If you’re planning to visit Glacier National Park and the beautiful state of Montana you really must include at least a couple of nights in Whitefish. Although best known for great skiing at Big Mountain there are so many other things to do in Whitefish, Mt it’s becoming a stand-alone, year-round destination.
When we started planning a road trip from Seattle to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks we knew that Whitefish would be a definite stop. To be completely honest this wasn’t because it was a place on our bucket list. Our main reason for making Whitefish a “must-see” was because Nathan had once lived there as a child and had very fond memories…something that everyone we met in Montana was sure to hear about.
Did Whitefish live up to his memories and expectations? Absolutely! Not only did it not disappoint but we also created our own fond memories of this welcoming and charming mountain town.
How to get to Whitefish, Montana
With options to drive, fly or take a train, getting to Whitefish is really easy.
If you’re coming from one of the surrounding states or Canadian provinces then driving would be a great option. Routes to Whitefish are incredibly scenic and having a car will give you the opportunity to really explore the areas around Glacier Country. The only caution would be in winter as the roads can get pretty treacherous. If traveling during winter months be sure to check for severe weather conditions and road closures and have a good winterized vehicle.
At just 15 minutes from downtown, the closest airport to Whitefish, Montana is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA). Flights arrive from many major cities on airlines such as American, United, Delta, and Alaska.
*Check for flights to Whitefish, Montana here.
A fun, scenic, and relaxing way to travel to Whitefish is by train. Amtrak runs the Empire Builder from Seattle in the west and Chicago in the east and arrives in downtown Whitefish.
Note: If you fly in or take the train we suggest renting a car to get out and explore the surrounding areas. If you don’t wish to drive there are plenty of taxis to get around town, tours to sights outside of Whitefish and in winter there’s the free Snow Bus which carries passengers to and from Big Mountain.
Year-round things to do in Whitefish, Mt
While it’s true that many people see Whitefish as a winter destination due to the proximity to fabulous ski slopes, that’s far from all there is to do there. So here are some ideas of what to do in Whitefish, Montana any time of year.
Stroll historic downtown Whitefish
Downtown Whitefish, Montana is quaint and compact which makes exploring by foot a top thing to do any time of year. Central Avenue is where you’ll want to start and you’ll find an array of boutique and souvenir shops plus cafes, restaurants and art galleries for browsing…or buying. We’ve listed below some of our favorite spots. While you’re wandering watch out for signs outside many of the buildings providing details on their history and significance.
Visit the historic Whitefish Depot Train Station
The Whitefish Depot Train Station is well over 100 years old and is still in full use. In fact, it’s the busiest train station in Montana with an average of 180 people per day coming and going by Amtrak train. This photo-worthy Tudor style building is also home to a free museum, run by the Stumptown Historical Society. It displays the history of Whitefish and some artifacts from the indigenous peoples.
Interesting fact: Whitefish was once known as Stumptown after railroad workers cleared trees for the train to come through leaving stumps everywhere.
If your body is aching from all the outdoor adventures you’ve had in Montana, Whitefish can fix you right up. The town may be small but there’s no shortage of options for pampering yourself. Indulge in a spa day complete with a massage and facial, take a rejuvenating yoga class or try a flotation tank. All this and more are at your fingertips.
Tour the breweries and distilleries
There are three craft breweries and a distillery in downtown Whitefish making for a perfect walking and tasting tour. Start at the Montana Tap House and choose from more than 50 craft brews on tap. Next, stop at the boutique brewery Bonsai Brewing Project for one of their handcrafted ales. The third stop is Great Northern Brewing where they’ve been creating Montana inspired ales and lagers since 1995. Make your final stop Spotted Bear Spirits for a delicious craft cocktail made from their gin, vodka, or one of their tasty liquors.
Tip: It’s never good to drink on an empty stomach but luckily Montana and Bonsai both have a great food menu and there’s plenty of eateries along the tour route.
Shop till you drop
Shopping in Whitefish, Montana is pretty great due to all the boutique shops and specialty stores. Here are a few of our favorites stops: Peruse the well-stocked bookshelves while nibbling on Copperleaf chocolate at Voyageur Booksellers. Have a good laugh and pick up a unique gift or souvenir at the creative Meriwether, “makers of wit & sarcasm.” Get soft and scenty at Sage & Cedar and add something beautiful to your home or wardrobe at Sappari. If you’re the outdoorsy type you’ll be in heaven with Army-Navy or Sportsman and Ski Haus and if you’re crafty don’t miss Knit’ N Needle Yarn Shoppe or Whitefish Quilts & Gifts.
Browse the art galleries
If you don’t expect a western, mountain town to be big into the arts then Whitefish will surprise you. This small town has more than a dozen art galleries and studios displaying incredible works of regional painters, sculptors, photographers and jewelry makers. One of our favorites is the Dick Idol Signature Gallery which is so full of beautiful pieces you may never want to leave. Another thing we love it is that it’s a family business with a great story of a father and his two sons who are all artists with their work on display.
Enjoy some theater
If you enjoy live theater you’ll be thrilled to learn there are two fabulous production companies in Whitefish. The Alpine Theater Project and the Whitefish Theater Company have plays, musicals, comedy, and concerts running year-round so whatever season you’re in town there’s sure to be something entertaining going on.
Eat, eat and eat some more
There are so many good restaurants in Whitefish, Mt that everyone is sure to find something they love. Some suggestions are the Buffalo Cafe or Amazing Crepes for breakfast, Loula’s or Swift Creek Cafe (try the Reuben sandwich) for lunch and Latitude 48 or our favorite, Tupelo Grille for dinner.
Tip: If you choose Tupelo Grille we highly recommend the brussel sprouts, roasted cauliflower, elk meatloaf, and shrimp and grits. If you want an all-American classic burger in a somewhat seedy western bar be sure to stop in at the iconic Bulldog Saloon, just be warned that the bathrooms are somewhat PG. For dessert, the top choice is Sweet Peaks with their incredible, and sometimes strange, choices of ice cream flavors.
Seasonal things to do in and around Whitefish, Mt
Visit the farmer’s market
If you’re in Whitefish on a Tuesday between May and September be sure to check out the Farmer’s Market. Booths are set up in front of the train station creating a scenic backdrop for an abundance of farm-fresh produce, baked goods, local crafts, and tempting food trucks.
Head up Whitefish Mountain
If you’re interested in skiing in Whitefish, Montana then Big Mountain (aka Whitefish Mountain Resort) is the place to go. A full range of winter activities are available and there’s a free S.N.O.W. Bus that runs to and from the mountain to downtown Whitefish. But, summer is also a great time to visit the mountain with activities like mountain biking, hiking, and zip-lining plus the Aerial Adventure Park, Alpine Slide, and the Walk in the Treetops. Also, in both summer and winter, there are restaurants, like the popular Cafe Kandahar, and shops to keep you going.
Fly fishing in Whitefish, Mt
Whitefish is surrounded by lakes and rivers, perfect for fishing and fly fishing, with several varieties of trout, Coho salmon, whitefish and northern pike. You can head out with a guide, go fishing on horseback, book a tour or get out on your own. For all your fishing needs, including guides, pay a visit to the Lakestream Outfitters & Flyshop.
With a lake practically right downtown, Whitefish is the place to be for water sports in the summer months. Rent a speed boat, pontoon boat or Sea Do for a fun cruise around the lake or get some exercise with a kayak or paddle-board. We suggest going down to the Marina at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake where you can find watercraft rentals and services. Plus you’ll be at one of the best spots in Whitefish to eat and drink with a view of the lake after your water adventure. There are also rivers for more water fun, especially if you love whitewater rafting!
Hiking in Big Sky Country
With Big Mountain and Glacier National Park so close by it’s no surprise there’s an abundance of hiking trails near Whitefish, some of which are open year-round. One of the most accessible and popular is the Whitefish Trail. There are 12 trail-heads and more than 42 miles of natural trails used by hikers, cyclists, equestrians and even skiers in the winter. Just be sure to check for trail closures due to weather and be prepared for bears since you are deep in their country.
Become a cowboy/cowgirl for the day
Does anyone think of Montana without thinking horses? Whether you’re an experienced rider or a complete beginner you really should add a horseback ride to your Whitefish itinerary. Fulfill your cowboy or cowgirl dreams by riding the trails around Montana’s outstandingly beautiful wild west, Big Sky Country. Swan Mountain Outfitters and the Lodge at Whitefish Lake both offer a variety of rides for all levels and if you want to have the full dude ranch experience take a look at a stay at Bar W Guest Ranch.
Try Llama trekking
Definitely, the most fun and unique experience we had near Whitefish was a day with Swan Mountain Llama Trekking. We did the ½ day Llama trek which entailed leading our Llamas two miles into the woods and stopping at Bond Falls for a picnic lunch. The moderate hike totaled about 4.5 miles round trip which was enough time to get to know our shy but sweet, new furry friends and know we would definitely jump at another chance to go Llama trekking. Swan Mountain also offers full-day, multi-day and even a wine and cheese Llama trek.
Play a round of golf
Golfing in Whitefish, Montana is all about the Whitefish Lake Golf Club. It’s a 36 hole complex with full amenities and such stunning mountain and lake views you may find it difficult to keep your eye on the ball. Both the North and South courses offer a variety of tees making them great courses for beginners and experienced players. There’s also a Clubhouse offering casual dining and refreshments and a more formal dining room open for dinner.
We’ve already mentioned mountain biking at Whitefish Mountain Resort and scenic cycling along Whitefish Trail but those are just two of the options for bike lovers. There are dozens of cycle trails around Glacier Country as well as some epic road biking routes including those within Glacier National Park. If you want a longer cycling experience you can visit Whitefish Bike Retreat with trail-side lodging among 19 acres of wilderness. You can even cycle in the winter with Fat Bikes along many of the trails and roads. Mountain, road and Fat bikes are all available to rent at a number of places around town and at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Lodging in Whitefish, Mt
Whitefish has a pretty good selection of accommodations in and around town and the mountain from inns to lodges to hotels, resorts and ranches. Our recommendations, based on personal experience, are the Whitefish Lake Lodge and the Snow Bear Chalets.
Lodge at Whitefish Lake
The beautiful Four Diamond Lodge at Whitefish Lake offers the best of both worlds as it sits on the shores of Whitefish Lake offering epic views plus easy access to downtown and the ski slopes. Deluxe accommodations include standard rooms, suites, condos and cabins. Amenities include a marina, private beach, day spa, pools, hot tubs, fitness facility and an array of dining experiences.
*Check rates, reviews and availability for Lodge at Whitefish Lake here.
Snow Bear Chalets
The Snow Bear Chalets are unique and luxurious tree-house chalets sitting on a slope of Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. This means incredible views to wake up to every morning from the expansive windows and deck. The gorgeous chalets are fully outfitted with deluxe furnishings and amenities with details including an outdoor hot tub, fairy-tale turret, gourmet kitchen and large bathrooms with in-floor heating. They sleep 2 to 8 people making them a perfect romantic retreat or family and friends getaway.
*Check rates and availability for Snow Bear Chalets here.
Other suggested lodging:
The Firebrand Hotel
The Firebrand Hotel is part of the Lodge at Whitefish Lake family and is a popular hotel in Whitefish Montana conveniently located right downtown. The design is a harmonious blend of rustic and sophisticated and has a choice of deluxe and skyline rooms furnished with super comfortable beds and bedding.
*Check rates, reviews and availability for The Firebrand Hotel here.
Bar W Guest Ranch
For a truly Montana experience consider staying at the Bar W Guest Ranch just minutes from downtown Whitefish. Chose from a lodge room, a cabin suite or even opt for glamping in a canvas tent. Of course, the main reason for staying here is the dude ranch experience so this may not be the best choice if you’re not interested in horses and the cowboy lifestyle.
*Check rates, reviews and availability for Bar W Guest Ranch here.
Disclaimer: Portions of our experience in and around Whitefish were sponsored by Glacier Country Tourism. However, we have only included things that we personally recommend and all opinions are entirely our own. This article may also contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something through one of these links we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This is one way that we make a living that allows us to keep this site running and we thank you for your support.
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.