Chances are, if you’re planning a trip to northwest Montana, Kalispell’s backyard national park – Glacier – is likely high on your list of things to do. And while any trip to Kalispell should include at least a jaunt into the park, there are certain times of the year (like summer) that some areas of the park can become crowded and congested. And while Glacier National Park is truly the Crown of the Continent, there are so many things to do and see beyond the park’s boundaries.
Montana’s Flathead Valley has abundant trails, routes and roads for biking, from two-lane highways to singletrack and paved paths. Rent a bike at Sportsman & Ski Haus (or bring your own) to set out on some of the best riding terrain in the country. A few of note: Foy’s to Blacktail Trails, Swan River Nature Trail, Great Northern Rails to Trails, the Parkline Trail and the Whitefish Trail.
FOUR-LEGGED MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES
One of the best ways to get out into nature around Glacier National Park is on a horseback trail ride. A short 6-mile drive from Kalispell will take you to Artemis Acres Paint Horse Ranch, where you can choose from a one-hour ride, two-hour ride or half-day horseback ride on the ranch’s 1,080 acres (with the option to combine your ride with a BBQ dinner). Meanwhile, Swan Mountain Outfitters offers horseback rides inside Glacier National Park, as well as at their corral in West Glacier. They also have daily llama treks into the Swan Mountains. On the north end of the valley, Bar W Guest Ranch takes guests on horseback trail rides.
ART IN ACTION
While the outdoors tend to be the main focus in Montana, there’s also a thriving culture scene. Take a self-guided mural tour in Kalispell, explore museums and galleries (be sure to book a docent-led tour of the Conrad Mansion Museum), catch live music from the Glacier Symphony & Chorale at the Summer Pops Concert at Rebecca Farm and Festival Amadeus, or see local performers sing Montana-inspired melodies at various venues around the Flathead Valley. Be sure to check out the new Wachholz College Center, located at Flathead Valley Community College, for concerts and events.
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
With four distinct seasons, Montana may not seem like a thriving agricultural hotbed, but the lush Flathead Valley is just that. As you drive throughout the region, you’ll come across orchards, farms and gardens that grow a variety of fruits and vegetables – including Flathead cherries – raise milk cows and even cultivate freshly grown lavender. Book a tour or class at Purple Mountain Lavender, pick a fresh bouquet at Hurst Flower Meadow, take a guided tour at Bibler Gardens and harvest your own cherries at Hockaday Orchards in Lakeside or Getman’s Orchard and Vineyard in Bigfork.
PLAY ON THE WATER
No matter which direction you go from Kalispell, you’ll be met by abundant waterways, including rivers, streams, waterfalls, ponds and lakes. Book a guided fly-fishing trip with an experienced outfitter, tour the waters of Flathead Lake on a kayaking tour with Sea Me Paddle, float through whitewater on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River with a local raft company, dip your toes in the water at Hungry Horse Reservoir or relax at one of the state parks around the valley – all of which have water access.
EXPLORE DOWNTOWN KALISPELL
The heartbeat of the valley, Kalispell’s downtown corridor is walkable and is home to abundant shops, boutiques, restaurants, galleries, coffee shops and watering holes. Be sure to spend time perusing made-in-Montana offerings, taste Big Sky Country at a local brewery, dig into grub at a Kalispell food truck, enjoy farm-to-fork dining (as well as fresh sushi, delectable BBQ, tasty burgers and family-style Italian), get your cowboy on at Western Outdoor and create custom fragrances and oils at Sage & Cedar.
Here in northwest Montana, you’ll find abundant waterfalls. A few to put on your must-see list: Holland Falls at Holland Lake, Kootenai Falls near Libby, the falls on Columbia Mountain Trail (there are a few) and Morrell Falls near Seeley Lake.
TAKE A HIKE
While Glacier National Park has 734 miles of trails, the Flathead National Forest (which is the park’s neighbor to the south) is full of nearly endless trails for day trips, half-day hikes or overnight excursions, as well as adventures like biking, camping, fishing and floating. Local favorites include Jewel Basin – complete with stunning views from Mount Aeneas – and the Danny On Trail at Whitefish Mountain Resort.