Pack your bags fellow Seattlites because I just planned your next vacay. And no pressure, but in this gal's honest opinion - you should probably book a flight to Whitefish, Montana ASAP.
We're all used to the vacation go-tos: Los Angeles, Hawaii, New York City, Las Vegas. Don't get me wrong, these places are amazing - and if you're tired of them (like I am), it's a pretty good problem to have...i.e. too much travel?! Play me the tiniest violin in the world.
But we're missing out on a great state just a short plane ride to our east. A land of big skies and bigger smiles - Montana! And specifically, Whitefish. I am by no means the first to discover this beautiful part of the country. In fact, tourist season can get pretty darn busy! But there is a little slot of time mid-Spring (aka, right now), when it's active, but not packed with tourists.
In perfectly timed precision, this is also when biking in Glacier National Park is the best. It's called the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and it's the best kept secret in Whitefish during the spring season. It's something I didn't even realize should be on my bucket list, but now that I did it I'm so glad I get to add it and cross it off all in one satisfying swipe.
It was a life-changing experience and here's why.
First off, not everyone gets to partake in this adventure. Going-to-the-Sun isn't always open to cyclists, hikers and walkers. The opening/closing of the road all depends on the weather - and by weather, I mean snow. Mounds of it. There's a small window of time where people get to explore the carless road, and my family and I were in the right place at right time.
Since we're newbies (and had a toddler in tow), we were lucky enough to land a guide with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft. Vince Roubitchek has been a guide for nine years and counting, and he knows his ISH. It was such an added bonus to have someone so knowledgeable with us. He knew everything about the geology, geography and wildlife in the area. Plus, when my two-year-old whined for the first five miles he kept his cool. I didn't.
Glacier Guides provided the gear, shuttled us to Glacier National Park and lead the way. This time of year the scenery is breathtaking, you'll see green forests with white-capped mountains. Even our guide said this is his favorite time of the year to explore the park. Weird, mine too!
I saw families, young and old cycling the road. There's plenty of places to pull over for a break and enjoy the view. We stopped at Avalanche Creek Park with our packed lunches from Montana Coffee Traders, my daughter threw rocks in the water and played in the snow while the adults relaxed on the shore. On the ride back I sped ahead, felt the wind in my hair and sun on my face. I swear I smiled the entire way back. I felt like a kid!
Make enough time for this, if you're lucky enough to make your way to Whitefish. We left at 9 a.m., and didn't get back until 4 p.m. Oh - and we cycled about 18 miles (but you can do as much or as little as you want.). As I mentioned previously, the road isn't always open to bikers - but it is right now! And for how long? Visit the Road Status page on Glacier National Park's Website for updates on biking and hiking access.
While the Going-to-the-Sun Road is worth a visit to Whitefish alone, you could spend your entire trip exploring Glacier National Park and only skim the surface. But there are so many other things to see and do while in Whitefish, it's the cutest dang town!
- Take a day hike! There are so many trails to explore. We trekked the Viking Creek Wetlands Interpretive Trail and the parts of the Whitefish Trail. Both are moderate to easy and made for a perfect partial day hike.
- Drive Camas Road. It runs between Apgar Village in Glacier National Park and the North Fork Road that leads you to Polebridge. There is less traffic, and you have beautiful views of Lake McDonald as you drive out of Apgar.
- Bike around town. Paved bike and pedestrian trails meander throughout Whitefish. A segment of the trail runs along the river between various parks and extends all the way to City Beach.
- Head to the Farmers Market. Whitefish Open Streets is a community event that temporarily opens streets to people and closes them to cars. Whitefish Open Street’s first event will involve opening portions of Railway Street and Central to pedestrian and bike traffic only. This event will be happening in conjunction with the first Farmer’s Market of the season, Tuesday, May 29th from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.
- Shop around town. My fav stores include Bookworks of Whitefish, Sprouts (a children's boutique), Imagination Station (can you tell that I was traveling with a toddler?) and Harlow.
- On a rainy day, take a swim, work out and or take a class at The Wave. Note, they have childcare!
The YUMMY part - where to eat:
- Abruzzo Italian Kitchen: For the spaghetti, seafood and wine. This is a (newish) local fav.
- Tupelo Grille: Locally recommend, and worth it.
- Firebrand Hotel: For the light bites and cocktails.
- Buffalo Cafe: For the quick breakfast and local vibe.
- Amazing Crepes: For the (you guessed it) amazing crepes. There's sweet and savory options, go for the cinnamon and sugar crepe.
- Montana Coffee Trader: Come for the coffee, stay for the fresh sandwiches perfect for a grab and go picnic.
- Last Chair Kitchen & Bar: OMG the entire menu. Fav place we ate!
- Wasabi Sushi Bar: Head here for a taste of home with seafood straight from Seattle. Note, only open for dinner.
- Mama Blancas: Cuban Sandwich and mojito. Trust me, you'll thank me for this one.
- The Great Northern Bar and Grill: It's less about the food and more about the experience. It's the perfect amount of dive bar with good beer and even better brownies.
- Sweat Peaks Ice Cream: Dive in spoon first with creative flavors like blackberry and lavender, pine and chocolate and strawberry rhubarb sherbert.
Where to chill out:
- Whitefish City Beach: The beach is super close to town with plenty of parking. The park has a sandy beach, shaded grass area, designated swimming area, docks, gazebos, and picnic tables.
- The Spa at Whitefish Lake: Oh lordy, I had the best spa experience ever here. I got totally spoiled for Mother's day with an 80 min facial followed by a 60 minute massage with. The spa is darling and so relaxing. Best staff ever!
- Stumptown Art Studio: Walk on in anytime to Paint Pottery, Make Mosaics or do Glass Fusing.
Where to stay:
- The Lodge at Whitefish Lake: The first and only Four Diamond resort in the state, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake provides a beautiful setting. Classic hotel rooms, spacious suites, lakefront condominiums and luxury cabins. Lakefront dining and close to town. We took advantage of the Viking Falls indoor pool and hot tub.
- The Firebrand: The Firebrand is new to Whitefish, it's only been around for 2 years. But it totally has staying power. It's super close to all the shops and dining and the decor is on point.
The summer and winter crowds in Whitefish can get pretty crazy. I get it, it's the coolest place ever. The best time to visit is actually NOW! Seriously. It's such a short flight (less than 1.5 hours) and a totally tolerable drive (around 8.5 hours).