Last year, antsy after spending months at home during the pandemic, John and I booked a last minute trip out west. Yes, we had been watching Yellowstone and yes, we were obsessed. I asked my IG friends for suggestions for traveling to Montana and a couple people said Whitefish. I had never heard of it and visiting National Parks hasn’t really been my thing in the past, but we wanted to do something different! SO, I did a little research, we booked our flights and packed our bags.
October in Montana is kind of an in-between season. Summer is definitely over, but ski seasons hasn’t started up yet. This meant that lodging rates and park rates would be lower and less crowded. We didn’t really realize this at the time, but we picked the PERFECT time to go. SO! I highly, highly, highly suggest visiting Whitefish Lake and Glacier National Park in the fall.
Here are a few tips if you decide to book a trip of your own.
HOW TO GET THERE
By far the easiest way to get to Whitefish and the Glacier National Park area is to fly directly into the Glacier National Park (FCA) airport in Kalispell. The drive from FCA to Whitefish was only about 20 minutes! We rented a car at the airport so we could explore around and drive to the park each day.
WHERE TO STAY // The Lodge at Whitefish Lake
This was a suggestion from an IG follower and it was a GREAT one! The actual town of Whitefish is a cute lil Montana town, but if you go just a few miles up the road, you get to Whitefish Lake which is drop dead gorgeous. The Lodge is right on the lake and was the perfect home base for our trip. I already wrote a full blog post about the Lodge, so check that out HERE.
EAT / DRINK HIGHLIGHTS
The Boat Club Bar & Dining Room – If you do decide to stay at the Lodge, you’ll definitely eat a few meals here, especially if you are pooped after a day in the parks. The Lounge food is reliable and they have a fine dining restaurant as well. If you decide to stay elsewhere, definitely come over here for a drink and watch the sunset over the lake!
Jalisco Cantina – We ventured just a mile or so down the road one evening to Jalisco Cantina and we were SO glad we did. It is a relatively new Mexican restaurant with a sister spot in Cali, and everything we had was amazing. It is in a seemingly random location between the Lodge and Downtown, making it kind of easy to miss, but trust me, you will definitely want to make a res here!
Ciao Mambo – Ciao Mambo is a delicious Italian spot in Downtown Whitefish! It was a rec from a friend and we were really glad to get into town one night for a delicious meal after a long day hiking in Glacier. The pasta was divine and the bread INSANE. Highly recommend.
Markus Foods – This local market became our go-to place to grab premade or made to order sandwiches each day to take with us on our hikes! It is located on the edge of town and was on our way out each day. They also had an amaaaaazing selection of local beer and wine at epic prices, so we obviously grabbed some to enjoy during our stay.
Cowgirl Coffee – There are now 4 locations of Cowgirl Coffee small coffee stands around Whitefish, one located right up the road from the lodge, in between the lake & Downtown! Definitely a must stop to grab a cup of their signature organic blend.
We had so many other recommendations of places to eat & drink but with such a short trip, we stayed pretty close to the Lodge. And I only like to bring reviews here of places I have actually tried. I look forward to growing this list after we return to Whitefish (hopefully very soon!).
Fall in Montana is gorgeous, if on the chilly side. Our trip was over Halloween weekend, and they had had the first snow, which meant the mountain caps were snow covered and oh-so-picturesque but it did not snow while we were there. The lows were in the 30s and the highs in the 40s, meaning you definitely needed layers, but nothing too intense, especially if you are going to work up a sweat hiking. Be sure to pack thermals and long Johns, which will keep you warm without having to wear anything too bulky. Hats and gloves are a must, too for the early mornings in the Park.
VISITING GLACIER IN THE FALL
Fall is definitely a great time to visit Glacier National Park. While the Going to the Sun Road closes 14 miles in after the first snow, that still leaves lots of trails near the park entrance to explore without the crowds the park attracts during the summer. If you only have a few days to explore Glacier and you aren’t advanced hikers, like John and I, there are plenty of miles of trails to explore even with the closures. We got to the park each day around 10 or so, and would leave around 3. Because of the slow season, there was no need to get there at the crack of dawn, unless you’re a crazy morning person, which we are not! Here were a few of our favorite trails:
Trail of Cedars to Avalanche Lake — This is probably the most popular hike in the fall, if not one of the most popular in the park and for good reason! It is a 5.8 mile hike of moderate difficulty. It starts out winding through gorgeous trails of yes, Cedar. Thousands of Cedars, some fallen and covering the ground. It was truly unlike anything I had ever seen. There are definitely some steep hills on the trail to the lake, but if I can do it, you can do it. Once we got to Avalanche Lake, my breath was completely taken away when we came into the clearing and saw the view. Snow covered mountains reflecting into the the picturesque lake. STUNNNG. We packed sandwiches and had a nice little lunch at the lake while taking it all in.
John’s Lake Loop — This short 2 mile trail ended up being such a pleasant surprise! Half of the trail is along McDonald Creek after McDonald falls and the views were just AMAZING. You could take your time, exploring down by the creek and the falls, making your own trail off of the main pain and explore without getting lost, because everything was so close to the creek. Check out this epic view on my REELS HERE and the following few photos are from the trail as well.
Rocky Point Trail & Lake McDonald Trail – These trails are on the opposite side of Lake McDonald from the Going To The Sun Road and definitely underrated. We wanted to see the lake and the park from the West Side of the lake and there were only a few options when it came to short easy-ish trails that were open but DANG these trails were STUNNING. I mean look at the photo below!!!!!!!!!! You can access these trails easily if you decide to stay in the park at Fish Creek, and imagine that this spot is glorious in the summer.
As much as we would LOVE to experience the summer or ski season in Whitefish and at Glacier, I personally think that early spring and fall are the ideal times to visit the park. You get the snow capped mountains reflecting on the lakes, the cooler temperatures and a less crowded park. Like, a lot less crowded. We could be on a trail for miles and only see a few people! It was so peaceful.
~ PIN FOR LATER ~