In northwest Montana’s Rocky Mountains sits a small resort town well known for two main things: easy access to Glacier National Park and multi-season outdoor adventures at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Whitefish Lake is another draw for visitors who like to play in the water in the summer or on the ice in the winter. Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River—in the lower 48 states, is only 30 minutes south of Whitefish. And, when you’re not recreating in the mountains or on the lakes, you can shop, dine, and explore in Whitefish’s alluring downtown. Several well-planned events and festivals happen year-round as well, giving you the chance to enjoy the local culture.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder rolls into the downtown historic Whitefish Railway Depot each day, and Glacier Park International Airport is only 20 minutes away. Keep reading to discover the top things to do during your trip here with our guide on the best natural wonders and scenic sites.
Explore Glacier National Park
The most popular thing to do in the Crown of the Continent is driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road (or bike it, without car traffic, in the early spring) in the summer, where you can enjoy incredible views of mountains, glaciers, and wildlife. With 700 miles of trails, hiking at Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, St. Mary, and Two Medicine is a trip highlight. In the winter months, you can snowshoe in the Apgar area.
Play Outside at Whitefish Mountain Resort
Activities on Big Mountain are broken up by winter or summer season. Take ski lessons at the Ski & Ride School, rent ski gear if needed, ski with an Ambassador, test your mettle at the Terrain Park or ski at night. In the summer, have fun exploring the Aerial Adventure Park, zip lining, scenic lift ride, mountain biking, and the alpine slide. With trailheads at the summit, in the village, and at the Base Lodge, hiking is a great way to adventure on and near the mountain.
Shop and Dine in Downtown Whitefish
Classic to small towns in the wild west, downtown Whitefish features covered sidewalks on Central Avenue. Popular boutiques, throughout the town, for shopping include Crystal Winters, Imagination Station, Lakestream Outfitters & Fly Shop, Sage & Cedar, Sprouts, The Toggery, and Whitefish Quilts and Gifts.
For breakfast, pop in Montana Coffee Traders, Loula’s Café (don’t skip the Huckleberry pie), or Amazing Crepes. Eat at Casey’s for lunch. For dinner, make reservations at Boat Club Dining Room or Café Kandahar. And for after-dinner drinks and nightlife, visit Firebrand Lounge, Craggy Range Bar and Grill, The Great Northern Bar and Grill, or Bonsai Brewing Project (summer).
Find Space at Whitefish Lake
In the warmer months, you can kayak, boat, or swim at Whitefish Lake, a 7 mile-long glacial lake with landscaped parks. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake is a popular hot spot, as is the sandy shoreline at Whitefish City Beach, Whitefish Lake State Park (with 25 campsites), and Les Mason State Park.
Learn About Whitefish Depot’s History
With roots as a railroad and logging town, Whitefish has a storied history. The Whitefish Museum, managed by The Stumptown Historical Society (SHS), is where you can see railroad artifacts and relics of the town’s past. Created in 1982, SHS has made it their mission to preserve Whitefish and the Flathead Valley history. In 1990, for example, the SHS committed to restoring the Whitefish Railway Depot over three years. Donations are accepted, and there’s no admittance charge.
Marvel at Flathead Lake and Wild Horse Island
Covering nearly 200 square miles, with 180 miles of shoreline, Flathead Lake is a massive freshwater play space. Drive around the lake, stopping at the small towns or Montana State Parks along the way. In the summer, see Flathead cherry orchards as well as roadside fruit stands. Go kayaking, fishing, boating, stand-up paddleboarding, or hiking. Bring your camera in the winter and photograph the lake and mountains. Visit Wayfarers State Park in Bigfork, Volunteer Park in Lakeside, and West Shore State Park in Lakeside.
Wild Horse Island is the largest island in Flathead Lake, home to wildlife and, yes, horses. Accessible only via boat, this remote island is great for picnicking, hiking, and swimming. Day use entrance is free for Montana residents or $8 for non-residents.
Sightsee in Kalispell
Kalispell is situated 21 minutes straight south of Whitefish. With a population of over 23,000 people, this is a fun mini getaway with more options. Stroll the Main Street, full of shops, art galleries, and restaurants (Sweet Peaks Ice Cream is a must). Ride horses at the 44-acre Heron Park. Visit the Hockaday Museum of Art and the Conrad Mansion Museum. Hike on trails in Flathead National Forest.
Be Entertained at Whitefish Theatre Company
For live theatre productions, arts programs, photography exhibits, quilt displays, and live music, look no further than the Whitefish Theatre Company, located in downtown Whitefish at the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Center.
Hike on Whitefish’s Best Trails
Most visitors to Whitefish are there for the wide-open spaces. Commune with nature and walk among trees on one of these popular hiking trails.
- Reservoir Trailhead: In just under two miles from downtown, off of Wisconsin Avenue, this 5.5-mile trail is the gateway to the famous Whitefish Trail in Haskill Basin. You can picnic near Viking Creek or ascend to Valley Overlook, where you can see Blacktail Mountain and Whitefish Lake.
- Lion Mountain Trailhead: Another great trail, close to downtown off of Highway 93 north, Lion Mountain awards hikers with a scenic overlook as well as a 3-mile loop option for a quick hike.
- Big Mountain Trailhead: Just below Whitefish Mountain Resort, off of Wisconsin Avenue, this year-round trail gives you access to 5.5 miles of the Whitefish Trail through Haskill Basin. In the winter, you can cross-country ski on the groomed Nordic trails.
- Lupfer Trailhead: Take Highway 93 north, 11 miles north of downtown, to reach the four-mile trail with views of the Salish Range.
- Danny On Trail: The Danny On Memorial Hiking Trail is one of Whitefish's most popular hikes. From the village to the summit, it’s 3.8 miles. You can also choose to take the scenic lift ride to the top and then hike down, picking huckleberries as you go, which is ideal if you have small kids in tow.
- Beaver Lakes Trailhead: Off of Highway 93 north, close to town, Beaver Lakes beckons with its shoreline and forest access.
The Whitefish Bike Retreat, a hostel for riders and hikers in the middle of the woods, is nearby.
Enjoy a Local Festival or Event
With a current population of nearly 8,000 residents, Whitefish is a thriving resort town with lots of well-planned events and festivals, including:
- The Whitefish Winter Carnival: A celebration of winter, enjoy lively parties, skijoring, a carnival, penguin plunge, pie social, and a grand parade.
- Under the Big Sky Music and Arts Festival: Set on a 350-acre ranch, enjoy live music, good food, and a lively atmosphere.
- Huckleberry Days Arts Festival: If you’ve ever wanted to see a food and dessert back-off contest, and eat your weight in huckleberries, then now is your chance. The festival, with over 100 artists and vendors, is located downtown, at Depot Park.