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10 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Whitefish, MT

Written by Brad Lane
Feb 1, 2019

Backdropped by Big Mountain and the Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish is a resort town in northern Montana filled with scenic attractions and fun things to do year-round. Popular recreational activities often associated with this gem of the northwest include skiing and snowboarding, backpacking and hiking, and a plethora of water activities on Whitefish Lake. Whitefish is also a gateway community for Glacier National Park, and a shuttle runs from the city to the Apgar Transit Center everyday throughout the summer.

The small but eclectic downtown district of Whitefish provides plenty of places to visit, including a community theater, local restaurants, and nearby parks with access to the Whitefish River. While arriving at Whitefish in any fashion is always a welcome treat, perhaps the best way to start your adventure is by pulling into the historic Whitefish Depot via passenger train. For more ideas on how to spend your time, see our list of the top things to do in Whitefish.

1. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

The magic mountain splendor of Glacier National Park can be reached from Whitefish with less than a 30-mile commute. Inspiring awe during every season, Glacier is known as the Crown of the Continent, with lush alpine meadows, densely forested backdrops, and enormous alpine features that dominate the sky. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark that bisects the park east to west and provides the most popular route to travel when visiting. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is typically snow-free between June and October, a time when most of the park's annual three-million visitors will also be sharing the roadway.

The Continental Divide can be crossed at Logan's Pass within the park, and iconic bodies of water like Lake Macdonald provide all encompassing views of the rugged terrain. Hiking and backpacking are particularly popular at Glacier through the warm-weather season, and fishing, boating, and road cycling are other popular things to do. A shuttle from Whitefish to Glacier National Park runs throughout the summer, and the National Park Service offers an extensive free shuttle system spanning the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm

2. Whitefish Mountain Resort

Whitefish Mountain Resort

Whitefish Mountain Resort | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Encompassing over 3,000 acres, including the Big Mountain backdrop of the city, Whitefish Mountain Resort is one of the top ski resorts in Montana and a year-round adventure destination. Over 100 named routes and nearly a dozen chairlifts define much of the winter fun found at Whitefish Mountain Resort, while the summer brings hiking, mountain biking, and elevated experiences with an aerial adventure park.

The Shuttle Network of Whitefish, also known as the SNOW bus provides free and easy transportation from the city to the slopes throughout the winter season. For an adventurous dining opportunity, the resort also offers special "Moonlight Dine & Ski" packages during the full moons of winter.

Address: 1015 Glades Drive, Whitefish, Montana

Official site: https://skiwhitefish.com/

3. Downtown Whitefish

Downtown Clock Tower

Downtown Clock Tower | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Locals only is the rule of thumb for downtown Whitefish, and not that the storefronts and restaurants aren't open to tourist traffic, it's that no big-box retail chains are found lining the streets. From handmade jewelry and art to independent grocers, stemming in all directions from the iconic downtown clock tower are unique shops that carry the air of mountain culture. From gently-used books to the impressive pieces of art hanging in the Going-to-the-Sun Gallery, the community is on full display in downtown. For dining in downtown, Loula's is great for breakfast and the Lateral 48 Bistro provides fine dining in the evening.

4. Whitefish City Beach, Whitefish Lake

Whitefish Lake State Park

Whitefish Lake State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Backdropped by forested mountain peaks, the wide-reaching banks of Whitefish Lake are one of the major attractions of the city. One of the easiest ways to access Whitefish Lake is from Whitefish City Beach. Located one mile from the Whitefish Depot and near the outflow of the lake, the city beach provides a designated swimming area, non-motorized boat rentals, and a public-access boat launch.

Once on the water, anglers can troll the depths for lake trout, and other explorers can head down the current of the Whitefish River. Farther up the western shore, Whitefish Lake State Park is another popular recreation spot with camping opportunities for tents and RVs.

Address: 70 Lakeside Boulevard, Whitefish, Montana

5. Great Northern Railway Depot

Great Northern Railway Depot

Great Northern Railway Depot | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Also known as the Whitefish Depot, this historic station and still-operating Amtrak stop has been attracting visitors and industry for over 100 years. One of the busiest depots between Seattle and Minneapolis, this notable train stop has retained much of its historic chalet-inspired design, including a backdrop of stunning mountain peaks.

Within the depot, the Stumptown Historical Museum offers multimedia information about the Depot's legacy and the town built beside it. Neighboring the facility, Depot Park provides ample green space to stretch out stiff legs and is also home to the Whitefish Farmers Market on Tuesday evenings throughout the extended summer.

Address: 500 Depot Street, Whitefish, Montana

6. Flathead Lake

Mission Mountains seen from Flathead Lake

Mission Mountains seen from Flathead Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Flanked by Mission Mountains to the east and Salish peaks to the west, Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western U.S. and quite the sight to see. Encompassing nearly 200 square miles, Flathead Lake is surrounded by recreation, scenic viewpoints, and food stands selling locally grown produce during harvest seasons.

A popular place to visit on the western shore, Big Arm State Park hosts one of the best campgrounds in Montana and is a great jumping-off point for the equally popular Wild Horse Island. Accessible solely by boat and designated as day-use only, Wild Horse Island comprises over 2,000 acres and is home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, deer, and a small number of wild horses.

7. Kalispell

Kalispell storefronts

Kalispell storefronts | Tony Hisgett / photo modified

A charming western town also reputed as a gateway to Glacier National Park, Kalispell is closer to the shores of Flathead Lake and fifteen miles south of Whitefish. History runs deep throughout the community of Kalispell, as can be seen with the 19th-century architecture that still adorns the streets.

The Conrad Mansion Museum is a center for much of the historical appeal of Kalispell, and visitors can take guided tours of this 19th-century residence including its original furnishings. Other attractions of interest in Kalispell include the Hockaday Museum of Art, the Buffalo Hill Golf Club, and Woodland Water Park. Outdoor attraction is also accessed from all directions in Kalispell, including the popular Lone Pine State Park.

8. Whitefish Theatre Company

Whitefish Theatre Company

Whitefish Theatre Company | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For some added community attraction to the natural appeal of Whitefish, the Whitefish Theatre Company has been putting on culturally relevant shows for over 40 years. Today, this non-profit theater company calls the fully accessible O'Shaughnessy Center home, including a 328-seat thrust theater where many of the performances take place. Alongside plays and musical theater, the company and stage also host reader's theater, nationally touring music acts, and special events.

For even more cultural attraction, the nearby Whitefish Performing Arts Center (PAC) also hosts performances throughout the year, including large productions courtesy of the internationally renowned Alpine Theatre Company.

Address: 1 Central Avenue, Whitefish, Montana

Official site: http://www.whitefishpac.com/

9. Baker Park

Baker Park

Baker Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

An easily accessed natural space near downtown, Baker Park is part of a larger network of city parks that allows visitors to easily enjoy the surrounding environment. Connected to Riverside Park and joined by a paved trail system, Baker Park provides a large playground and an abundance of picnic space, including a gazebo and tables. With access to the Whitefish River, launching a canoe or fishing from the floating dock is also popular at this city park. In Riverside Park, three public tennis courts can be found, as well as a pedestrian bridge crossing Whitefish River.

10. Flathead National Forest

Talley Lake Campground

Talley Lake Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Encompassing over two million acres and many iconic landscapes of the American West, the Flathead National Forest is home to such natural treasures as the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Flathead Wild and Scenic River. Wildlife is abundant throughout the natural space, and the forest is home to grizzly bears, wolverines, and bighorn sheep. Recreation is also abundant within the national forest throughout the year with backpacking, white-water rafting, and fishing defining some of the summer fun, and snowmobiling, snowshoeing and every type of skiing topping the list of winter activities.

The Danny On National Recreation Trail, one of the most popular hiking trails of the entire national forest, is located on Big Mountain on the northern edge of Whitefish. The popular trail climbs to the summit of Big Mountain and provides views of the city and Flathead Valley, and hikers can use a chairlift to mitigate some of the up and down travel. Other popular areas of the national forest close to Whitefish include the Mission Mountain Wilderness, the Jewel Basin Hiking Area, and The Summit Nature Center. For a great, developed campground close to Whitefish, the Talley Lake Campground overlooks the waters of the deepest lake in Montana.

Where to Stay in Whitefish for Sightseeing

  • Mid-Range Hotels: Surrounding Whitefish and in downtown, great rates can be found for first-class hotels. The Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge, for example, features rooms with a view, a well-decorated lobby, and a large hot tub for evening relaxing — all at a reasonable price per night. Just south of the Best Western, the Hampton Inn & Suites Whitefish is often recommended to friends thanks to its friendly staff, saltwater pool, and a breakfast area that encourages a comfortable meal. Near the center of town, The Firebrand Hotel is another first-class option with a surprisingly affordable rate, and this boutique hotel features a rooftop patio, coffee bar, and comfortable rooms, all within walking distance to the train station.
  • Budget Hotels: Of the few budget hotels that deliver on a quality experience in Whitefish, the Cheap Sleep Motel is a popular option. Great for a place to sleep, the affordable rates at Cheap Sleep Motel help visitors enjoy the areas surrounding Whitefish, like Glacier, Whitefish Mountain Resort, and downtown. South of Whitefish, in the charming town of Kalispell, other affordable options, like Americas Best Value Inn Kalispell provide even more comfort for a low rate. Also in Kalispell, the Super 8 by Wyndham Kalispell Glacier National Park is popular for family vacations, budget-conscious travelers, and those traveling with pets.

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More Adventures in Montana: The many top-rated attractions of Montana outshine one another with natural and cultural appeal. A couple of hours south of Whitefish, the collegiate city of Missoula also offers plenty of natural attractions. Bozeman is another popular city in Montana and home to Montana State University and a variety of fun things to do. The state capital of Helena also delivers on attractions, including access to scenic and wild environments. For an overnight experience that delivers on comfort, the top-rated resorts of Montana feature scenic backdrops and friendly service.

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