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Planning The Perfect Adventure Trip to Whitefish, Montana

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Whitefish offers a variety of activities all year round, from skiing in the winter to biking and zip-lining during the summer. Stroll down Central Avenue for a Western movie-like experience with its wood awnings and local shops. Plus, nearby Glacier National Park provides stunning sights like glaciers, lakes and mountains.

Population: 8,492  Elevation: 3,028 ft

Nestled in the Crown of The Continent, Whitefish, Montana is a shangri-la for adventurers of all kinds. Its neighboring peaks boast astounding alpine climbing and steep skiing. And the surrounding lakes and rivers are ideal for all kinds of watersports, not to mention containing one of the best fisheries in the United States.

Whitefish, Montana. Credit: Gary L Hider –

Whitefish and its environs are a little like a frontier town. The locals are a mix of humans, bears, moose, cutthroat trout, bighorn sheep, eagles, and salmon, all of which live in relative harmony. The downtown walking district draws on the same woodgrain aesthetic as Jackson Hole, with a lot more grit.

It’s everything you could ask from a small mountain town and more. The summer evenings are long, the winter snows are deep, and the beer is dirt cheap. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure type of place, with plenty of elbow room to spread out in.

But before you hop in the car and head north, let us finish painting the picture for you. In this article we’ll lay out everything you need to know for the perfect adventure trip to Whitefish, Montana.

At the shore of Whitefish Lake, Montana.

Table of Contents:

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Local Adventure Vibe

The vibe in Whitefish is somewhere between what you might experience in any other cool ski town, and something straight out of the wild west. There is a distinct “cowboy” aesthetic in just about everything here.

Likewise, the locals are a mix of hardcore hunters, snowmobilers, skiers, mountain bikers, and climbers. In a lot of places in the West, these kinds of recreationists might see each other as enemies. But in northern Montana, you’re liable to see folks of every stripe sharing a bar, talking about how great the season’s snowpack is.

Locals here are quite fond of après ski. Bars are plentiful and a ton of fun. Bar trivia, bingo nights, and live music are common just about every night of the week.

But there’s plenty going on outside of the bars, too, even in the winter. There are regular ski-mountaineering races, slopestyle competitions, and slalom races at Whitefish Mountain. Or you could hop into the icy waters of Whitefish lake at the annual Penguin Plunge.

Summers around Whitefish Lake are a blast, too. There are marathons, Spartan trail races, art festivals, and even a midsummer music and rodeo jamboree. The PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail) and CDT (Continental Divide Trail) also pass close to Whitefish, which draw a lot of through-hikers. Suffice it to say that if it’s outdoors and can be done in a group, there are people in Whitefish doing it together.

Kayaking down the North Fork of the Flathead River during the IGO Adventure Challenge Race in the Flathead National Forest, Montana.

Uniquely Whitefish

What makes Whitefish so special is the amount of space you have to spread out in. Driving east, you’ll find yourself in pristine wilderness, surrounded by glaciated peaks in Glacier National Park. Head west, and you’ll find an almost endless expanse of US Forest Service Land.

South is Flathead Lake, one of the cleanest lakes in the populated world, and larger than lake Tahoe. And dead north is Canada, with more public land than you’d even know what to do with. Each of these has its own spread of options for adventure, all of them different.

Glacier National Park is one of the most highly preserved ecosystems on earth. It’s a perfect spot to hike, camp, and backpack. For those who need an adrenaline fix, there are tons of big mountains to climb. The park has a lot of great ice and rock climbing, as well as mixed snow hiking and scrambling in the warm season. But there’s also a lot of water, and any paddleboarder or fly fishing angler would be right at home here.

Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

Flathead and Kootenai National Forests are both massive. If you’re a fan of offroading, snowmobiling, hunting, and fishing, Forest Service land is for you. Whitefish Mountain Resort and Blacktail Mountain Ski Area are both located on Flathead National Forest, and are widely renowned for their powder skiing.

Flathead Lake is a water lover’s paradise. It’s a dreamlike mountain lake ringed by tall cedar and larch trees. The lake has 13 public access sites, all managed by the Montana State Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department. Both motorized and non-motorized boats are welcome. The lake is also fantastic for fishing.

Right over the border from Whitefish is the great wilderness of Canada. The mountains on the far side of the border are just as incredible as on the US side, and just as available to the public.

Kootenai Falls in the Kootenai National Forest, Montana.

Food & Drink

Whitefish is a small town, but there are quite a few options for food and libations around. If you’re in the mood for something quick, The Wich Haus has got you covered with a diverse menu of hot sandwiches.

Mama Blancas Cocina Latina is the local latin hotspot, with big portions and bigger flavor. For fine dining, Abruzzo Italian Kitchen offers unbeatable quality in pasta and woodfired pizza.

And if you’re on the hunt for new beer and liquor, there are plenty of choices as well. Bonsai Brewing Project sits right next to Whitefish Lake and offers ales from one end of the color and flavor spectrum to the other. Also in Whitefish is Spotted Bear Spirits, with some of the best handcrafted cocktails in the Flathead area.

About 15 minutes out of Whitefish, you’ll find Backslope Brewing, with a large beer menu and great food. A little further south is Sacred Waters Brewing. Sacred Waters has the most diverse beer menu around, including several crisp German-style lagers. I strongly recommend the Rear View Märzen.

Celebrating Independence Day on the 4th of July at Flathead Lake, Montana.

Places to Stay

One of the best parts about Whitefish is how accessible it is for any budget. If you’re visiting in the winter, or just like having a bed and shower, you can easily find something affordable on VRBO. But there’s no ceiling for how nice the accommodations get, either.

On the budget-friendly side, check out this private room with a king bed just outside of downtown Whitefish.

For a few dollars more, you can get yourself a whole condo right on the lakeshore.

And if the sky’s the limit, you can find yourself a ski-in-ski-out lodge right at the base of Whitefish Mountain Resort!

But what if you want a little more fresh air, a little closer to Glacier National park? The Mooseshroom hostel in Coram is an excellent option for people who just want access to one of the US’s most beautiful National Parks.

In the warm season, nothing beats camping in the Flathead area. There is a ton of land to spread out on, and even more to see once you get off the beaten path. Here are a few of our favorite campsites in the Whitefish area on TheDyrt.

If you’re most interested in being close to town, just camp at the lake! Whitefish Lake State Park is a prime spot to stay if you want a central location with good access to town. Sites range from $4 to $34 per night, a steal of a deal for the scenery and location.

Whitefish Lake in Montana. Image: Jonathan Mcdougall/Wirestock Creators.

We would be remiss not to mention some of the amazing campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Creek is one of the best access points for experiencing Glacier in the warm season. It’s located just up the Going To The Sun Road from Lake McDonald. Avalanche Creek is set right in the heart of everything, overlooked by the gigantic Bearhat Mountain and shaded by lush ferns.

It’s a prime access point for the Avalanche Trail, which terminates at Avalanche Lake. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, head up the road a few more miles to Logan Pass. This spot is the sendoff for a lot of the commonly climbed peaks in Glacier, including Bearhat Mountain, Mt. Cannon, and Reynolds Mountain.

But if you’re looking for a secluded spot, you should head west to Flathead National Forest. Spots like Sylvia Lake Campground are operated by the US Forest Service. Some can be reserved at, others are walk-up only.

Sylvia Lake is a tremendous spot for fishing, hiking, swimming, and off-roading. You’re much less likely to see other people and will have a lot more room to think. For rugged campers who like to get away, spot wildlife, and enjoy the stillness of nature, this is the right kind of campground.

Adventures Around Whitefish

Now that we’ve covered the logistics of how to get there and where to stay, let’s get to the fun part: the adventures you’ll have once you get there. Whitefish is a wonderland for adventurers of all tastes. It’s got just about everything you could ask for: crystal clear water, endless trails, astounding walls of rock and ice, and more powder snow than you can shake a stick at. Here’s what you should do in Whitefish.

Sunset over the Flathead Valley from Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana.

Rocky Mountain Skiing

Whitefish Mountain Resort is a huge destination for skiing in Montana. It’s a big resort, stretching over 3,000 acres with 11 chairlifts and three major sides. The name of the game here is tree skiing, and there is a ton of it on every face. But beware: tree well danger is real in the Crown of The Continent. Be sure to ride in control, with a buddy.

The front face of Whitefish Mountain Resort is expansive, trending from easy terrain on the looker’s left to spicy on the looker’s right. The North Bowl Face and all of Chair 5 is experts-only terrain, with some tight chutes and large, open faces.

The back side also features some steep steeps, particularly if you drop to the looker’s right. Intermediate skiers will have a blast tracking down the lift line and following trails below the Bigfoot T Bar.

Hellroaring Basin is where the local legends hang out. This face is very impressive, both in its steepness and variety of terrain. There are sparse trees and open faces littered with stumps and cliffs to air off of. Lines like Chet’s ‘Stache and the Picture Chutes will remind well-traveled skiers of places like Alta and Snowbird, Utah.

If going uphill is your thing, you have a few options. One is to pay $15 and go tracking up Whitefish Resort. The resort is very uphill-friendly, and does a great job maintaining a skin track all season.

The other option is to find yourself a snowmobile and a local to show you the ropes. A lot of the backcountry terrain in the Whitefish area is hard to access and requires a long approach. Luckily, most of the Forest Service land around Flathead Lake is non-wilderness area, meaning snowmobiles are allowed.

To get an idea of some of the best places to go touring, check out the Flathead Avalanche Center.

Whitefish Mountain Resort ski resort in winter, Montana.

Snowmobiling: Montana’s Pastime

It almost  goes without saying that snowmobiling, or “sledding” is Montana’s favorite pastime. The distances are great here, and huge stretches of wilderness are only accessible by snowmobile for half of the year. But snowmobiling is as much a means of transport as it is a hobby here.

As we’ve already mentioned, Flathead National Forest covers most of the mountains around Whitefish. The Forest is covered in a nearly infinite network of OHV trails. These trails get a ton of use by snowmobilers in the winter, and are a great way to access backcountry ski terrain.

While it’s not very complicated to hop on a snowmobile and head up a trail, the “good spots” are carefully guarded by locals. If you want to find deep powder in areas with low avalanche risk, your best bet is to get in good with some locals.

Alternatively, you can always go for a snowmobile tour with a local guiding company. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of staying safe in avalanche terrain and gives you better odds of having a great day out on your first try.

Snowmobiling near Whitefish, Montana.

Rock and Ice Climbing

When you think of climbing, what do you picture? Whether your mental image was trad, sport, bouldering, alpine climbing, or even ice climbing, the Whitefish area has you covered. Every kind of climbing, whatever your definition, is represented here. Here are a few walls to check out while you plan your next climbing trip.

Point of Rocks, located northwest of Whitefish, has a good amount of variety available. Trad and sport climbers will have the lion’s share of routes and problems to choose from.

Walls like The Quarry, Mouse House, and the Stryker Crags feature options ranging from 5.7 to 5.11 or .12, with solid rock and protection. But there is also some fantastic bouldering to be done here, ranging from V0 to the V9 neighborhood.

Bad Rock Canyon is ideal for a quick day out bouldering. It’s located just east of Columbia Falls and has a ton of great problems in the V2-V4 range. If you’re looking to take it easy, soak up the sun, and be home in time for dinner, Bad Rock Canyon is your #1 choice.

Glacier National Park  is indisputably the best option for alpine and ice climbing. The mountains here are truly something to behold, and will make any mountaineer’s mouth water. Many of the peaks can be hiked in the summer but expect to run into permanent snowfields.

Hikers climbing up steep glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana.

More technical objectives, like Mt. St. Nicholas, will require mental fortitude and technical aptitude. Balancing a legendary approach and sketchy-quality rock, this peak is not for the faint hearted. But if you have what it takes, you’ll be in for a true adventure that is well worth your time.

Avalanche Lake features some of the park’s best ice, come winter. It’s a bit of a task getting in – the Going to The Sun Road closes seasonally, so you’ll have to hike it. But if you feel like doing some winter camping, and maybe even some backcountry skiing, it’s an opportunity for an all-time multi-sport adventure.

Scenic mountain views at Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park Montana.

Backpacking and Through-Hiking

The massive scale of Montana makes it ideal for through-hiking. The fabled CDT (Continental Divide Trail)  and PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail) both pass directly through Whitefish’s backyard. These are very different journeys, each with their own challenges and rewards. But taking on either of them would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone with the guts to try.

If you’re looking for something a little shorter, head to Glacier National Park. The park is excellent at maintaining and marking trails, despite how many there are. Here is a small selection of the multi-day hikes you can take on in the park.

Boulder Pass Trail covers roughly 30 miles (out and back) and 4,600 feet of elevation in the park’s northern reaches. Most backpackers will set aside three days to cover the entire distance.

While hiking, you will pass under astounding cathedrals of rock, through wildflowers of every color, and past glacier-fed lakes. Water is available almost the entire way. The prime season is either Spring or Fall, when the mosquitoes aren’t out.

Bowman Lake Trail stretches just short of 30 miles, climbing 3,300 feet in an out-and-back. More than half of the trail follows the shore of Bowman Lake. After that, it’s a steep climb to Brown Pass, which overlooks an awe-inspiring gorge.

Most folks will take it on in two or three days, just enough time to take in the sights. The lake is a pristine, glacier fed body of water watched over by jagged peaks. More than just a water source for your Camelbak, this lake gives life to every animal and plant you see along the way. Tread lightly. You are in a deep, deep wilderness.

Clear Reflection of Mountains in Lake Bowman in Glacier National Park, Montana.

The North Circle Loop is a burly objective that climbs a total of 10,800 feet over almost 50 miles, deep in the Glacier backcountry. It begins and ends at the Many Glacier Campground before climbing a steep pass. Get used to the rhythm of gaining and losing elevation, this trail gains and then loses around 3,000 feet of elevation four times along the way.

But make no mistake, the work you’ll have to put in isn’t “pointless up and down.” This is some of the most well-preserved high country remaining in the United States. Alpine lakes, glaciers, and stunning peaks are constant along the North Circle. If you want to get deep into the backcountry, there’s no better way than this.

Hikers on Lion Mountain Trail near Whitefish, Montana on sunny summer morning.

Lake and River Fishing

The lakes and rivers of the Flathead Valley hold one of the most prized sport fisheries on Earth. If there’s a freshwater fish on your bucket list, chances are you can find it here.

Trout fishing is what most anglers come for. The Flathead and Whitefish Rivers both hold populations of monstrous Westslope cutthroat, rainbows, and lake trout. Many anglers come here just for bull trout, which grow to impressive sizes in Flathead River. For fly anglers, the Whitefish and Flathead Rivers are about as close to heaven as you can get.

But trout fishing is just the beginning. Anglers come from far and wide to fish kokanee salmon. Kokanee were introduced in the early 1900s, and are distinct from coastal salmon in being landlocked. The kokanee in the flathead area run upstream to the north, before returning to one of the deep, cool lakes to spawn (and fatten up the local grizzly bear population) every fall.

As the name suggests, Whitefish Lake is named for the lake whitefish, a species that is held sacred by native tribespeople. Lake whitefish are most commonly found deep in the lakes.

Arctic grayling can also be found all around Whitefish. Grayling are found in cold lakes and are known for being gullible to the bone. If you’re planning a day trip to a lake in Glacier National Park, be sure to pack a rod and reel. Chances are, you’ll snag a few of these unique salmonids.

Man fishing at Moose Lake near Kalispell and Whitefish, Montana.

Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, and Rafting

Where there’s water, there’s water sports. And Whitefish is surrounded by what seems like an endless supply of lakes and rivers. As for the rivers, there are several guiding companies that run trips on the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead River.

The Flathead is a gorgeous, broad stretch of water. The Middle Fork is more often run by kayakers and rafters, ranging from class II to class IV in difficulty. The North Fork is much flatter and calmer, more commonly run by anglers and those looking to relax.

And as for lakes, just take your pick. Flathead Lake allows motor boating, a huge plus for fans of wakeboarding and waterskiing. Whitefish Lake is an idyllic, placid place to swim and paddleboard. Other nearby lakes like Swan Lake and Tally Lake are hard to beat, too. Just take your pick.

Family sea kayaking on Flathead Lake in Somers, Montana, USA (MR)

Mountain Biking

In Whitefish, the chairlifts almost never stop spinning. Come summer, Whitefish Mountain turns into a downhill maniac’s paradise. With four open chairlifts covering the entire front face of the mountain, there is no shortage of terrain. And the best part? No uphill necessary.

There are other options outside of the resort, too. West of Whitefish Lake is the Whitefish Trail, with a lot of fun, short singletrack to romp around on.

Further south is Spencer Mountain, with some spicier options to choose from. Another twenty minutes in the car and you’re at Herron Park, which has a lot more to offer for riders of all ability levels.

Cycling on Going-To-The-Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Trail Running

If you can hike it, you can trail run it. And there is a metric ton of trail in and around Whitefish. Everywhere you look you can find well-maintained trails, particularly on Flathead National Forest. Just be sure to carry bear spray!Here are a few easily accessible options:

Lion Mountain Trail is a good jumping-off point. It begins right outside town and offers some great views of the lake. There is a variation on this one (just over nine miles) that either starts or finishes just outside town.

Smith Lake Trail is another nice option right out of town. It’s just under five miles and climbs from one lake up to another lake on a shelf.

At the foot of Whitefish Mountain Resort, you’ll find Bob Cedar Trail. It’s another 5K-ish distance with about 500 feet of climb thrown in for good measure.

Trail runners near Whitefish Montana.

Endless Possibilities

Whitefish is more than a sleepy town tucked away in the Crown of the Continent. It’s a gateway to every kind of adventure there is. If it’s outdoors, and it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, Whitefish has got it. And you can be certain that when you get done with your adrenaline rush, you’ll find a cozy spot to curl up with a pint and wind down.

Skyblue Featured Video: 75 Years – a short film from Whitefish, Montana about protecting our winters

In 2022, Explore Whitefish and Whitefish Mountain Resort partnered with Protect Our Winters to raise awareness about climate change and empower people to protect our communities, lifestyles and livelihoods from a warming planet.

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