When I see the gourmet salted caramel cookies in the Pig & Olive Sandwich Shoppe display case for just 50 cents each, right next to the 75-cent mini chocolate raspberry cupcakes, my eyes light up. Fifty cents?! These treats would cost $4 each in Chicago!
Between the bargain-priced sweet treats and the adjacent gift shops featuring locally-made goods, the indoor Stumptown Marketplace is winning me over just minutes after I arrive in Whitefish, Montana. Later, I will soak in the surrounding mountain scenery, discover the quirky sights around town (moose statue in front of the credit union!) and then enjoy a Glacier Gimlet and some live acoustic music at the Tupelo Grille.
“Charming” is an overused word in the travel world, but it’s an apt description of Whitefish, which blends the best elements of big cities, like a walkable downtown and high-quality bars and restaurants, with the laid-back, uncluttered vibe (and cheap baked goods!) of smaller communities.
Getting to Whitefish
Cool businesses aside, the real selling point of Whitefish is its location. The town (technically a city, population roughly 6300) is situated near both Glacier National Park and the popular ski resort at Big Mountain, making it a good launching point for vacations in the area.
Whitefish is only 16 miles from Glacier Park International Airport, but one of the best ways to reach it is via the Amtrak Empire Builder line from Seattle to Chicago. A motivated individual can experience this beautiful part of the country without a vehicle by taking the train to Whitefish, then grabbing one of the $10 shuttles to Apgar Visitor Center, right at the start of Going-to-the-Sun Road, where there are additional free shuttles that travel deeper into the national park.
Backpackers may view Montana as difficult to get to, but the train makes it very accessible. There’s plenty of lodging within walking distance, from the condo-style Whitefish Downtown Suites to the Whitefish Hostel, which has beds for around $35/night. You can take your bike on the shuttles into the park.
Discovering the town
One of the things I like about Whitefish is the wide range of activities. It’s possible to spend the day antique shopping and eating refined cuisine like duck and toasted couscous at Latitude 48. Or, head for the mountain to tackle the bike trails, then refuel with a bison bratwurst from the “all natural Montana meat” food truck.
Not a lot of small towns have activities that run the gamut from sophisticated to rugged, and that’s a cool thing for people like me with varied interests. If you’re in town on a summer Tuesday, stop by the Whitefish Farmers Market, which reveals a distinct Montana flair.
During my market visit, a fossil booth sold pieces of rock embedded with turtle fossils while an acoustic musician urged people to try the bubble tea in between verses of “No Woman No Cry.” A local company sold huckleberry pies and cherry jam made with cherries from nearby Flathead Lake. Other booths sold intriguing foods like avocado chocolate pudding (a little too earthy tasting) and bacon smoked almonds (yum!)
I was only in Whitefish for a short time but it was long enough to convince me that it’s worth spending a night or two here if you’re coming to the Glacier area.
Note: I was a guest of Glacier Country Tourism and Explore Whitefish. As always, all opinions are my own.
Check out a few more sights from Whitefish: