Western Montana, from Missoula to Whitefish, just an hour south of the Canadian border — if you haven’t been, you are missing out on one of the best outdoor adventures in the United States. With its spectacular and unspoiled scenery, clean air and water, quaint towns with incredibly friendly people, winter sports and a burgeoning culinary scene, the region should be included in your travel plans. Here are six great reasons to do just that.
1. Excellent Skiing
Whitefish Mountain Resort ranks ninth in skinet.com‘s picks for Top Western Ski Resorts for 2016. The 3,000 acres, 2,253 vertical feet and 105 marked trails are reasons enough to go. But the best part is that skiing and accommodations here are affordable, with short lines and great views of Glacier National Park. The highest elevation is about 6,800 feet, so it’s easier to adjust to the altitude, and the base elevation is just 4,400 feet. You can be on the slopes in 45 minutes or less when flying into Glacier Park International Airport.
2. Glacier National Park
This is one of America’s great wonders. While the entire park isn’t open during the winter, you can enter at various points to see some highlights, such as Lake McDonald on the west side. Make plans to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on your own or with a guide. The constant weather changes — snow squalls, fog, sun and clouds —create magical views over the lake and the mountains. Bring your camera.
3. Outdoor Adventures
Alfresco enthusiasts can enjoy all of the other activities offered in this winter wonderland, such as snowboarding and snowmobiling. If dog sledding is on your bucket list, check out Base Camp Bigfork for a hands-on experience where you can drive your own team of Inuit sled dogs. How about a breathtaking sleigh ride through the snow? Bundle up, and enjoy the ride at Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish.
4. Arts and Theatre
When it’s time to head inside after a full day of outdoor fun, you’ll find an impressive arts and theater community in western Montana. The MCT Center for the Performing Arts in Missoula is home to the world-renowned Children’s Theatre and a talented group of adults performing plays and musicals throughout the year. The Missoula Art Museum features local and Native American artists in ever-changing exhibits. When in Kalispell, visit the Conrad Mansion Museum. Built in 1895, this beautiful home is a well-preserved example of 18th-century life for the upper class in Montana and the former home of Charles E. Conrad, one of the city’s founders.
The motto is Small Towns, Big Eats in this part of the state, and it certainly delivers. With an extensive list of restaurants that features locally sourced meats, seafood and produce, choosing a place to dine can be a tough decision. There are 25 restaurants alone in the small town of Whitefish. Big breakfasts are a favorite, with huckleberry pancakes and syrup a local specialty. Not to miss are the locally raised game meats such as elk and yak. After a ski day on Whitefish Mountain, make plans for a special evening enjoying the tasting menu offered at Cafe Kandahar by four-time James Beard–nominated chef Andy Blanton.
6. Wine and Spirits
Wine in Montana? Yes, thanks to Mother Nature and the changing climate, grapes are now grown here, and many of the wines are quite good. Stop in at Ten Spoon Vineyard & Winery in Missoula for a tasting of their organic wines. Be sure to try the Flathead Cherry, made with the beautiful cherries grown along neighboring Flathead Lake. Distilleries and breweries are also popping up in nearby towns. Enjoy the tasty cocktails made with the spirits produced at Montgomery Distillery in Missoula, or if you prefer to imbibe beer, there’s a great selection of craft beers at Kalispell Brewing Company.
Western Montana — don’t miss it!