Shred, Sled, Swish and Fish

A winter recreation wonderland surrounds Kalispell.

If you’ve ever been skiing, then you know the feeling: that insatiable itch to discover new terrain, cut fresh tracks, see what’s on the other side of the mountain. Who wants to do the same thing twice? It’s a feeling shared by amateurs and shredders alike. And when you come to Kalispell, it’s a desire you can indulge again and again.

Here, your first decision of the day won’t be which lift to catch. It’ll be which mountain to choose.

Head north 23 miles and you’ll find yourself at the base of Whitefish Mountain, ranked the 2020 No. 3 resort in North America by SKI Magazine readers. Head southwest, and you’ll soon arrive at the top of Blacktail Mountain, a smaller area with outsized diversity of terrain and spectacularly scenic views.

That’s just the start of what you can do around Kalispell during the cold months of the year. With great ice fishing, peaceful cross-country skiing and even options for dogsledding, the Flathead Valley is a winter recreationist’s dream come true. In the middle of it all, Kalispell offers visitors a relaxed vibe, affordable accommodations and abundant dining options. Tally it all up, and this is one lifetime memory that won’t cost you your life’s savings.


Sia Hills, blogger with Thrifty Northwest Mom from Seattle, visited Kalispell with her family to find out just how thrifty you can be on a winter getaway to Northwest Montana. Read her top 10 winter activity ideas (six of which are under $5) for families and big kids at heart.

Keep reading for more ideas:


Visible from downtown Kalispell, the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort beckon skiers and snowboarders of every skill level and interest. The mountain features 2,353 feet of vertical drop spread out over more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain served by 14 lifts.  For a more low-key atmosphere, powder hounds can turn to Blacktail Mountain, located 28 miles southwest of Kalispell. The area features more than 1,000 acres of mostly intermediate runs, plus several miles of groomed Nordic skiing … perfect for a winter skiing biathlon.


Kalispell is something of a mecca for snowmobilers as well. Area volunteers keep more than 200 miles of trails groomed for riders, giving access to endless high-country play areas and unforgettable vistas. Machine rentals are available at Northwest Montana Adventures in Kalispell and Swan Mountain Snowmobiling in Columbia Falls.

For a unique adventure into the Montana backcountry, spend a day with Basecamp Bigfork or Dog Sled Adventures on a guided sledding trip with experienced mushers.


Nearby Glacier National Park offers numerous well-traveled cross-country ski routes. The Lake McDonald—Avalanche route offers an easy beginner tour through one of the park’s most picturesque landscapes. For advanced skiers, the Apgar Lookout offers challenging terrain capped by a spectacular reward at trail’s end. On the east side of the park, numerous routes begin in the St. Mary area, offering a full range of distances and degrees of difficulty in a gorgeous locale. On either side of the park, there’s a good chance of seeing moose, deer and other non-hibernating wildlife — and very few humans.

Groomed trails can be found in numerous other areas around the Flathead Valley. The Glacier Nordic Club keeps 12 kilometers of trail maintained for skate and classic skiers on the Whitefish Lake Golf Course. The North Shore Nordic Club does the same at its trails off Jewel Basin and Foothills Roads in Bigfork; ditto Blacktail Mountain just outside Lakeside.


If you prefer to glide on ice rather than snow, step onto the ice for a leisurely skate around the rustic pond in Kalispell’s Woodland Park. The ice rink is open until 11 p.m. and is free, with skate rentals available at Wheaton's just a few blocks away in downtown Kalispell.


For more leisurely excitement, some of the best ice fishing in the Northern Rockies can be found on area waters.  At Smith Lake west of Kalispell, a decent day on the ice can send you home with a cooler full of yellow perch — one of the tastiest freshwater fish in the world. This is easy fishing with simple tackle and bait — making it a fun outing for the whole family.

Little Bitterroot Lake, west of Kalispell, isn’t exactly little. Nor are its fish. This is a great place to catch trophy kokanee salmon as well as nice rainbow trout.  Flathead Lake rarely freezes over completely, but most of the bays offer safe ice and good fishing for perch and occasional lunker lake trout throughout the winter season. Just make sure you check with locals about ice conditions.


All in all, Kalispell is Montana’s winter wonderland. When you’re ready to plan your trip, several properties offer special winter stay-and-ski packages with reduced lift ticket prices at area ski resorts, helping you get the most out of your vacation funds.

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