During the winter months, the laid-back town of Whitefish, Montana, braces for the thumping snow storms that make it a major skiing destination. Come summer, this former railroad hub in the Northern Rockies prepares for the onslaught of Canadians who head there for an old-fashioned Yankee getaway. Our polite neighbors to the north definitely have the right idea: Whitefish offers easy access to millions of acres of wilderness, to the crisp emerald waters of Whitefish Lake, and to an incredible proliferation of multi-use trails that fan out into and up the 7,000-foot peaks just outside of town.
An ever-increasing number of singletrack trails crisscross the wooded foothills just west of town thanks to the Whitefish Legacy Partners trail system – a rapidly growing maze that will offer 55-plus miles fat-tire parks if fully realized. The trails run close to Big Mountain and Whitefish Mountain Resort, where chairlifts carry riders to the top of shoots that let them put their shocks to the test. Beyond that, smaller trail systems like Pig Farms and Spencer Mountain Trails offer the opportunity to get deep in the woods without getting too lost.
Riders aren’t the only ones who find exceptional experiences in Whitefish. Trout fishers gravitate to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, where westslope cutthroat troat knife through the fast-moving water. Though the fish, which take its name from the distinctive red slash marking its lower jaw, is not the biggest member of the salmon family residing in Big Sky Country, it may be the strongest pound-for-pound fighter. The crowd of local bantamweights is generally eager to take a fly so the casters who follow guides from Lakestream Outfitters into the water can expect a little soreness come the following morning.
Anyone looking to complete a Montana-style triathlon should book a time at Whitefish Lake Golf course, where 36 holes chase each other’s tails between the towering pines. These are the best links anywhere in the vicinity of nearby Glacier National Park, a perennial attraction unto itself.
As with recreation, Whitefish offers a smorgasbord for eats and drinks. The classic standby is the Great Northern Bar & Grill on Central Ave., which is perpetually full of Canucks downing Western Montana microbrews like Kettlehouse and Blackfoot River. Whether après fishing, hiking, or biking, the hip locals tend to congregate on the roof of Casey’s, a former dive bar reborn last year as swank, three-story nightclub. From up there, visitors can look up main street – a regimented line of traditional western facades – toward the mountains waiting just beyond.
More information: Whitefish is a two and a half-hour drive north from Missoula, where Alaska Airlines, Delta Air, and United Airlines flights arrive from Seattle, Denver, and Salt Lake City.