We had an amazing long weekend in Montana, taking the overnight train to Whitefish from Everett, Washington. There are tons of things to do near Whitefish, including:
- Exploring Glacier National Park via Going to the Sun road
- Taking in the scenery along route 2
- Hiking and admiring wildlife in Many Glacier
- Driving to Waterton, Alberta to experience the Canadian portion of the park
- Riding the gondolas to the top of nearby Whitefish Mountain
With so much to see and do in the national park and surrounding area, I didn’t spend much time researching places to stay, shop, eat, or explore in town. Despite my poor planning, we did spend a little time in Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Whitefish. Here are a few places you could consider adding to your list!
We didn’t spend much time in Columbia Falls—just driving through it. However, it gets an honorable mention because we thoroughly enjoyed the two places we did stop!
First, as I detailed in this post, I recommend Montana Coffee Traders for your early morning caffeine fix. They have several locations, but the Columbia Falls location is right off the main road. It’s easy to pop in, grab a drink and snack, and head back on your way to the park or back to Whitefish.
Second, I recommend a local burger joint called Mudman Burgers, which I believe was Brian’s favorite food of the entire trip! We were headed off to hike so we hit the drive-through on our way, grabbing a burger and fries to go. That one burger and fries was MORE than enough for the two of us, and both were delicious.
They make their burgers out of chili and cheese (eg, make chili with cheese, put it in something burger-shaped, freeze it as a patty) so once it’s grilled you have all the flavor of chili and cheese as your patty without *quite* the same amount of mess plus your normal burger toppings. AMAZING! Also, their fries were some of the best we’ve had in a long time—they were like fair fries. They also have several locations, but this one was easy to access off the main road and definitely hit the spot!
Our last day we finished up in the national park and then drove toward Kalispell to check out the historic downtown. Along the way, we popped into a roadside winery called Glacier Sun Winery that was alongside a farmer’s market. There were a few people there—we walked through the food stands and into the winery tasting room and were greeted by a very friendly employee who helped us taste a few fruit wines and ciders.
I thought the wines were just ok—Brian liked a couple of their ciders. If you’re into fruit wines and ciders, I would add this stop to your list. Also, the market might be worth a visit if you have time to eat your findings and/or if you have room to pack a few things to take home.
Downtown Kalispell was fairly busy but we found street-side parking and set out to make a loop around main street. We popped in a few shops and pointed out a number of restaurants and a couple of breweries, but it didn’t take us long. The City Hall was neat and we did take a moment to snap a few pictures and walk along some of the more residential roads just off main street.
Overall I wouldn’t recommend prioritizing downtown Kalispell in your itinerary unless you’re into breweries—there were a handful of craft breweries all right downtown and within walking distance from one another so if you’re staying in Kalispell and into that scene, it might be worth looking into!
When we arrived in Whitefish, we were in a bit of a flurry trying to figure out how to get our rental car (there was a box with a lock combination that–thankfully–another couple had on hand, and we were able to open it and get our keys). As such, we didn’t spend a ton of time looking around the main square, but I did take a few pictures of the train depot and a few statues and artifacts outside the depot while Brian got our things loaded into the car. Downtown Whitefish is full of shops and restaurants and definitely worth a visit.
Before heading north to explore Whitefish Mountain, we stopped just outside of town at Fleur Bake Shop to get coffee and pastries to go. Inside we grabbed a pastry each as well as a couple of bourbon pecan macrons for an afternoon treat– YUM. Definitely recommend their breakfast items!
There were a couple of guys set up under a tent in the bakery’s parking lot selling espresso beans and beverages so I also ordered a latte to go. They were intrigued that we were from Seattle and asked about our favorite coffee spots–they didn’t seem impressed with my answers. I guess I’m not as into the coffee culture as them!
When we booked our hotels for this trip, I wanted to experience—and spend the night—on both sides of the park. This ended up being a flawed approach based on how our itinerary unfolded. We ended up spending more time on the eastern side of the park and the one night we had to drive the pass in the pitch dark and rain to get back to our hotel in Whitefish only to turn around and go back to the eastern side of the park the next morning.
That said, I don’t have much to say about our hotel in Whitefish as we got there very late and left very early—it wasn’t much more than a bed. We stayed at the Downtowner Inn and while it was in a good location and within close walking distance to all of the shops and restaurants downtown as well as the train station, we didn’t get to take advantage of those benefits.
Our final night we returned to Whitefish early so we could grab some food and walk around while we waited for our overnight train to arrive and take us back to Everett, Washington. That evening we were able to explore and while the shops were already closed, we did stumble upon some great places to eat.
Several restaurants were closed because it was already the off season—one being the Buffalo Cafe, which had great reviews online. When we walked by, a couple was standing nearby and told us it was their very favorite restaurant and that they come back to Whitefish just so they can eat there! I can’t personally recommend it, but it’s certainly staying on my list for next time based on their commitment!
We decided to try appetizers at a few places rather than having a large dinner at one place and started at the Firebrand Hotel. It was very swanky inside (and also extremely hot) so we felt a little out-of-place in our hiking outfits but thankfully the waitress was fine with us sitting out on their open patio near the heat lamps and fireplaces. We order a tasting flight of beers and two appetizers—the herbed calamari and the pumpkin ricotta gnocchi.
Everything was good, especially the gnocchi—I definitely recommend this as a snack/drink stop, especially given the flexibility of sitting inside or out.
We walked around town for a little while as the sun was started to set, finally popping in the Great Northern Brewing Company to share a flight.
They were getting ready to close down their downstairs bar and redirecting some people upstairs, but we were able to sneak in our flight at the bar downstairs and enjoyed the bartender’s antics and the neat vintage looking labels of their beers before heading on our way.
Our final stop was dessert at Sweet Peaks, a Montana ice cream parlor with a variety of normal and inventive flavors. The girl working was extremely nice—she lets us taste a few things, was very open with her recommendations, and we were ultimately very happy with our selections!
We ate at a small little bar inside and eavesdropped on everyone else’s orders, giving us some creative pairing ideas for next time!
There are endless things to see and do in and around Whitefish—whether you want to spend your time indoors or outdoors, hiking or shopping, there is definitely something for everyone!