Winter adventure in northwest Montana; Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish!

Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish make for exciting winter times!

Whitefish Mountain ski runs tower over Whitefish, MT.

We spent six days in Whitefish, in northwestern Montana, beginning on Super Bowl Sunday, for skiing and catching up with old National Ski Patrol pals. The area had been hammered by a big snowstorm just before our arrival, which continued the first day we were in town.

Whitefish, a quintessential western town expanding fast due to ski and golf tourism (and, nearby Glacier National Park), offers a host of lodging opportunities. We’ve stayed a number of times at the Grouse Mountain Lodge on the west edge of town, nice, roomy accommodations for around $100 per night. Another popular option chosen by friends is the Inn at Whitefish Lake.

Whitefish Lake Lodge offers great service, fine food in 80 year-old log building.

The town offers a variety of upscale, trendy and down-to-earth dining options; our favorites include the Stillwater Fish House, two miles west of town, the Whitefish Lake Lodge, featuring a beautiful 80-year-old log building, Caio Mambo, a lively Italian place, the Craggy Range Bar and Grill and the Great Northern Brewery.

With a host of shops, galleries and bars, many offering live entertainment, Whitefish offers plenty of exploration opportunities. Be sure to stop at the old Great Northern Railway Station and the resident Stumptown Historical Museum for the history of the railroad in these parts.

Cross-country skiers head out onto Whitefish Lake Golf Course trails on west side of Whitefish.

Whitefish Mountain Resort just north of town offers 3,000 acres, 105 marked trails, almost 2,400 vertical feet and vast bowl and tree skiing. It’s a huge ski area even by Western standards, located a few miles outside Whitefish. Be forewarned that temperatures can range from a balmy 40 degrees to 25 below zero, so come prepared for any kind of weather.

Monday skiers found 16 inches of fresh powder; the next day they groomed the slopes and a four inches of new snow covered the groomed runs – truly ego-building skiing. During peak season, night skiing is offered Friday and Saturday on four lifts.

Ski magazine continually rates Whitefish Mountain Resort in the top 20 in the country, high in service, friendly staff, kids’ programs and value. A huge benefit -seniors 70 and over ski free! It’s the only resort I know in the west that offers such a option for senior skiers.

The Great Northern Depot in Whitefish also houses the Stumptown Historical Museum.

About 30 miles south of Whitefish, skiers can also choose Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, with 1,000 acres, 1,440 vertical feet and inexpensive lift tickets – $40 for adults, $28 for teens, $18 for children 8 to 12 and seniors, and free for children seven and under.

Cross country skiing options abound. On the Whitefish Lake Golf Course, 15 km of trails are laid out, including 4 km lighted for night skiing. A variety of other trails lie just outside of town, as well as in nearby Glacier Park. For those wanting to try snowmobiling, a number of local companies cater that activity.

Winter visitors to Glacier National Park can drive 10 miles into the park, to Lake McDonald Lodge on Going to the Sun Highway. There the road is blocked in winter, but one can continue on cross-country skis or snowshoes along McDonald Creek for a true winter experience. Or, choose the North Fork Road, along the park’s west boundary, all the way to Pollbridge. Grab a hot cup of Joe at Pollbridge Mercantile and a renowned bear claw. Other cross country trails head up the north side of Lake McDonald, as well.

This old railway locomotive is available for overnight stays at the Isaac Walton Inn in Essex, MT.

If one continues on Highway 2 along the south side of the park, the Isaac Walton Inn is an inviting stop for a meal or lodging. An old Great Northern Railway Hotel, comfortable lodging is offered in the old lodge as well as a number of refurbished cabooses, club cars and a locomotive engine! The inn is surrounded by cross country ski trails, a true winter wonderland.

For a novel experience, consider a dogsled tour. Dog Sled Adventures (406) 881-2275, located 20 miles north of Whitefish in Olney, offers a company with nearly 100 Alaskan huskies to pull sleds, catering daily to couples, families or groups. Other operators include Base Camp Bigfork and Winter Woods Dogsled Tours. Winter horse-drawn sleigh rides are another popular option, offered at Bar W Guest Ranch (406) 863-9099, just 4 miles west of Whitefish on Highway 93.

Old barn is framed by snowy Montana peaks heading south from Whitefish, headed to Yellowstone Park.

For those seeking a winter experience in Yellowstone National Park, it’s about eight hours south of Whitefish. In the winter, you can drive several miles into the Mammoth Hot Springs area before the road is closed – buffalo and elk usually abound in the area surrounding the other-worldly hot springs and fumeroles. West Yellowstone also offers additional park access, but only to those with snowmobiles, cross-country skis or snowshoes. Both towns offer snow coach tours into the park for amazing winter tours of this natural wonder.

For more information: Whitefish, MT visitation, explorewhitefish.com; Whitefish Mountain Resort, skiwhitefish.com; Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac/.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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