from downtown. Featuring a tasting room and a large variety of high-quality, small batch beers, this brewery really took off with the help of a Kickstarter campaign and its passionate fans. For updates, visit Bonsai Brewing Project on Facebook.

 

 

Play:

Skiing and Snowboarding

Over the past few seasons the ski resort has spent millions of dollars on upgrades to its lodges and expanded the terrain with new lifts. With all this change, the resort and town still feel rustic and real. Whitefish Mountain Resort has been named “No. 11 Overall” by SKI Magazine readers in this year’s annual Resort Guide, and ranks in the “Top 10” in 7 of 18 categories including “No. 3 in Service” and “No. 5 in Value,” attesting that the two attributes can co-exist at a western ski resort. Since 1947 Whitefish Mountain Resort has welcomed skiers and riders seeking a mountain that is uncrowded, beautiful, and affordable. The resort charms its guests with a friendly fun-loving vibe, variety of terrain, and virtually no lift lines. Whitefish is the quintessential skier’s mountain averaging more than 300 inches of snow annually and 3,000 acres of bowls, chutes, and glades on all aspects. To summarize, Whitefish Mountain Resort pretty much has it all.

Cycling

Whether you’re on the knobby tires, the skinny tires, or both, the Whitefish area has you covered for whatever kind of ride you’re seeking. The options for mountain biking are impressive including the trails at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Spencer Mountain, the Pig Farms, Round Meadows, and Tally Lake. The terrain has excellent variety with a full range from smooth beginner dirt to steep and technical single track. For road biking, the amount of spectacular and quiet routes on tarmac is truly exceptional, especially for a North American mountain town area. Take a leisurely spin to the north end of Whitefish Lake or put yourself in the pain cave with an ascent up to the base of Big Mountain. You can also ride the 25 miles out of town to Glacier National Park and experience one of the most spectacular road rides you’ll ever have. The Whitefish area also boasts a great network of paved bike paths around the immediate areas of town.

Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

Whitefish boasts a huge collection of designated Nordic touring trails of varying difficulty. Skiing or snowshoeing in Glacier National Park is a must for anyone seeking jaw-dropping scenery. The Whitefish Golf Club transforms into the Glacier Nordic Center every winter and features 15 kilometers of groomed trails that are perfect for classic and skate skiing. Another great option just minutes from town is Stillwater Mountain Lodge Nordic Center. Located at the foothills of the Whitefish Range, the skiing and snowshoeing in this area is glorious. Murray Lake is just a short jaunt from the lodge and numerous smaller lakes are dotted around this State Forest area.

Golfing

Some excellent options for hitting the links exist in Whitefish and the Flathead Valley and the lengthy summer days (16 hours of daylight) in Northwest Montana lend themselves perfectly to this activity. Get a tee time at Big Mountain Golf Club and attack a challenging 18-hole course with a combination of Scottish links and natural towering pines along the pristine Stillwater River. Head to Meadow Lake Golf Resort for a beautiful setting surrounded by the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains and a championship 18-hole course. Or visit Whitefish Lake Golf Club for the only 36-hole golf complex in the state of Montana. Located adjacent to Whitefish Lake and having spectacular mountain views, this is usually the most popular place in the area to tee it up.

Snowmobiling

The area surrounding Whitefish offers some of the most pristine snowmobile riding in all of Montana. You will find yourself in places that are up to over 7,000 feet of elevation in the Whitefish Range. Snowmobilers are also allowed to ride areas that are within Glacier National Park and witness some of the most spectacular scenes man has laid eyes on. With over 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and around 2,000 miles National Forest Service roads, the Whitefish area lacks nothing when it comes to snowmobiling.

Fishing

Whitefish and the surrounding areas offer endless angling opportunities with a whopping 18 lakes and the waters of the Flathead River. Flathead Lake is the largest natural lake in the West boasting 197 square miles and trophy-sized lake trout. It is possible to fish this lake year round because it usually doesn’t freeze entirely. There are five marinas and Flathead is open to all watercraft. It is worth the cash to rent a boat and find yourself hauling in huge rainbow trout, whitefish northern pike, and bull trout. An excellent option for those who like to wade and fish moving water is the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Head to the wilderness portion below Essex for the best chance at catching large sized cutthroat trout.

Shop:

Chill Clothing Company

Chill is a small boutique label that eats, sleeps, and breathes the mountain and beach lifestyle (their other location is in Hawaii). The clothes are mainly casual and active wear for both men and women. Think t-shirts with great mountain motifs, local references, classic trucker hats, active wear, and accessories. Chill caters to the younger crowd with timeless style and solid prices.

Stumptown Snowboards

This snowboard shop has been family owned and operated since 1992. Stumptown is your one-stop-shop for all things board related from technical to fashionable. This shop is fully stocked for everything you need for snowboarding in the winter and skateboarding in the summer. Boots, shoes, decks, bindings, goggles, clothing, etc. are always in good selection. Any minor repairs or tweaks that you need Stumptown can get done. They are handy with skis as well. Stumptown is conveniently located at the base of Whitefish Mountain Resort.

The Treasure Outpost Rock Shop

Come to this place if you are seeking unique and authentic Whitefish shopping experience. This is a small, family-owned shop that has a large variety of rocks and fossils, including a vast selection of Montana dinosaur bones and crystals. Other items on offer include minerals, jewelry, carved gemstones, incense, butterflies, and bugs. The Treasure Outpost is located conveniently in downtown Whitefish.

Montana Shirt Company

This is where you go to get anything clothing-wise that will let you show your Montana pride in style. From an assortment of state outline shirts and hats to engraved bottle openers and customized soy candles, this place is where you go to represent your love of this beautiful and unique state. Also to note, Montana Shirt Company’s hats are very cool with all kinds of different patterns from camo trucker hats to classic old school winter beanies.

Sappari

Sappari is an authentic, home-grown women’s boutique clothing store located in downtown Whitefish. Going strong for 35 years, Sappari prides themselves on constantly having a pulse on the trends and changes of the young lifestyle and urban edge. They also are known for their reasonable prices. Reviewers claim that going into this shop is always a fun and creative shopping experience that offers something different from the norm.

Imagination Station

This is a locally-owned toy store that specializes in vintage toys that are hard to find. Going to Imagination Station is all about stepping back to having those simple joys that only a kid can have. This shop offers the best in customer service and attention to detail. And their selection of classic wooden toys is very impressive. With great prices as well, Imagination Station is THE place to go for all things toys in Whitefish.

Do:

Glacier National Park

Located a mere 25 miles from Whitefish, Glacier National Park was created in 1910 and encompasses 1,600 square miles of some of the most cherished and mind-blowing terrain in North America. Be sure to get on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road for a personal drive or guided bus tour. There are several naturalist’s programs on offer that include fireside talks, hikes, and boat cruises. These are a must if you want to learn about all there is to know about the area while simultaneously exploring the area in the flesh. Glacier National Park boasts over 700 miles of trails that give access to more than 700 alpine lakes, 37 glaciers, and over 1,000 species of plants. The wildlife includes full time resident grizzly and black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, and deer.

Hot Air Balloon Tours

Head to nearby Kalispell, MT for the one-of-a-kind experience of floating in the big skies of Northwest Montana. Since 1984, Kevin Flanagan has been flying his own hot air balloons. As with anything flight-based, experience is key and Flanagan’s company Phoenix Balloon Flights has that in spades. Flying season starts in July and goes through the end of September. Witness the awe-inspiring terrain of the Whitefish Range and Glacier National Park from a little floating basket.

Stumptown Ice Den

This downtown ice rink has you covered for all of your skating needs. Public free skating is available every day with both figure and hockey skates available. The Ice Den features a great list of specialty programs including Stick & Puck sessions, learn to skate programs, youth and adult hockey leagues, a curling club, and figure skating club. This place always has a positive and welcoming atmosphere and is run by a non-profit organization that greatly supports the local youth and community.

Whitefish Lake State Park

Take the whole family or all of your best friends to Whitefish Lake State Park for the tops in mountain R & R experiences. This is a beautifully secluded lakeside beach and campground enclosed by a mature woodland. The park is located less than one mile from the Whitefish trail and a short drive from Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. Boating, camping, swimming, and fishing are the standard activities here. The lake rarely gets windy so the water skiing and wakeboarding are almost always top notch.

Spa at Whitefish Lake

This is billed as a uniquely Montana spa experience. What that means is tapping into the enriching power of the state’s natural beauty and infusing it into a luxurious, full-service lakeside spa retreat. This spa is all about the personalized experience for each individual customer. The Spa at Whitefish Lake is the ultimate place to get pampered and let all of your everyday cares and concerns fade away.