A charming downtown? Jaw-dropping scenery? Attractions for every season? Check, check, and check.
Most people end up passing through the town of Whitefish before or after visiting Glacier National Park or skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. But much more than just a requisite transit point, Whitefish is a vibrant place that 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.
If you only have one day in town, here’s how to experience the best things to do in Whitefish, MT.
Start with an early breakfast.
Missoula may be the foodie capital of Montana, but Whitefish has more than its share of great places to eat. Begin your day with breakfast at Amazing Crepes, where you can choose from a huge list of sweet and savory crepes. (Pear, Gorgonzola, and almond? Gruyere and apricot preserves? Roasted veggies, cheddar, egg, and spinach? Yes on all three counts, please.)
The owners 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!
Wander through downtown Whitefish.
Strolling around the charming downtown area is easily one of the top things to do in Whitefish, and it’s the perfect way to spend the morning. The downtown extends south and west from the train station, which should be a stop on your tour of town anyway.
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 novel set-up, I couldn’t not buy one.)
The building is over 100 years old and also houses a small free museum on the history of Whitefish. The museum displays several Native American artifacts, one 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.
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, outdoor gear, local art, huckleberry-flavored everything, and all kinds of décor and other souvenirs that will give your home a little rustic 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 bathroom (seriously, don’t let your child go in there!).
For a mid-morning pick-me-up, pop into Montana Coffee Traders. It’s a popular spot, but you won’t have to wait in line if you just want plain coffee; the drip coffee is 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 here in Whitefish! If you’re ordering some other type of drink or one of their goodies (scone, anyone?), you can browse the racks of coffee-themed items and other souvenirs while you wait.
Eat lunch at the town’s hip artisan market.
Check out Stumptown Marketplace, and stay for lunch at Zucca. We loved the concept of Stumptown, which is a small indoor market made up of local vendors.
Tucked in the back of the market is Zucca Marketplace Bistro, a Mediterranean restaurant that just might be the best lunch spot in town. We salivated over the menu of fresh salads, wraps, bowls, and sandwiches before I eventually settled on a kale-quinoa-avocado bowl. We hadn’t been back from Southeast Asia all that long when we visited Whitefish, and Zucca was 100% the kind of fresh, healthy, delicious, hipster café I’d been missing.
Pick up dessert at a local institution.
Sweet Peaks operates a few ice cream shops in the northwest, but this one is the original. It’s beloved by locals and visitors alike, and trust me, 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 or Huckleberry would definitely hit the spot.
Have an outdoor adventure.
Any good list of 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, it’s surrounded by mountains, so it’s gorgeous.
If you visit in the summer, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the lake. It’s one of the best spots in the state for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, and you can also rent a jet ski. There are even weekly SUP yoga classes.
When we were at the lake, we also saw someone flyboarding for the first time. 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 try it. None of that will be possible in the winter, but Whitefish Lake is beautiful when frozen and covered in snow, so you should still swing by.
For an active winter adventure, Whitefish Trail is a lovely walking and cycling path not far from the lake. In the winter, you can rent fat tire bikes at Glacier Cyclery and pedal it no matter the weather. The super-wide tires cut through the snow and prevent you from sliding on the ice, and they’re no harder to ride than a regular bike.
Too sore from hiking in Glacier, or saving your legs for the ski hill? Make it a relaxing afternoon instead and head to the spa.
For such a small town, Whitefish has a surprising number of places to choose from. I haven’t had the chance to try any of them, but next time I’m in town, I’d definitely like to go for a facial at Highbrow or a massage at Natural Elements Massage & Spa.
You could also drop in to a yoga class at one of the handful of studios in town. I’ve only been to the Yoga Hive, but I also want to check out Shanti Yoga next time I’m there. If you’re a hot yoga devotee (which I am definitely not), there’s also Love Yoga. All three studios have frequent community classes that are donation-based or priced at $5.
Eat at one of Whitefish’s best restaurants.
You’ll have a whole lot of options for a delicious dinner in Whitefish. If budget (and time) is no concern, most consider critically-acclaimed Cafe Kandahar to be the best fine dining in town. We didn’t eat there (because, you know, budget and time were a concern), but it looks fabulous. The menu rotates frequently, and it’s a place where each meal is a work of art. For a less extravagant option, Tupelo Grille and Ciao Mambo are other favorites for southern and Italian cuisine.
Visit a local brewery.
Montana is the second state in the nation (behind Vermont) for number of breweries per capita, and Whitefish – a town of just 8,000 that has two of them – more than pulls its weight. A stop at one (or both) is the perfect end to a day in town.
Great Northern Brewing Company has been in business since way before the craft beer revolution (it opened in 1995!), so it’s a Montana classic. The taproom is huge, with tons of seating and a gorgeous deck on the second floor where you can enjoy your Going-to-the-Sun IPA with a view of the mountains.
(Great Northern Brewery closed in February 2020. We’re hoping that they reopen, perhaps at a different location in the near future. Their beers are beloved throughout the state.)
The town’s other brewery is Bonsai Brewing Project, and it’s like Great Northern’s hipster cousin. Bonsai was Kickstarter-funded 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 with a huge yard and outdoor patio. Their beers aren’t sold anywhere else, so that’ll be your only chance to sample them. If you like supporting offbeat businesses and drinking beer at a place that feels a community, you’ll fit right in at Bonsai. (Due to Montana’s unusual brewery laws, Bonsai closes at 8:00pm, but Great Northern is open until 11:00pm.)
A Few More Things to Do in Whitefish, MT
There are lots of other great 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 these into your visit:
Farmers’ Market: The town’s farmers’ market is every Tuesday evening during the summer, from 5:00pm to 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.
Lastly, there are always tons of different events happening in Whitefish, especially during the summer, so keep an eye out for posters around town.
See exactly where all these places and are located, on our custom map of Whitefish.
Where to Stay in Whitefish
Whitefish isn’t a cheap place to visit, especially during the popular summer months and ski season, and that’s evident in the prices of accommodations. You can save considerably by staying in Kalispell instead, which is just a 20-minute drive away.
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. These are just a few of the best options:
Bar W Guest Ranch: If you’ve ever dreamed of a Montana dude ranch vacation, this is your chance. At the Bar W, you can choose from a room in the lodge, a suite in their log cabin, or a canvas glamping tent. But it’s the activities that make it a ranch experience; go horseback riding, try square dancing, take a wagon ride, or sing songs around the campfire.
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 riverstone therapy massage at the spa, or enjoy specials like Sunday mimosas and Wednesday wine flights.
Good Medicine Lodge: A B&B in a cedar log home, Good Medicine offers modern comforts with rustic charm. 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 night, and the included breakfast is a three-course affair.
The Lodge at Whitefish Lake: The sister property of Firebrand, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake is a longstanding institution. Located right on the lake, it has a private beach and swim area and provides canoes for guests. Every night, they show a classic Montana movie and make s’mores over an open fire, which seems like a reason to stay there in itself.
Additionally, like in most of the U.S., Airbnb can be more affordable than hotels in Whitefish. You’ll find tons of rentals listed all over Whitefish, Kalispell, and the surrounding areas. Here are a few highly-rated listings to check out:
- Quiet Art Escape Studio Room
- Cozy Home in the Heart of Whitefish
- Whitefish Condo Nestled in the Trees on Big Mountain
- Cozy and Clean Hostel, Bed #1
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 is the cheapest option of all. You can find fully equipped campsites and decked-out RVs on Airbnb, and most public campgrounds are listed on Reserve America.
Did we miss any of your favorite things to do in Whitefish, MT? Let us know in the comments!
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