72 Epic Hours in NW Montana

Northwest Montana stretches from the west side of the Continental Divide north to the Canadian border and west toward Idaho. Home to two of the Northwest’s most beautiful travel destinations — Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake — this corner of Montana offers that rare respite where travelers can slow down and enjoy the grandeur of nature and the American West. Cultures meld to create an environment that offers contemporary amenities while recalling the frontier. Immerse yourself in the magnificence of this natural setting by day and enjoy the hospitality of a charming town come evening. For this trip, Kalispell is home base — a small city where the beautiful environs have attracted adventurers, artists, writers, musicians and outdoorsmen for decades.

You can’t capture northwest Montana in one trip, but here’s a highlight reel you’ll never forget. So toss your phone (you won’t get a signal on a few of your adventures anyway), hit up a friendly stranger for directions, grab a huckleberry mule from the bartender and begin discovering what makes this community come alive.


Image of a kayaker in the water.FLATWATER FUN, 2 P.M.
If there’s a theme to summer in the Flathead Valley, it’s water. Flathead Lake offers all passions aquatic — swimming, water-skiing, canoeing, sailing, fishing, paddle boarding, power boating, you name it. And Flathead is hardly the only lake to dip into in Kalispell’s backyard. A short trip west takes you to the Thompson Lakes and Lake Koocanusa. Or head north to beautiful Whitefish Lake.

Don’t miss Thursday!Fest on the Museum at Central School’s lawn. Thursdays feature live music throughout the summer, as well as a craft fair, food court and a beer and wine garden. Visitors and locals alike gather on these memorable evenings.


10¢ COFFEE, 7 A.M.
Sykes Diner has been a Kalispell staple for decades. Customer favorites include chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy, tomato basil soup and 100 percent real beef burgers. Where else can you get a 10 cent cup of coffee with your breakfast? Fuel up for your day and then get goin’!

It may seem too early to be thinking about food again, but make a quick stop at Montana Coffee Traders on Main Street in Kalispell to pick up sack lunches — it’s the halfway stop en route to Glacier National Park. Trust us, once you’re in the park you won’t want to leave or stand in line. At MCT you’ll find something for everyone, from black bean hummus quesadillas to the Glacier Melt and Grizzly sandwiches.

Beautiful image of the forest.CROWN OF THE CONTINENT, 10 A.M.
You simply can’t come to northwest Montana and skip Glacier National Park. From downtown Kalispell it’s a scenic 32-mile drive to the west entrance of the park. A couple of our top recommendations? Hike the 4.5-mile loop to Avalanche Lake. Start on the boardwalk of the Trail of the Cedars surrounded by ancient hemlocks, then cross Avalanche Creek via a footbridge for a commanding view of Avalanche Gorge. Continue onward to the picturesque lake. If you wish to see more of the park without navigating it yourself, choose a Red Bus Tour. These vintage 1930s buses are part of the human history and heritage of the park — and they come with ideal rollback tops for full views of the stunning peaks and, lest we forget, the signature Big Sky.

Enter through the swinging doors, stomp the day’s dirt off your boots on sawdust-covered floors and chow down on the Old West’s best pizza at Moose’s Saloon. Yes, guests are still welcome to carve their names into the original rustic booths as they wait their turns on the pool table. Don’t shuck so many peanuts that you don’t have room for a local craft beer, or two.


Bowl of ripe peaches.ALL TO MARKET, 8 A.M.
One of Montana’s oldest seasonal markets, the Kalispell Farmers Market at Flathead Valley Community College runs into October. Visitors and residents wallow in the bounty of the harvest and also meet the farmers and artisans who call the Flathead Valley home. You’ll find freshly picked huckleberries, delicious Dixon melons from right down the road, crisp produce alongside baked goods and local jams and jellies, as well as beautiful arts and crafts.

Head to the Hockaday Museum of Art, home to the aesthetic legacy of Montana and Glacier National Park. The museum maintains a permanent collection that focuses on Montana artists such as Charles M. Russell and John Ferry, and offers rotating exhibits of nationally renowned and emerging artists. A Discovery Gallery provides hands-on activities for children that connect with the exhibits.

Nostalgia’s on the board at Norm’s News — an old-school soda shop with a menu of American classics with plenty of Western twists, like its buffalo burger and must-order sundaes. Norm’s firmly believes that “Eat dessert first” is life’s best motto. Just in case you’re not full after ice cream, there’s a candy counter too.

The Conrad Mansion is located atop a bluff overlooking the Flathead Valley and Swan Mountains. Designed by Spokane architect Kirkland Cutter, who went on to design the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park, the home’s construction began in 1892 and finished in 1895. Today, this historic landmark is open only to docent-led tours. Make sure to arrive on the hour to take part.

German beersGERMAN ROOTS, 5 P.M.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better. A 10-barrel brewhouse, Kalispell Brewing Company creates craft lagers using the German decoction tradition — a labor-intensive method that produces superior malt flavors. The owners telemark ski-raced across Europe, where they discovered the flavors upon which to build their business. By choosing quality ingredients, Kalispell Brewing Company celebrates the pursuits of Flathead Valley’s adventures one beer at a time.

Walking into Hop’s Downtown Grill feels like when you recall a favorite song you haven’t heard in years. Literally. Behind the bar, rows of old hit-album covers line the wall and their songs fills the sound system: There’s the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls.” Sit down in the cozy dining room and you’ll find more classic hits on the menu. Should you crave something you really can’t make in your own kitchen, two words: yak burger.


Bike riders out in the country.THE GREAT NORTHERN, 9 A.M.
Much of northwest Montana was inaccessible until the railway arrived in the late 1800s. You can still ride the rails with Amtrak into this unspoiled land, but you can also traverse the retired railroad beds— by biking. A local nonprofit converted old rail beds that extend from Flathead Lake right into downtown Kalispell and beyond. So grab your rental at Wheaton’s Bike Shop and pedal Rails to Trails of Northwest Montana — with scenery and without car traffic.

You can’t beat the Split Rock Cafe as your northwestern finale. With friendly faces all around, delicious food and quick, reliable service, Split Rock feels a little bit like home, like Kalispell itself.

Many of Kalispell’s properties are just an easy stroll from downtown shopping and dining. You’ll recognize certain hotel names, like Hilton, Holiday Inn and Red Lion, but there are also plenty of local favorites you’ll enjoy getting to know, like the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel and the comfortable Hilltop Inn. Time to set your budget and make your reservation. You really can’t go wrong in Kalispell.

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