Find Montana’s Best in Whitefish

Photo © Brian Schott

by Megan Hill

The charming town of Whitefish represents the best of northwestern Montana: there’s a thriving food and drink scene—including a James Beard Award nominee—abundant outdoor activities for year-round recreation, and proximity to the crowning attraction of the state, Glacier National Park.

Whitefish’s Old West-style downtown is packed with worthwhile shops, restaurants and watering holes. Gift shops sell regional souvenirs, outfitters peddle everything you’ll need for outdoor adventuring, and galleries show off works by local artists. There is also a handful of thrift and vintage stores where you might find a true Montana treasure.

On the dining side, best bets include tapas and cocktails at Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits, creative pub fare at Craggy Range Bar & Grill, Cajun and Southern cuisine at oft-awarded Tupelo Grille, award-winning Mexican fusion cooking at Pescado Blanco and outstanding sandwiches featuring locally-sourced ingredients from Pig & Olive Sandwich Shoppe. Beer fans will enjoy Great Northern Brewing Company, whose brewpub and restaurant are located downtown. A few steps away, the tasting room at Spotted Bear Spirits is worth a stop for its loungy ambiance and creative distilling. Join the locals and find out what’s on tap at Bonzai Brewing Project, located between downtown and Big Mountain.

Worth a trek up to the Big Mountain ski area just outside of town is Café Kandahar, where James Beard Award nominee chef Andy Blanton wields local ingredients in innovative and elegant plates paired with exceptional wines. Visitors should also stop in the Stumptown Marketplace, home to Pig & Olive, to patronize small producers like Glacier Ginger Brew, Polebridge Bakery and Big Mountain Candy Company, along with jewelers, crafters and artists.

Whitefish is an ideal launch point for a range of adventures, including daylong forays into Glacier National Park (the west entrance is less than an hour from town). You can easily drive the famed Going to the Sun Road, take a boat trip on scenic St. Mary Lake or Lake McDonald, raft the Middle Fork, or hike the iconic trails in the Logan Pass area.

Closer to home base, the Caribbean-hued Whitefish Lake just a few blocks from downtown is an advisable diversion, whether you’re after a few hours’ lounging on the public City Beach or a relaxing couple of hours on a stand-up paddle board, which you can rent from Paddlefish Sports, beachside.

For a quieter lakeside experience, hang a hammock or rent a kayak at Les Mason State Park on the lake’s east shore. Nearby, Big Mountain offers plenty of year-round activities, including snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding in winter and hiking, mountain biking, scenic lift rides and an alpine slide in warmer months.

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