Long before the first Europeans arrived in the Whitefish/Glacier National Park area of Montana, Native American tribes including the Pend Oreille, Kootenai and Salish inhabited the area for 14,000 years.
Although trappers and immigrants from the west passed through the area during the second half of the century, it was not until 1883 that the first permanent settler, John Morton, built a cabin on Whitefish Lake and was soon joined by local logging pioneers.
The Great Northern Railway was built through Whitefish in 1904 and brought rapid growth to the area. The Whitefish Depot was a stop on the Amtrak Empire Builder line, and nearby Glacier Park continued to attract more and more visitors.
Skiing as a growing industry grew strongly just after World War II, and Whitefish Mountain, originally named Big Mountain, became one of the top 20 ski resorts in the country with a dozen lifts , 2,500 vertical feet and wonderful snow conditions (although we did see some rain on our recent trip).
We have been coming to the area regularly for over 40 years, as skiers and Glacier Park enthusiasts. In addition to world-class skiing and breathtaking views of Montana and Glacier Park, the town of Whitefish offers the best of Western ski resorts, retaining its small-town Western vibe and a host of shops, galleries, restaurants and bars, many of which offer live entertainment.
Be sure to stop by the old Great Northern Railway Station and Stumptown Resident Historical Museum for the history of the town and the railway in these areas.
We recently spent four nights at our favorite lodge, Grouse Mountain Lodge, on the west side of town. Cross-country skiing/snowshoeing options abound at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course, surrounding our lodge, with 15 kilometers of groomed trails, including 4 kilometers lit for night skiing.
We were joined by about twenty other representatives of former National Ski Patrol, who enjoyed the skiing and the sights despite a rainy start to the week; unusual, since this part of Montana is cold to very cold, with the usual deep snow.
Consider a dogsled excursion for a truly memorable experience. Dog Sled Adventures, located 15 miles northwest of Whitefish in Olney, offers a company with nearly 100 Alaskan huskies to pull sleds, catering daily to couples, families or groups. We have done the dog sledding adventure several times, as have our travel companions, and the experience remains one of life’s most memorable adventures.
Glacier National Park is 26 miles east of Whitefish, and in winter visitors can hike 12 miles into the park, along Lake McDonald to Lake McDonald Lodge on the Going to the Sun Highway . Although the road is closed in winter at the old lodge, one can continue cross-country skiing or snowshoeing along McDonald Creek to Logan Pass (the pass is still 21 miles uphill, however).
Other cross-country ski trails run up the north side of Lake McDonald. The view of the lake to the northwest from the Apgar area of Glacier, deep in the national park, is one of the best views to the west.
Continue along Highway 2 on the south side of the park to the town of Essex and the Izaak Walton Inn. The hostel was built as the Izaak Walton Hotel in 1939 by the Great Northern as a kitchen and overnight stop for railway workers. The Tudor Revival Hotel was named after Sir Isaac Walton, the English writer and its location in Essex, formerly called Walton.
The hostel offers 33 rooms in the old hotel, with another dozen refurbished railway cabos, locomotives and bar cars available for overnight accommodation; a stop here will appeal to railway fans young and old. It is surrounded by cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, which makes it very popular with outdoor enthusiasts.
After our Glacier Park experience, we head seven hours southeast to the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone National Park, where bison, elk and wolves abound in an area of hot springs and fumaroles. from another world. More on that in next week’s column.
For more information: Whitefish, explorewhitefish.com; Grouse Mountain Lodge, glacierparkcollection.com; Dog Sledding Adventures, dogsledadventuresmontana.com; Glacier National Park, nps.gov/glac/.
Contact Tim at [email protected] Happy winter adventures in your world!