A charming downtown? Jaw-dropping scenery? Attractions for every season? Whitefish, Montana, checks all three boxes – and much more.
Most people end up passing through town before or after skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort or visiting Glacier National Park (only 20 and 40 minutes away, respectively). But is Whitefish worth visiting in its own right?
Much more than just a requisite transit point, it’s a vibrant place that’s renowned for its art and food and regularly appears on lists like Architectural Digest‘s 25 Best Small Towns in America. Even on a short visit, you’ll be able to see why. So if you’re just passing through and only have one day in town, here’s how to experience the best things to do in Whitefish, MT.
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- Coffee & Breakfast in Whitefish
- Things to See in Downtown Whitefish
- Quick Bites for Lunch in Whitefish
- The Best Dessert in Whitefish
- What to Do in Whitefish If You Want an Adventure
- What to Do in Whitefish If You Want if You Want to Relax
- Memorable Dinners in Whitefish
- Whitefish-Made Craft Beverages
- More of the Best Things to Do in Whitefish, MT
- Where to Stay in Whitefish, Montana
- Map of Whitefish, MT
Coffee & Breakfast in Whitefish
Start your day in Whitefish with breakfast at a local coffee shop. For such a small town, there are a surprising number of coffee shops in Whitefish – and even as a snobby coffee snob, I love them all.
If you like to start the morning with a sweet treat, stop in at Fleur Bake Shop. Owned by a trained pastry chef, Fleur serves mouthwatering croissants and scones in flavor combinations like blackberry orange, along with some of the best coffee around.
For something a little more substantial but no less delicious, head to Wild Coffee Company instead, and choose from an array of creative biscuit sandwiches to go with your morning java – or a selection from the extensive tea menu. Bonus: Wild donates 1% of their profits to nature-focused non-profits in the area.
Things to See in Downtown Whitefish
Spend the rest of the morning strolling around the charming downtown, which is easily one of the top things to do in Whitefish. The downtown area extends south and west from the train station, which should be a stop on your tour of town anyway.
Whitefish Depot & Museum
It’s still a functioning Amtrak station, so if you harbor dreams of traveling America by rail, a peek inside will fuel your wanderlust. We were also tickled to find a couple racks of used books for sale in the waiting area; to buy a book, you put $1 in a metal box mounted to the wall. (With that set-up, I couldn’t not buy one.)
The Whitefish train station is over 100 years old and also houses a small free museum on the town’s history, run by the Stumptown Historical Society. The museum displays several Native American artifacts, one of the most interesting of which prominently features a swastika (a symbol used by cultures around the world long before Hitler). A sign next to it describes how many Native American tribes signed an agreement during World War II to stop using the swastika.
Shops & Galleries
Downtown Whitefish isn’t very big, but it’ll take some time to wander through if you stop to check out the galleries or browse in the many shops. Our custom map of Whitefish shows the spots you shouldn’t miss, but think used books, funky antiques, outdoor gear, local art, huckleberry-flavored everything, and all kinds of décor and other souvenirs that will give your home a little mountain flair.
As you stroll down Central Ave., you’ll also find placards detailing the significance of many of the historic buildings. There’s even one outside the infamous Bulldog Saloon – which is infamous for…having porn plastered to the walls in the men’s bathroom. It may be one of the most legendary attractions in Whitefish, but seriously, don’t let your child go in there!
Quick Bites for Lunch in Whitefish
Eating and drinking could practically be considered recreational activities in Whitefish, but you’ll probably want to make lunch a quick stop if you only have one day in town.
I’m admittedly partial to Amazing Crepes, which serves up substantial crepes with fillings like pear, Gorgonzola, and almond or roasted veggies, cheddar, and egg. Fun fact: The founders opened up Amazing Crepes as a “crepe bus” (because that was in 2005 and before food trucks were a thing), after seeing all the crepe stands when they visited Thailand!
Most people in town are partial to Jersey Boys Pizzeria, a family-owned spot that’s often lauded as having some of the best pizza in Montana. And their by-the-slice option is probably the best bet for an affordable meal in Whitefish.
One more place I have to mention: the health-conscious Rebel Roots Kitchen, serving up all kinds of nourishing bowls and tacos. Their menu is small, but it’s vegetarian-friendly and entirely gluten-free.
The Best Dessert in Whitefish
Nothing hits the spot on a hot afternoon in Whitefish like Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. It’s beloved by locals and visitors alike (including me!), and their creamy ice cream and unique flavors live up to the hype.
I mean, I will be staying FAR away from the Chocolate Cowboy Cricket (yes, cricket), but Campfire S’mores and Huckleberry never disappoint. The flavors at Sweet Peaks rotate (so maybe you won’t even have a chance to try that cricket one), and there are always dairy-free options.
Or for a pick-me-up, pop into the long-standing Montana Coffee Traders. It’s a popular spot, but you won’t have to wait in line if you just want drip coffee; it’s set up on a table opposite the counter, with mugs and a jar to deposit your cash payment. Yes, the honor system is alive and well in Whitefish! If you’re ordering some other type of drink or one of their goodies, you can browse the racks of coffee-themed items and other souvenirs while you wait.
What to Do in Whitefish If You Want an Adventure
In this part of the state, you never have to go far to have an adventure. In fact, some of the top Whitefish activities for nature lovers and thrill seekers can be found right in town.
Any list of fun things to do in Whitefish has to include spending time at its eponymous lake. The water’s clear, the air is fresh, and there’s even a beach. And being that this is Western Montana, the lake is surrounded by mountains, so it’s gorgeous.
If you visit Whitefish in the summer, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the lake. Swim, kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, jet ski, or lounge on the sand at Whitefish City Beach.
You can rent whatever you need at Sportsman & Ski Haus or Sea Me Paddle (at Whitefish Lake State Park and Les Mason State Park), and the Yoga Hive runs SUP yoga classes in July and August. Or let someone else do the work, and take a 90-minute boat cruise with Lake Day Montana.
Last time we were at the lake in the summer, we also saw someone flyboarding, which must be one of the most unique things to do in Whitefish. If you’ve never heard of flyboarding (I hadn’t), it feels kind of like something from The Jetsons. You stand on a small board that uses water jets to propel you up into the air, and you can float 10 or more feet above the water.
I can’t deny that it looked ridiculous, but I also kind of wanted to do it myself. If you want to give it a try, sign up for the First Time Flyer package with Flyboard of Montana.
Of course, none of those activities on Whitefish Lake will be possible in the winter, but the lake is beautiful when frozen and covered in snow, so you should still swing by.
For a dry-land adventure any time of year, the Whitefish Trail is a huge network of trails running all through the Whitefish area, open for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Pick up rental equipment if you need it from Glacier Cyclery & Nordic or Sportsman & Ski Haus, and choose from the nine trailheads to start your adventure.
What to Do in Whitefish If You Want if You Want to Relax
Too sore from hiking in Glacier, or saving your legs for the ski hill? Or maybe the weather’s just bad? Make it a relaxing afternoon instead with one of these low-key activities in Whitefish.
Spas are always a popular apres-ski choice, so it’s no surprise Whitefish has a number to choose from. I (very sadly) haven’t tried any of them, but I’d definitely go for a facial at Highbrow or a massage at Natural Elements Massage & Spa given the chance!
You could also drop in to a yoga class at one of the handful of studios in town. Both Yoga Hive and Shanti Yoga have lovely spaces and a full schedule of classes to choose from. Or if you’re a hot yoga devotee (which I am definitely not!), there’s also Love Yoga, which puts on frequent events (heated and not) in addition to regular classes.
Stumptown Art Studio
Another fun option for a low-key afternoon is to head to the non-profit Stumptown Art Studio. Drop in anytime to paint your own pottery or make art out of fused glass. They’ll fire it in the kiln afterward and ship it to you when it’s ready. Or if the timing is right, you might be able to make it to one of the studio’s ceramics classes, which usually run for two hours in the evening.
Big Sky Brews Cruise
From Whitefish down to Flathead Lake, the Flathead Valley boasts some of the best Montana breweries and other craft beverage makers. And on these fun, tasty, and informative tours with Big Sky Brews Cruise, you’ll get to experience some of the best of them without having to drive.
You’ll sample a wide variety of local brews or spirits, get a behind-the-scenes look at each stop, and learn all about the brewing/distilling process. Tours are offered nearly every day and typically run from 3:00-7:00pm, with pick-up and drop-off right in downtown Whitefish.
Memorable Dinners in Whitefish
Missoula may be the foodie capital of Montana, but the restaurants in Whitefish won’t disappoint.
If budget (and time) is no concern, most consider critically-acclaimed Cafe Kandahar, located up at the base of Big Mountain, to be the best fine dining in the area. We didn’t eat there (because, you know, budget and time were a concern), but it looks fabulous. (Note: It’s only open during the summer and winter seasons.)
If you’d rather stay right in town for dinner, Latitude 48 Bistro is another top-rated Whitefish restaurant, a place where the food is as artful as the wine list is long. There might not be many meatless options, but when one of them is asiago-stuffed gnocchi with sage and brown butter, no vegetarian will complain.
Two more places you have to consider are Tupelo Grille, with their creative take on southern cuisine, and their sister restaurant, Abruzzo Italian Kitchen, for wood-fired pizzas and fresh house-made pasta.
Whitefish-Made Craft Beverages
Each of these spots have become Whitefish attractions in their own right, so you’ll enjoy a quality drink and community feel no matter where you choose to end your evening.
Bonsai Brewing Project
Given the proliferation of breweries in the Flathead Valley (see the Big Sky Brews Cruise above!), and how much Whitefish punches above its weight in most regards, it’s surprising there’s just one brewery in town. And even more surprising is that it’s closed all winter! But if you’re in Whitefish at another time, a stop at Bonsai Brewing Project is a must for beer drinkers.
The definition of a local craft brewery, Bonsai was initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign and originally located inside a shopping mall (until Shopko, of all stores, moved in and forced it out).
Now you can visit Bonsai in a converted house a few minutes north of downtown Whitefish and enjoy its huge yard and outdoor patio. To go along with the brews, they also serve a full menu of bowls, burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs. (Note: Due to Montana’s unusual brewery laws, Bonsai closes at 8:00pm.)
Spotted Bear Spirits
If you prefer the hard stuff, head to Spotted Bear Spirits instead (which is open year-round!). They have an impressive variety of spirits, from huckleberry vodka made with wild huckleberries from the Whitefish area to coffee liqueur created in partnership with Montana Coffee Traders.
Spotted Bear’s cozy tasting room has a real community feel, and you can choose from distillery flights and creative cocktails, including several non-alcoholic options.
If you’re short on time, just stop in and buy a bottle or two to take home. Not sure what to get? Go for the Midnight Forest Bourbon Whiskey – $2 from every purchase goes to conservation efforts.
Unleashed: A Winery
The most recent addition to Whitefish’s craft beverage scene, Unleashed is one of just a handful of wineries in Montana. And unlike most craft alcohol makers in Montana and everywhere, it’s owned and run by a woman.
The name Unleashed is a tribute to her love of animals and former career as an animal care tech. The wines have names like Lucky Dog and Red Rover, and the labels feature original illustrations of dogs.
Spending an evening at the winery is probably one of the most romantic things to do in Whitefish. Come in for a glass or two, enjoy a charcuterie and cheese board, and listen to live music on Tuesdays and Fridays. Or just stop by to pick up a bottle for later. I’d probably pick based on which bottle has the best dog illustration, but you could also ask for a recommendation.
More of the Best Things to Do in Whitefish, MT
There are lots of other fun things to do in Whitefish that take place only seasonally or on certain days. If you’re there at the right time, try to squeeze one of these into your visit.
The Whitefish Downtown Farmers’ Market is every Tuesday evening during the summer, from 5:00pm-7:30pm. It’s packed with area vendors selling everything from produce and baked goods to art and jewelry. Several food trucks park at the market as well, and there’s often live music. It’s definitely the place to be on a Tuesday evening.
From May to October, the Whitefish Gallery Nights Art Walk takes place on the first Thursday evening of every month. A dozen or so local artists and galleries usually participate, with special exhibits, entertainment, and refreshments.
Both Alpine Theatre Project and the Whitefish Theatre Company (at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center) host frequent shows, including plays, concerts, readings, and other special events. Check their schedules before your trip!
The Glacier Symphony produces a season of concerts in the fall and winter, plus a few special events in the summer. Amazing Place Music hosts guests for frequent concerts, mostly through the “Mike Eldred Presents ‘On The Stage’” series. Both generally take place at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center. Many bars around town also have live music on certain nights, including the Boat Club, Unleashed, and the Firebrand Bar.
There are always tons of different events happening in Whitefish, especially during the summer. To find out what’s going on, check the Chamber’s community calendar and keep an eye out for posters around town.
Where to Stay in Whitefish, Montana
There are lots of places to stay in Whitefish, but it’s admittedly not a cheap place to visit, especially during the summer and around the holidays. You can often save considerably by staying down the road in Columbia Falls or 20 minutes away in Kalispell instead.
But if you’re able to splurge, Whitefish is a good place to do it. From mountain lodges to cozy cabins and dude ranches to quaint B&Bs, there’s no shortage of memorable places to stay in Whitefish.
Hotels in Whitefish
Firebrand Hotel: The Firebrand is a sleek, modern hotel right in the middle of downtown Whitefish. More than just a place to sleep, you can soak in the rooftop hot tub, get a therapeutic massage at the spa, or play a game in the Game Library. There’s also live music and $10 whiskey flights on Wednesdays, and rooftop yoga classes during the summer.
Good Medicine Lodge: A B&B in a cedar log home, Good Medicine is another Whitefish hotel you’ll have to drag yourself away from. There’s a library, theater, hot tub, fire pit, gardens, and even a ski boot dryer (which you’ll be grateful for on powder days). Complimentary appetizers are offered every afternoon, the included breakfast is a gourmet affair, and the coffee is roasted in-house. And they compost all their food waste!
The Lodge at Whitefish Lake: The sister property of the Firebrand, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake is a longstanding institution. Located right on the lake, it has a private beach and swim area, an indoor pool with a waterfall, and a lakefront hot tub. Every night, the lodge serves complimentary sparkling wine and provides all the fixings to make s’mores over an open fire on the terrace (which seems like reason enough to stay there).
Apres Whitefish: A brand new boutique hotel right on Whitefish River, Apres Whitefish is owned and run by two brothers, and it’s already getting rave reviews. Each room has views of either the river or the ski resort, and you can tell that careful thought has been put into every single detail. It’s a place that invites you back to relax at the end of the day, with a cozy lounge space, an outdoor sauna, and a fire pit facing the mountains.
More Accommodations in Whitefish
Additionally, you’ll find plenty of Airbnbs all over Whitefish, Kalispell, and the surrounding areas. Options range from budget-friendly private rooms to luxurious multi-room condos and from rustic cabins to unique glamping set-ups.
Particularly if you’re looking to stay in downtown Whitefish, choosing a room in someone’s home instead of an entire house is much cheaper, and it also avoids many of the myriad problems Airbnb has caused in some destinations.
Lastly, if you’re up for a more rustic experience, camping in Whitefish is the cheapest option of all. Whitefish Lake State Park and the Whitefish/Kalispell North KOA are the most convenient campgrounds to Whitefish, and both take online reservations. Flathead National Forest is the closest place for dispersed camping (which is free), but plan on about a 30-minute drive out of town.
Map of Whitefish, MT
Our custom map shows the locations of all the best restaurants, shops, galleries, hotels, and things to do. Whitefish is a small town, and the attractions are clustered close together, mostly around the intersection of Hwy. 93 and Central Avenue.
Click here for an interactive version of the map!
Did we miss any of your favorite things to do in Whitefish, Montana? Let us know in the comments!
Jyotsna Ramani says
Whitefish lake looks soooo peaceful and serene. that would defo be my first stop there as a nature lover 😉 and then prolly just head to glacier park . great post.
Jen Ambrose says
Oh it definitely is!!
ANUKRATI DOSI says
Those are such beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing.
Jen Ambrose says
Thank you! Whitefish is such a beautiful place, it’s hard to take a bad photo there!
Super cool, insightful post. Saving it for later!
Jen Ambrose says
Hope it’s helpful! 🙂
Ron Dean says
The Whitefish Bike Retreat is AWESOME!
Jen Ambrose says
That sounds right up of our alley, we’ll have to check it out next time we’re there!
Thank you for this! Saw an ad for Whitefish a few months ago and now I really want to go there and explore.
Jen Ambrose says
It’s such a great place to visit, I hope you make it there soon!
K and T says
We are from Kansas and staying in Columbia Falls. Great info on your page for us tourist. We are driving all the way to here and back. So far we are up to 1700 miles to get here at our resort. looking forward to adding more scenic miles while here in northern Montana.
And T says
PS.. Do you know where we. old see MOOSE somewhere around here??
Jen Ambrose says
Thank you – I’m glad the post was helpful, and hope you’re enjoying the area! Honestly, you never really know when or where you’ll see moose in Western Montana, but there are a lot of them in Glacier!
Up Yours says
Bunch of urban dicks from assorted shitholes such as NY, ILLinois, California stealing land again, this time, from the poor rural Americans you all used to mock as “hillbillies”. You are all a disgrace and affront to nature. Disgusting, urban pigs, running from your very selves.
Ryan Victor says
I’m not sure if this comment is a rooted in real concern, or if it’s just bullying. But because gentrification in Montana is a real issue, I’m going to respond. We’re from Great Falls, and we share the concern about it.
Montana’s economy has made some drastic shifts in our lifetime, and we empathize with the many long-time residents who feel they’ve been left behind. Housing prices in Bozeman, Missoula, and Whitefish especially have skyrocketed as more people moved in from out of state. Our hometown has largely been spared, but it’s also in decline, with fewer younger residents staying after high school or college because there are so few job opportunities.
But just being angry accomplishes nothing. We can’t just kick out all of the out of staters and assume things will go back to the way they were 30 years ago. We have to find a way forward where everyone gets a slice of the economic pie.
Gentrification is bullshit. Get a damn life!!! Most citizens say take your gentrification and shove it!!!
Wow, your reply to that comment must have required the patience of Job. Probably not worth the effort but nice job putting it together. Thanks for the article. Heading out next week and appreciate the pointers.
Ryan Victor says
No, probably not, but hopefully it gets other people thinking about the economic problems we’re seeing in Montana. So many believe the problem is people coming from other states, and that everything would be all right if we could just get back on track with mining and timber. But those industries will never bring back the kind of jobs that existed here in the 70s, so we’ve got to look for new opportunities for the state. Glad you enjoyed the article though, and hope you have an excellent time in Montana!
Dick Maguire says
Great Northern brewery went out of business last month.
Ryan Victor says
We heard. We were really hoping it would come back in some other form soon…
I am dying to go back to Montana and explore it even more! Beautiful pictures! I hope I can go back and see this city!
Jen Ambrose says
Thank you! Whitefish is definitely one of the most beautiful spots in the state (and that’s saying something!).
Olivia Rutt says
Honestly, small towns are where it’s at. I mean, look how beautiful this place is! Plus fewer crowds and access to some stunning natural areas around it! Can’t go wrong.
Jen Ambrose says
You get us. 😉
Great post! I use to be so close to Whitefish when I was living in Calgary and have had tons of friends go there but never been myself. I will definitely need to check it out. And check out a brewery!
Jen Ambrose says
And we’re from so near the border, but have explored so little of Alberta! But yes, the breweries in Whitefish (and all over Montana, really) are great.
I love a good small town getaway! Now I have the perfect place to stay when I visit the NP!
Jen Ambrose says
We love them too! 🙂