Summer Ski Towns: Whitefish, Montana


Whitefish is one of the blessed few towns in North America that can lay claim to massive peaks and big water. Perched at the shore of 6-mile-long Whitefish Lake, this remote resort community of 6,000, just 8 miles south of The Big Mountain Resort, may be the ideal summer destination.

Because this lakeside community is only 35 miles south of the Canadian border, it's light from 5 am until 10 pm, meaning daytime excursions often become nighttime odysseys. Get a strong start for that long day at the Buffalo Cafe, where you can fuel up on poppy-seed pancakes. Then head north to The Big Mountain Ski and Summer Resort. Take the Danny On Memorial Trail to the 7,000-foot summit. It's a sweaty 6-mile slog, making for a two-hour hike. Pack lots of water and energy bars, and don't forget a camera to capture the "Shining Mountains" of Glacier National Park's million acres. Too tired to hoof it back down? Enjoy the reverse commute by chairlift.

Splash off trail dust at Les Mason Park on the north end of the lake. You can keep it as simple as a quick swim, or make an afternoon of it by renting a sailboard or boat. Early risers should head out at dawn for a canoe down the Whitefish River Canoe Trail. It still reveals why trappers settled here a century ago-deer, moose, bear, geese, swans, muskrats, otters and turtles.

If it rains, put up your hood and grab a Historic Walking Tour map in the Stumptown Historic Society Museum. Within an easy four blocks, you'll find Bookworks' selection of Montana tomes, Imagination Station's stockpile of amusing toys and the Whitefish Times' cheesecakes and mochas.

When it comes time to eat, you can go casual or upscale. If you're spruced up, feast at Tupelo Grill or Whitefish Lake Restaurant. For more casual fare, try outside eats at the Great Northern Bar's patio, Serrano's deck or Truby's garden. Fill up, because there's more to Whitefish after the sun sets.

On Monday evenings, cyclists meet at 6:15 at Glacier Cyclery for night rides. The "A" group heads west to trails above Spencer Lake. You'd better be used to going long and hard if you tag along with this crew. The shop also has maps and leaders for less bruising rides. Tuesday is race night on The Big Mountain's trails. Riders hammer out a 4-mile loop for prizes. Less competitive types grind up the Summit Trail for full-moon thrillers down Taylor Creek Road, a 35-mile, headlamp-jostling scream. For a quieter evening of activity, follow the Whitefish Sea Kayaking paddlers from City Beach to a hidden island under the same full moon.

At new moon, ride the gondola to The Big Mountain's summit for a Stargazer Party. Focus your telescope on Arcturus or Andromeda, and lose yourself to the deep sky as you sip wine and nibble appetizers.

Check out the Whitefish Almanac.