At the end of a narrow dirt road eight miles west of Whitefish, Montana, Whitefish Bike Retreat sits on an idyllic knoll surrounded by towering larch pines. The property is similar to any other 20-acre dreamscape in the remote northern Rocky Mountains, but with a major perk. The iconic Whitefish Trail, a 26-mile stretch of velvety singletrack, runs through the backyard.
"I could hear the mountain bikers the minute I stepped out of the car," says Whitefish Bike Retreat owner and founder Cricket Butler. "Talking, laughing, the squeal of brakes – I knew then that I had to buy this place."
Butler, a North Carolina transplant, opened Whitefish Bike Retreat in June 2012 with six campsites and the more upscale (but still rustic) Bunk Lodge. An old barn tastefully refurbished using corrugated steel and pine, the lodge contains a spacious common room, a communal kitchen, bath and laundry facilities, secured indoor bike storage and workshop, two large bunkrooms with bunk beds, and four private rooms.
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Butler used old bike parts from Glacier Cyclery to add an industrial art deco feel to the space and worked with a trail designer, as well as Whitefish Legacy Partners, the City of Whitefish, and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, to add an approach trail out the back door linking up with the Whitefish Trail. With a little help from friends, she put in a pumptrack out front and a half-dozen features where guests can hone their mountain biking skills.
The vibe at the Bike Retreat is communal – fit couples in their twenties and thirties, parents with school-aged bikers who rip, old college buddies getting together for an annual adventure. Guests can freeform their time, or take a lesson or clinic run by Beyond the Boundaries. No one officially stocks the refrigerator with beer and yet it's never empty.
Butler lives in the midst of the community in a log cabin with her two middle-schoolers. A former adventure mountain bike racer, she's ridden such epics as La Ruta, which crosses Costa Rica coast-to-coast, and the Tour Divide, a 2,745-mile self-supported bike trail from Banff to Mexico (she won it in 2010 with a time of 26 days).
Every morning, Butler serves coffee and handmade scones in the Bunk Lodge, and doles out advice for the best trail based on ability. "Whitefish is a special place," she says. "Three ACA [Adventure Cycling Association] routes converge in or around Whitefish. Plus you've got the Whitefish Trail and all the lift-assisted trails on Whitefish Mountain. Then there's the cross-country trails at Pig Farms and the wilderness trails at Tally Lake 10 miles away."
On the last evening, I find Butler outside at the Bunk Lodge's fire pit with her Australian cattle dog. It's almost 9:00 PM, but the sun has yet to set in the long daylight hours of summer. She's talking to three guys who arrived that afternoon after biking 333 miles from Banff.
Butler tells us she just partnered with Paddlefish Sports in town to rent stand-up paddleboards for guests to take out on the nearby lakes. "They've even got these bike trailers we can use that will haul boards," she says, and takes a swig from her beer.
"Is this heaven?" I ask, only half kidding. Butler grins. "No, it's Whitefish."
[More information: Campsites are $15 per person, $5 per dog. Bunkrooms are $45 per person for a group room, $95 per person for a private room.]