Whitefish, MT, is winter hub for skiing, dog sledding and Glacier National Park

Group of National Ski Patrol veterans poses for picture in the Grouse Mountain Lodge, Whitefish, MT.

Whitefish Mountain towers over old Great Northern Raliway bus, beside the Stumptown Museum, downtown Whitefish.
Group of Spokane, WA skiers prepares to hit slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Dog Sled Adventures (Olney, MT) heads out with two tourists for a 1.5 hour sled tour of Montana forests.
Bison cross the Lamar River, Lamar Valley, just east of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.

Make Whitefish, Montana, your winter hub for skiing, dog sledding and exploring Glacier National Park

My family and I have been routinely visiting Montana’s Flathead Valley and Glacier Park area for over 40 years, both summer and winter. To continually sharpen our latent skiing skills, we have made Whitefish a regular stop in the winter time for its splendor, proximity to the national park and location at the base of Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. Few destinations in the US can offer such spectacular scenery and family-fun options.

The ski resort, located on Big Mountain just north of town, is routinely ranked in the top 20 ski resorts in the Western United States. With 2400 vertical feet, over 3000 skiable acres, a dozen lifts and reputation for lots of “cold smoke” (Montana powder snow), it is a skiers Mecca. This year did not disappoint, with over 250 inches of snow received to date and new snow during our week. Additionally, lift prices are cheap compared to anything in California, and, for kids or seniors over age 70 – they ski free!

The Glacier Nordic Club caters to cross-country skiers and snowshoers right in Whitefish. They operate the Glacier Nordic Center at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course (right across Hwy. 93 from Grouse Mountain Lodge) and groom the upper trails in the Big Mountain Nordic Trail network.  A smaller ski area, Blacktail Mountain, is just 30 miles south of Whitefish, offering a more intimate ski experience and even less expensive lift tickets.

Whitefish, with more than 7000 year-round residents and just north of larger town Kalispell, retains its quintessential small western town feel. Its compact downtown is full of western and outdoor gear shops, boutiques, family and upscale restaurants, nightspots and the Stumptown Museum (in the old Great Northern rail station) pays homage to Whitefish and its long affiliation with the Great Northern Railway. Favorite eateries include the Whitefish Lake Lodge, featuring fine food in a beautiful 85-year-old log building, Abruzza’s Italian Kitchen and Latitude 48, each restaurant offering unique food and wonderful dining vibes, as well as the Great Northern Brewery.

With its shops and galleries, Whitefish offers plenty of exploration opportunities. Be sure to stop at the historic Great Northern Railway Station and the Stumptown Historical Museum inside the station for the history of the railroad and the lumbering industry in these parts. The station remains an active Amtrak stop.

Whitefish is known as the western gateway to Glacier National Park, just 25 miles east. West Glacier, the adjoining Apgar Village area and Going to the Sun Highway are plowed and open in the winter, as far into the park as the Lake McDonald Lodge. From any of these points, cross country ski trails offer incredibly scenic short or long touring inside the park beside Lake McDonald (or, snowshoeing). Services inside the park are very limited during winter, so be prepared to have Whitetail deer as your companions, rather than people. Continue on Highway 2 along the south side of the park, to the Isaak Walton Inn in Essex (isaakwaltoninn.com, 406-640-4649), an inviting stop for a meal or over-night. The inn is an old Great Northern Railway Hotel, with comfortable lodging in the hotel as well as a number of refurbished cabooses, club cars and locomotive engine in the woods! The inn is surrounded by cross country ski and snowshoe trails.

In Whitefish, we have overnighted for a number of years at the Grouse Mountain Lodge (glacierparkcollection.com; 844-868-7474), a full service resort with large, well-appointed rooms, on-site restaurant and bar. The lodge staff is highly guest-focused, offering shuttle rides to the ski area and Whitefish shops, restaurants and nightspots, just minutes away. The city offers a host of additional motels and B&Bs for almost any price range.

For a real western thrill, consider a dog sled ride or horse-drawn sleigh ride. Dog Sled Adventures (dogsledadventuresmont.com; 406-881-2275), located 20 miles north of Whitefish in Olney, offers a company with nearly 100 Alaskan huskies to pull sleds, offering daily 10 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:00 PM departures to couples, families or groups, $150 for adults, tours travel about 12 miles over 1.5 hours through Montana forests. Reservations are required, with cocoa and cookies following. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are offered at Bar W Guest Ranch at the base of Spencer Mountain, about 15 miles northwest on Hwy. 93; (thebarw.com, 866-828-2900). Reservations required, $55 each, kids 3 and under free; each ride requires a four guest minimum; cocoa and cookies follow each ride!

The Flathead Valley, with Whitefish near its north end, is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and a host of major lakes like Whitefish Lake, Flathead Lake, Hungry Horse Reservoir and many more, making for open water and ice fishing during winter and spring months.

For those seeking a winter experience in Yellowstone National Park, the park is 8-9 hours south of Whitefish. In the winter, one can drive into the Mammoth Hot Springs area and continue through the Lamar Valley – buffalo, elk and even wolves (in the Lamar Valley) are often sighted. 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 Ski Resort, skiwhitefish.com; Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac/.

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

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 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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