Winter Beyond The Slopes
Around here, the cure for cabin fever is stepping into northwest Montana's winter wonderland and exploring it to the fullest. In Kalispell, that means skiing at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area and Whitefish Mountain Resort, which is ranked as the #3 ski area in North America according to the SKI Magazine readers' poll. Winter around Kalispell also offers gliding along the best groomed cross-country ski trails in the state, snowshoeing to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park or exploring Montana's deep backcountry on snowmobile. And at day’s end, you’ll have much to come “home” to in Kalispell — a roaring fire, lively night spots, tasty restaurants and ice skating the Woodland Park Ice Center.
Glacier National Park gets buried in snow each winter and it defines quiet solitude. You can take in the view of Lake McDonald from Apgar Village or drive up the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Lake McDonald Lodge. The road is plowed to the lodge (keep in mind the facility is closed during winter) and from here you can set off along the Going-to-the-Sun Road on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis.
Snowshoeing is available on the unlimited backcountry wilderness trails in northwest Montana, while rentals are available at Sportsman & Ski Haus or Rocky Mountain Outfitters. Glacier Institute and Glacier Treks offer guided adventures in Glacier Park for all ages and abilities. Close to town, Lone Pine State Park has snowshoe rentals (with great family rates) to use on the 6 miles of trails in the park.
Cross-country skiers of all skill levels will love Glacier National Park's scenic ski routes. The Lake McDonald-Avalanche trail offers an easy beginner tour through one of the park’s most picturesque landscapes. For advanced skiers, Apgar Lookout offers challenging terrain capped by a spectacular view at the end of the trail. 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 nonhibernating wildlife, as well as very few humans.
Groomed trails can be found in numerous other areas around the Flathead Valley. The Glacier Nordic Club keeps 12 kilometers of trails 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, as well as Blacktail Mountain just outside Lakeside.
Snowmobiling is popular in Kalispell for a reason. Northwest Montana boasts more than 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, while another 2,000 miles of U.S. Forest Service roads lead to spectacular ridgetop views. More information is available at the Flathead Snowmobile Association. Plus, you can get rentals—or book a guided tour—with a local outfitter like Northwest Montana Adventures, Action Rental or Swan Mountain Snowmobiling. Learn more here.
Cozy up on a horse-drawn sleigh ride with Bar W Guest Ranch. Glide behind a team of well-trained horses and soak in Montana's snow-covered landscapes.
Ice skating and hockey are favorite winter pastimes in Kalispell. Woodland Park, right in downtown Kalispell, offers a hockey rink and skating on a large pond that is maintained and open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. An affordable activity for the entire family, skate rentals are available at Wheaton's.
Some of the best ice fishing in the Northern Rockies can be found on local 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 and neither are its fish. This is a great place to catch trophy kokanee salmon and nice rainbow trout. Flathead Lake rarely freezes over completely, and 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. Better yet, book an ice fishing trip with an expert guide at Howe's Fishing.
Kayak the bays of Flathead Lake with Sea Me Paddle and explore Somers Bay and its chain of Juniper Islands.
No matter what winter adventure you choose, be sure you know how to recreate responsibly. And if it's your first time visiting Montana in winter, check out our first-timer's guide or see our five ways to get cozy.