Sunbathe, hike, bike, ski
Summer in Northwest Montana means
four seasons of adventure.
In most parts of the United States, summertime is synonymous with sweltering heat and swimming pools — a time when the sunburst blossoms of spring have given way to monochromatic green and the quiet white of winter snow seems far removed.
Folks in the northwestern Montana city of Kalispell call this season “summer” just like everyone else. But if you notice a wry twinkle in their eyes, it’s because they know that they can experience a taste of every season in a single day, all within an easy drive.
Flathead Lake, just minutes from downtown Kalispell, is a summer watersports mecca. The Jewel Basin to the southeast is one of the region’s most popular hiking destinations. Many of Glacier National Park’s peaks and north-facing slopes boast year-round snow. And the region’s many road cycling and developed mountain biking trails provide a full range of challenges and a whole world of beauty.
HUCK THE BIG
Northwest Montana is a mountain biker’s dream come true. Volunteer-led efforts have produced awesome trail networks including Foy’s to Blacktail and the Whitefish Trail. Other areas, such as Pig Farm / Farm to Market, Lone Pine State Park and Spencer Mountain, will spoil the most experienced rider.
If that’s not enough, hitch a ride up Whitefish Mountain and get a sense why locals still lovingly refer to this as “Big Mountain.” For your $32 day pass you’ll get access to almost 30 miles of downhill and cross-country mountain bike trails, with as many chairlift rides and epic descents as your burning legs can handle.
BAG A PEAK
Tis the season when alpine slopes transform into carpets of flowers, when feathered and furry things fill their bellies and rear their young — and when the Flathead Valley’s best trails offer endless opportunity to explore the beauty of the backcountry.
The Jewel Basin east of Bigfork offers great hiking options for nearly all levels of ambition and stamina. The Mount Aeneas Trail is a great choice for a moderate day hike with big rewards. The 5.9-mile loop tops out at 7,528 feet, where you’ll experience a panorama that includes Jewel Basin, Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Not surprisingly, there are plenty of diverse hiking options in Glacier National Park. The Avalanche Lake Trail is an easy 4.5-mile there-and-back trip to a gorgeous basin lake set against a backdrop of multiple waterfalls. For a somewhat more challenging hike, try following the Highline Trail to Haystack Butte. This aptly-named trail traces the Continental Divide for 30 miles, but you can pick off this portion in a day. Thanks to a few traverses across steep mountain faces, this isn’t for the faint of heart; but at just 7.4 miles round trip and an 825-foot elevation gain, it’s manageable for most reasonably fit folks. (GlacierGuides.com offers great roundups of other easy and moderate hikes in Glacier.)
CARVE A GLACIER
Just a 45-minute drive from Kalispell, the towering ridges and dramatic peaks of Glacier National Park lend year-round credence to the park’s name. There, adventurous snow-lovers can — and do — enjoy downhill skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing 365 days a year. With several peaks reaching over 10,000 feet as well as crystalline lakes, lush forests, flower-speckled meadows and plentiful wildlife, Glacier is a four-season outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. All at once.
Logan Pass is a popular and easily accessible place to catch some summer skiing. Just above the visitor’s center is an area known as the Hanging Gardens, an easy, open slope that keeps snow into midsummer. From there it’s a short hike to bigger challenges on the faces and bowls around Clements Mountain and Reynolds Mountain. The best time to hit these areas is as soon as the Going-to-the-Sun Road is cleared in the summer.
FEEL THE HEAT
The largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, Flathead Lake beckons throughout the warm months with epic sailing along its windswept west shore; wakeboarding and waterskiing in its many protected coves; and legendary fishing for lake trout, Lake Superior whitefish, northern pike and other game fish. In the heat of the summer, there’s no better place to spend a lazy day.
If you want to experience Flathead Lake up close, grab provisions in Kalispell and set out for the Dayton Yacht Harbor. There, you can hire a sailboat for the day and explore the islands, inlets and vast open water of the lake. Not sure if your sailing skills are up to navigating the lake? Hitch a ride on the Far West, a historic Montana cruise ship that offers relaxing tours of the lake, or charter a trip to Wild Horse Island with Wild Horse Island Boat Trips in Bigfork. If you’d like to take a ride on your own via jet ski or pontoon boat, rent the watercraft of your choice through Wild Wave Rentals with locations in Lakeside and Bigfork.