Discovering Whitefish, Montana, One of the Best Towns Near Glacier National Park

whitefish montana towns near glacier national park
The business district of Whitefish, one of the coolest towns near Glacier National Park.

 

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, one of the coolest towns near Glacier National Park.

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.

fish-statue

“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 those cheap baked goods!) of smaller communities.

If you’re looking for lodging in the area, scroll to the end of the article for some recommended Whitefish, Montana accommodations. We also have a section on other towns near Glacier NP, including Polebridge, Columbia Falls, and Kalispell.

UPDATE: Stumptown Marketplace’s multi-vendor mini-mall-style atmosphere no longer exists. But the market has been reimagined as a ski-themed restaurant.

Note: Seeking a cool outdoor activity near Whitefish? This half-day rafting tour meets in West Glacier:


Getting to Whitefish, Montana

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.

If you’re looking for the closest city to Glacier National Park, this is basically it. There are other cities in the region, but Columbia Falls isn’t as cool, Polebridge doesn’t have electricity, and Kalispell is a bit too far. Whitefish is less than an hour from the western entrance of the park.

moose-statue

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. The train station is right in the heart of downtown, so you can get off and wheel your suitcase right to your hotel!

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 TownePlace Suites by Marriott. Unfortunately, the Whitefish Hostel, which had beds for around $35/night, is no longer in business.

big-mountain
They call it “Big Mountain.” Name checks out.

 

Discovering the Coolest City Near Glacier National Park

What is there to do in Whitefish, Montana? One of the things I like about the town 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.

whitefish-farmers-market

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!)

kettle-corn

Whitefish also has a noteworthy ski resort, which makes it one of the few towns near Glacier National Park that is worth visiting during the winter. It gets very cold and snowy in the part of the country!

I was only in Whitefish for a short time but it was long enough to convince me that it’s worth spending a couple nights here if you’re coming to the Glacier area. When I returned to Glacier NP last year to see mountain goats, I stayed in Whitefish again and once again had a fantastic time.

whitefish street - towns near glacier national park

Recommended Whitefish Montana Accommodations

TownePlace Suites by Marriott. Extremely modern and clean hotel with a gym, pool, and other nice amenities. Should be at the top of your list of places to stay in Whitefish.

Whitefish Downtown Suites. This collection of five suites sits on the second floor right above Abruzzo restaurant in the heart of town. They are fancy but cozy and have cool balconies attached. I greatly enjoyed my stay here.

Stumptown Inn of Whitefish. Located right by the Whitefish River, the Stumptown Inn offers comfortable rooms at prices that are quite affordable for this expensive part of Montana.

Downtowner Inn. The name says it all. You won’t find a more centrally located hotel. This one has a green, brown and beige exterior that fits right in with the forest environment in this part of Montana. Average amenities and pretty good prices.

Whitefish Hostel. UPDATE: This hostel was sold and ended up closing in 2019, which removes Whitefish’s only super cheap lodging. That is a shame. I stayed here on a few occasions. It was the cheapest lodging you could find in Whitefish, with beds starting at around $35/night. The vibe was fun and relaxed.

Check out a few more sights from Whitefish:

ceramic-creatures

whitefish photos - best city near glacier NP

whitefish-shops

If you come during the winter, you’ll see Whitefish in another light, a beautiful town covered in a dusting of snow. I consider Whitefish one of the best Christmas getaways in America.

Other Towns Near Glacier National Park

You should definitely stay in Whitefish! But if you want to understand the full scope of towns near Glacier NP, here are a few others to consider:

Polebridge. As mentioned earlier, Polebridge is one of the last remaining American towns without electricity. That makes it quaint and old-fashioned. It’s also super-small. They do have a few cabins and a hostel, but otherwise, the only reason to stay here is because of the novelty.

Columbia Falls. I did enjoy Columbia Falls. I went ziplining here and had lunch at a cute little sidewalk cafe. It’s a fun area for outdoor recreation, but the town itself is small. They do have a handful of eateries, coffee shops, and drug stores. Columbia Falls may actually be the closest city to Glacier National Park, so if you’re going to stay somewhere other than Whitefish, try Columbia Falls (especially Cedar Creek Lodge!)

Kalispell. Glacier is a popular destination for road trippers, but if you do fly here, you’ll likely fly into Glacier Park International Airport near Kalispell. This town has around 20,000 residents and a main street with a business district.

Babb. Located on the eastern side of Glacier NP, Babb is a very rural area with a couple of restaurants and a hotel. I stayed there for a night when I was trying to explore the northeastern section of the park and get a spot at Many Glacier Campground. This area is close to Blackfeet Outfitters, which provides off-roading tours of rarely-seen parts of Glacier NP and meals with local native families.

Overall, even though there are only a few towns near Glacier National Park, they are all interesting in their own way and each can make for a great homebase for exploring the park!

Note: I was a guest of Glacier Country Tourism and Explore Whitefish. As always, all opinions are my own.

10 thoughts on “Discovering Whitefish, Montana, One of the Best Towns Near Glacier National Park”

  1. Whitefish has miles of fantastic paved bike trails throughout the town interconnected along the river and Whitefish Lake. Also an abundance of absolutely beautiful golf courses in & around the area. Golf, fish, swim, bike ride, boating, paddle board, ski, it has a lot of recreational opportunities.❤️

  2. Visited Whitefish a few years ago when we went to Glacier NP. Loved it. Great little town. Too expensive to live there, but great place to visit. In talking with some residents, I said this was like heaven, and they said “not quite, but we can see it from here”. I agree.

  3. Lana from Indiana

    As a born, raised and current resident of a small town in Indiana, I can say that Whitefish, Montana, has stolen my heart in more ways than one. My 22 year old son fell in love with Glacier National Park at 11 years old while there hiking for a week with his Boy Scout troop. Since that trip, he returned to Glacier NP on multiple occasions, continuing his fascination and desire to return to live in Montana. Following his graduation from University, he secured a position at the airport in Kalispell, Montana. In late August 2021, we followed him over 1900 miles to reach his final destination in Whitefish, Montana. He had difficulty securing housing in the “valley” as the locals refer to it, which is Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell, Montana. Fortunately, Through the Jet Center, a connection was made and he was able to secure a Furnished 1-Bedroom Condo. I will warn others that rentals are quite expensive in the valley and there are long waiting lists for complexes. New builds are going up everywhere, and they are filled as soon as they open. My son made a connection, which I would recommend for anyone trying to locate to this area. We helped him settle in, saw the incredible sights of Whitefish, went into Glacier NP, traveled the Road to the Sun, visited the breathtaking lakes and rivers, went to Polebridge and had pizza (which I recommend!), and walked through the vender fair “downtown”. Whitefish reminds me of a slightly bigger brother of my small town in Indiana, as it is clean, has friendly folks, and there is low to none existent crime. We have about a 1/3rd the population compared to there, so it is more hectic. We left him after a couple of days. Since then, we made the long trek back and drove to visit him, arriving on Christmas late evening. Though he was still at work when we arrived, we were able to meet with him briefly, give hugs, take a few photos, wish him Merry Christmas, grab his key, drive to his condominium and wait for him there. Snow began as he arrived at his place in the early morning hours and it didn’t stop over the next 4 days of our visit! If you’re worried about getting out and about during your visit, no need to worry! The road crews and even “normal” civilians have the roads “cleared”(not down to pavement, but down to a level that promotes safe driving and is less likely to freeze into ice sheets!). We drove the 2021 Honda Civic 6-Speed which only has front-wheel drive and had no problem! Most who live there however have 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive trucks, SUVs or cars, and we were the exception! My son purchased a GMC Canyon which is a 4-wheel drive and he is happy he has it with the constant snow there. The temperature has been about 10 degrees during the day on warm days, and often dips to -15 degrees at night. The positive thing there versus Indiana is the low humidity in Whitefish! My son has noticed how much that lower humidity matters, even during the bitter cold because of the dryness of the winds. That is yet another bonus of Whitefish! Our visit included a trip into Glacier NP (Of Course!) and we were pleased that even the campground roads were cleared for driving! Due to the lack of humans and vehicles moving about, we were Blessed to witness many different wildlife species walking about the campgrounds, enjoying crossing the roads and in many other areas of the park they generally avoid due to humans. The snow on top of picnic tables would’ve easily measured 18 inches or more, so this was no small amount for road crews to move. However, in all places we went, it was just another day in paradise.

    I must agree, it is a paradise. The mountains surrounding you, the amazing weather of intensely powerful winter with immense snow with low humidity, short spring and fall seasons, and a perfect temperature summer that does not require air conditioning (*for most) with low humidity, an environment that is clean and with people everywhere that are super friendly, it all adds up. Yes, that is why the cost to live in Whitefish is extremely high, because those that can, can. Those things that this article raves about are all true and those with large amounts of money can read too! Those with money starting settling in Whitefish and the more that came, the higher the costs went up. It is a small place. There are many that are wealthy that have relocated to Whitefish and then you have those like my son who moved to Whitefish to for a career to earn money to do what he loves, which is exploring the nature of Montana and doing his favorite thing in life- fishing. If you see a young man out by a river, alone, fishing near the outskirts of the valley , you may just have seen my boy. Say hello to Mitchell for me. Enjoy Montana. You can’t go wrong with exploring Montana.

  4. I do NOT recommend people go to whitefish. The roads are the worst in this part of the state, it’s very difficult to find a parking spot for your vehicle unless you’re willing to walk 5 blocks to get to the 4 nice blocks that are downtown. Everyone in Whitefish thinks that they are superior to everyone else, and everyone COMPLAINS about anything and everything.
    The ski resort is…ok, although if you’re a beginner, you have to actually ski down difficult slopes just to get to the beginner slopes. WTF?
    They just fired a long-serving corrupt Police Chief, and everyone wears the US version of a Burqa.
    Whitefish is lovely to avoid, as all the surrounding areas are better in every way.

  5. Whitefish Montana is beautiful. To visit, have alot of money in your pocket. To live there you better be a high class millionaire.

  6. Unfortunately, whitefish is not really a good representation of the area. Montana is great, but Whitefish is a bunch of millionaires pretending to be Montana.

    Hit the surrounding towns for a better idea of Montana.

    Whitefish is an overpriced tourist trap.

  7. Don’t miss Swift Creek Cafe for breakfast. Best ever! Love this town and such a great base for Glacier National Park but also many other wonderful places to see. Beautiful Montana.

  8. We’ve been to Glacier National Park twice and never went into Whitefish. This is going to change next time! Great look at a unique spot.

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