Glacier National Park was incredible, but we were ready for fewer people and more hiking with Bugsy, so we relocated a bit to the west to hit a different section of Flathead National Forest. Two neighboring towns appealed to us as potential bases: Kalispell and Whitefish; we chose a campground between the two so that we could explore both.
Both towns have cute main commercial areas that are fun to explore on foot. Both towns have appealing breweries and restaurants. Whitefish, being a resort town, is a bit fancier, more touristy, and was much more crowded than Kalispell in mid-September.
The Whitefish/Kalispell North KOA is a nice campground a short drive to either Whitefish or Kalispell. Actually, it’s nice if you shell out (or get a free upgrade woohoo!) for a site with a deck, which gives you more space. The regular spots are a little sardine-packed. The internet is terrible and we didn’t have cell service. But, there are positives: there’s free breakfast (in season) of eggs, hash browns, waffles, cereal, and coffee, and the petting zoo animals seem to get free run of the place in the afternoons. That’s right, a small herd of miniature horses and donkeys roam around the campground wreaking havoc. Don’t leave anything important or tasty outside your trailer!
Both hikes we chose are very popular, so go early to beat the crowds. They are both in Flathead National Forest and are DOG-FRIENDLY. Our main criteria, as usual, were 1) not too long a drive from our campground, and 2) not crazy crowded. These both fit the requirements, but we may have been lucky crowd-wise in that we visited in the off-season, and had some crap weather one day. Your best bet is always to hike on a weekday and get an early start.
Strawberry Lake is a 6-mile out-and-back to a lovely lake in the Jewel Basin area of the national forest. Cold and rainy/sleety weather was good for keeping away the crowds on a normally popular hike.
Danny On Memorial Trail is another really popular trail starting in the Whitefish Ski Resort and weaving into Flathead National Forest. It’s a well-maintained and pleasant trail, but for much of the hike you can see civilization. It’s less scenic, but that does make it more comfortable for a solo female hiker with dog. Sans dog, in the summer, you have the option to ride a ski lift one direction if you want to cut the hike distance, which is about 7.6 miles total out and back.
Here’s J with some beer smarts!
Whitefish and Kalispell and their immediate surroundings have five breweries. Unfortunately, we didn’t make sure the lone Whitefish brewery, Bonsai Brewing, was going to be open on Labor Day Monday so we missed it. It’s a shame that we did; Bonsai was at the top of our list based on our internet research, both due to its eclectic tap list and its cool beer garden just north of town. Anyway, it just gives us another reason to go back to Whitefish.
We hit the three Kalispell breweries in succession one afternoon, starting with Kalispell Brewing Co (KBC). KBC is set right in the middle of town on Main Street in a pleasing old timey building in a strip of old timey buildings. It boasts a two-level tasting room, with a large outdoor balcony on the second floor where we sat and enjoyed a seasonal hazy IPA (J) and a seasonal goze (L) (ed: remember how I’m a sour girl now?). We thought the beers decent and liked the scene from the upstairs deck. KBC doesn’t serve food, but has a food truck in back.
Next up for us was Bias Brewing, also in downtown Kalispell and just a few blocks from KBC. Unfortunately, we didn’t particularly care for the beers (nor their house-made huckleberry seltzer) (nor the atmosphere there), so it was a quick stop. Bias serves yummy looking food (specializing in bowls) and the place has more of a feel – to us at least – of a restaurant than a brewery. There is no outside seating at Bias.
Finally, we completed our tour of Kalispell breweries with a stop at Sunrift Brewing, which is just north of downtown, a block off of Main Street. The scene at Sunrift was great – they seem to be spaced over two historic buildings with an open-air tap room and a large amount of dog-friendly outdoor seating. Unfortunately, they only serve six beers at a given time, they were out of their lone IPA and their lone sour and none of their other beers appealed to us so we decided to call it an afternoon.
After our Strawberry Lake hike, we stopped by Sacred Waters Brewing Company, which is just northeast of Kalispell and southeast of Whitefish on Route 2. Sacred Waters has a beautiful grassy field behind the brewery with picnic tables and a stage for live music. Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed in the back so we sat on the concrete patio under a heat lamp in front of the brewery. It was still a nice scene in the front and we enjoyed the beers and a snack from the attached restaurant. J focused on the “Mountain IPA”, their flagship, which he liked more than their seasonal hazy IPA, and L on the “mojito sour”, also a seasonal. We definitely recommend making the short drive out from Kalispell or Whitefish to Sacred Waters. It was our favorite of the four breweries we visited in the area.
We also learned on this stop about the 48-oz per person limit at breweries in Montana, and the state-mandated 8pm closing time. Interesting.
In our search for outdoors drinking in Whitefish, we came across the rooftop deck at Casey’s. Score! We enjoyed a mule and an IPA on the roof with fresh air and social distancing.
J had to work the morning B and I hiked Danny On. He needed a quiet place to take phone calls and get some caffeine in the form of matcha, which isn’t always easy to find. Folklore Coffee in Whitefish was perfect.
Because of stupid Covid, we’re only into carryout food. We ordered out one lunch and one dinner and they were both fab.
Buffalo Cafe was quick despite being on a wait for dine-in. We both ordered breakfast for lunch and it was so tasty and filling (and sinful).
Eating sushi in Montana might seem like an odd choice, but it was delicious! We ordered carryout from Wasabi Grill.
I didn’t remember until I was going through the photos, but we got a salmon bowl from Sacred Water‘s next-door neighbor, Fork in the River Kitchen, and it was healthy and yummy! Bad note-taker. It’s another reason to visit Sacred Waters. See photo above.
We had a great couple days eating, drinking, and hiking in the Whitefish/Kalispell area!