Near the end of January, I headed south to the Flathead Valley in Montana to photograph winter adventure in Kalispell with Discover Kalispell.
After four days, I left thoroughly impressed. From the stunning landscapes in Glacier National Park to the vast Flathead Lake, there are so many ways to plan the ultimate winter adventure in Kalispell. The city itself has a hip mountain town feel, but without the marked-up prices. It’s centrally located in the valley, too, which makes it the perfect basecamp for a weekend or week-long visit.
If you need to see more evidence of the area’s extraordinary winter beauty, check out my Steller story that includes 30-pages of photos and video.
I had previously visited this region, but only in the summer months when mountain biking, hiking, and sightseeing are at their busiest. In the winter, I was happy to find a laidback attitude and fewer crowds. Here’s how I would get started planning my next winter adventure in Kalispell.
What to do during winter in Kalispell, Montana
During my visit to Kalispell, I stayed busy! I cross country skied along the shore of Lake MacDonald in Glacier National Park, downhill skied at both Whitefish Mountain Resort and Blacktail Mountain ski areas, and snowmobiled in the backcountry, just north of Columbia Falls. I even went sightseeing to Polebridge. Despite all these adventures, I only scratched the surface, so use my suggestions as a starting point. Choose the options that best suit you, but don’t forget to choose your own adventures as you discover what else this valley offers.
- Watch sunrise from Lone Pine State Park. It’s only 20-minutes from downtown Kalispell to this iconic viewpoint that looks out across the Flathead Valley. On a clear day, the sunrise views span from Whitefish Mountain Resort to Flathead Lake.
- Snowmobile with Swan Mountain Snowmobiling in Columbia Falls. It’s a great organization which offers both guided tours and snowmobile rentals. The best part? They make it easy and meet clients at the trailhead with the snowmobiles, helmets, and required avalanche gear.
- Explore Glacier National Park. It’s wild that the park is essentially deserted in the winter and the West Glacier entrance is only ploughed to Lake Macdonald Lodge. From there, it’s possible to explore one of America’s busiest national parks in near solitude on skis or snowshoes.
- Venture into the backcountry with Glacier Adventure Guides. Cross country or backcountry skiing has its hazards in the Flathead Valley, as avalanche terrain makes navigation challenging. If you’re short on experience, the trips with Glacier Adventure Guides offer an incredible experience with quality guides to keep the group safe.
- Snowboard or Ski at Whitefish Mountain Resort. It’s a big mountain with 360o skiing from the summit. Snow quality is consistent, grooming is perfect, and the terrain wildly varied.
- Hit the slopes at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, too. It’s a smaller ski area, known mostly as a local’s mountain but it’s worth the 1-hour drive south from Kalispell. It’s entirely north facing, which equates ideal snow conditions and its terrain is chock-full of steep, gladed runs overlooking Whitefish Lake. And even though a lift ticket is under $50, it’s never crowded.
- Roadtrip to Polebridge and visit the Mercantile. It’s a stunning drive up the north fork of the Flathead River to the small community on the edge of Glacier National Park. The Mercantile is a local institution and it’s been open for the past 100 years!
Where to stay in Kalispell, Montana
During my entire winter adventure in Kalispell, I stayed at the Hampton Inn. It was within easy walking distance of downtown, had easy access to the highway for day trips, and a drive-thru coffee bar and liquor store just across the street. I’d stay there again next time, but it’s far from the only option.
- Most major hotel chains have a presence in the city, too, including Hilton, Holiday Inn, La Quinta, Marriott and Quality Inn.
- Kalispell Grand Hotel looks and feels like a bed and breakfast. It’s located in downtown, too, and is the last remaining historical hotel in town.
Where to eat and drink in the Flathead Valley
The only thing that might trump the winter adventure options in Kalispell are the region’s stunning craft beer and food scenes. Every community had at least one small brewery and lengthy list of top restaurant choices. The one experience that I would consider a must-do was the distillery and cocktails at the Glacier Distilling Company. Their Two-Med Whisky is a new favourite and its earned a spot in my liquor cabinet alongside traditional scotches I’ve hauled home from Scotland.
Here’s the best of the rest, in my opinion:
Best Brew Pub Options:
- Kalispell Brewing in Downtown Kalispell
- Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls
- Bonsai Brewing Project in Whitefish
- Tamarack Brewing in Lakeside
- Desoto Grill, in Kalispell, for unbelievable BBQ. My personal favourite is the Supercharged BLT
- Hop’s, also in Kalispell, for delicious burgers. It’s rare to see Yak on any menu, so I had to give it a try.
- Backslope Brewing, in Columbia Falls, has more than great beer. I found the Asian-inspired bowls delicious and surprisingly healthy for a brew pub.
- Montana Coffee Traders, in every community, served up cheap and delicious French Press coffee, pastries, and bagged lunches for my days spent outside.
When to Visit for the ultimate Winter Adventure
Winter in northern Montana sticks around for a long time. Snow is possible from early November until late April, but the best time to visit for a winter-fueled adventure is January through March. In January, temperatures will be colder, but snow will be at its best. By march, temperatures are warmer, days are longer, which makes it possible to spend even more time outdoors.
See you in Kalispell!
If you’re keen to see more of my photography from this general region, check out these three related posts:
- 13 Images to Inspire your own Eastern Montana Roadtrip
- 72-hour adventure in Fernie
- 72-hour RCR Winter Ski Trip