Kalispell is Montana's Winter Wonderland

They named it Glacier National Park for a reason. Skewering the clear blue sky along the U.S.-Canadian border in Northwest Montana, the mountains of the picturesque park typically get buried in so much winter powder that many of them remain white-capped all year-round. This is America’s true winter wonderland — even in the months when most parts of the country are basking in the warmth of spring and early summer.

As anyone who has been here knows, the marvels for which Glacier National Park is celebrated don’t suddenly stop at the park’s borders. The rugged Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the world-class ski resort at Whitefish Mountain and the scenic Flathead Valley — home to Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River — all sit at the threshold of the park, providing visitors with endless recreation, sightseeing and cultural opportunities through every season.

In the center of it all lies the mountain town of Kalispell, a friendly community that serves as a perfect launching point to strike out in search of adventure in every direction.

To the north, visible from downtown Kalispell, the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort beckon skiers and snowboarders of every skill level and interest. Formerly known as Big Mountain (and for good reason), the resort features 2,353 feet of vertical drop spread out over more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain served by nine chairlifts and three surface lifts. A two-time host of the U.S. Alpine Championships, Whitefish Mountain is celebrated for its scenic vistas, seemingly endless terrain and haunting stands of “snow ghosts.”

For a more low-key atmosphere, powder hounds can turn to the region’s two smaller ski areas, Blacktail Mountain and Turner Mountain. Nestled in the mountains a short drive from Kalispell, Blacktail features more than 1,000 acres of mostly intermediate runs, all served by four lifts. Blacktail also offers several miles of groomed Nordic skiing … perfect for a winter skiing biathlon of sorts. Turner Mountain, located just outside the blue-collar community of Libby, is a true mom-and-pop operation where the lifties are sure to remember your name. And how’s this for getting away from it all: You can even rent out the area midweek (it’s only open to the public Thursdays through Sundays) for your own private ski mountain! 

Kalispell is something of a mecca for snowmobilers as well. The Flathead Snowmobile Association and other area volunteers keep more than 200 miles of trails groomed for riders, giving access to endless high-country play areas and unforgettable vistas. Machine rentals are available at Winter Wonderland Sports in Kalispell and Swan Mountain Snowmobiling in Coram. Swan Mountain also offers a wide range of unique guided tours, including the “Quickie” — a two-hour ride that takes you straight to the top of Desert or Crane Mountain for phenomenal summit views.

For those who prefer a pumping heart to the rush of adrenaline, Kalispell offers convenient access to some of the finest Nordic skiing opportunities anywhere. Trails at the Stillwater Mountain Lodge near Whitefish and the Izaak Walton Inn near Essex are meticulously groomed for skate or classic skiers.

And if you thought Glacier National Park was beautiful in the summer, just imagine the experience of skiing or snowshoeing along the legendary Going-to-the-Sun Road. Hemmed on both sides by towering crags, the swish of your skis blending with the babble of McDonald Creek, this is Glacier at its most peaceful and glorious.

For a unique adventure into the Montana backcountry, spend a day with Dog Sled Adventures of Olney or Base Camp Dogsledding in Bigfork. Both companies offer guided sledding trips with experienced mushers.

Of course, few among us can play that hard all the time. Fortunately, Kalispell offers plenty of options for a relaxed day spent in town. Start by heading to the Visitor Center in the old train station in Depot Park to pick up a walking tour brochure. Make sure to ask for a wooden coin, good for $5 toward a purchase of $25 or more from one of the many local businesses you’ll find as you follow your itinerary.

Get a taste of Western style at downtown shops such as Western Outdoor, with its breathtaking inventory of more than 1,500 hats and 2,500 pairs of boots; or the Kalispell Antiques Market, where more than 30 vendors offer first-edition books, antiques, toys, jewelry, furniture, posters and memorabilia. For an added dose of culture, visit the Hockaday Museum of Art, home to one of the finest collections of Western art in the region.

However you choose to spend the daylight hours, your evenings will be full of hearty food and homey accommodations in Kalispell, which offers a wide array of branded properties, bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals-by-owner, and the historic Grand Hotel, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Several properties offer special winter stay-and-ski packages with reduced lift ticket prices at area ski resorts, helping you get the most out of your vacation funds. And if you want to get one more breath of fresh Montana air before hitting the hay, step onto the ice in Kalispell’s Woodland Park for a leisurely skate around the rustic pond. The ice rink is open until 11 p.m. and is free, with skate rentals available.

All in all, Kalispell spells winter magic. Visit www.DiscoverKalispell.com to start planning your trip today.

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