No doubt, if you’re planning a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana, you intend to spend as much time as possible inside the park. For the days when you want to take a break from the breathtaking views and long hikes, here’s a list of things to do near the park.
I made this list through Pinterest and blog searches, as well as with the book “Moon Glacier National Park: Hiking, Camping, Lakes & Peaks.” The title makes is sound like it’s only about the park, but in fact, the book has several sections on nearby towns.
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Hit the beach
My kids’ favorite part of our entire Glacier National Park vacation was the hours we spend at Whitefish City Beach, the area’s popular rocky lakeshore.
There are rentals for kayaks and SUP paddle boards but the kids were content swimming and playing in the sand. Luckily, swimming in the water is absolutely free.
There is a concession stand at the lakefront where you can get ice cream. We opted to get takeout in town and bring it back to a picnic table for lunch.
Extreme sports and extreme views
Whitefish ended up being our favorite town near Glacier National Park. We spent a fun morning at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
The kids went down the alpine slides, and our whole group, from my dad to our kids, took the scenic chairlift up to the summit. The inclosed gondolas are also an option for the ride up.
At the summit, there’s a bar, gift shop, and a few trails for hiking. Had the haze lifted, the views would’ve been incredible.
For more adventurous types, the resort also has mountain biking and an aerial ropes course. And, obviously, in the winter, there’s skiing.
Go to the rodeo
Brash Rodeo is a weekly rodeo held at Blue Moon Arena in Columbia Falls each summer (and every other week in the winter). It’s popular with locals and tourists, and stands are guaranteed to be full.
For a truly unique experience, splurge on the Behind-the-Chutes VIP package. You’re allowed to view the rodeo from the chutes, where you’re literally shoulder-to-shoulder with cowboys.
Have a low-key morning picking a bouquet of wildflowers at Hurst Flower Meadow in Kalispell. It’s a u-pick experience in a large backyard garden, and you end up with enough flowers to fill a vase or two.
It’s a relaxing experience but our young kids became bored. There was plenty to keep them occupied, including a chicken house and a play area.
Reservations are required and she may be able to work with you to set up a different day or time. Just to prepare you: It’ll look like you’re final destination is in a neighborhood, and it is…but the backyard is spacious enough to have two large plots for flowers and greenery.
As far as mountain towns go, the towns near Glacier National Park have an amazing microbrewery scene. We stuck close to our rental home, and enjoyed beers at Backslope Brewing.
My dad, husband and I tried a flight during our visit. We ended up really enjoying some of the brews that were on rotation rather than their standards, so be adventurous and try some of those if you visit. Growlers are available to take some beer back to your rental or hotel room.
Kalispell has three breweries, though we didn’t make it to any of them on our first trip. They are Kalispell Brewing Co., SunRift Beer Co., and Bias Brewing. You’ll also notice several taprooms while driving around, and they offer a variety of local beers.
The two towns with the best shopping are Whitefish and Kalispell. Whitefish is a lot busier, in my experience.
The charming Main Street of Kalispell has several shops to visit, and our favorites were the apparel stores The Montana Scene and Western Outdoor Store. I was at home in the used bookstore The Bookshelf, which had John Prine playing the entire time I browsed the shelves.
There’s also Imagination Station in Kalispell, a toy store that kids can’t resist.
Get a sugar high
Norm’s Soda Fountain in Kalispell is best known for it’s ice cream treats. We were delightfully surprised to find out that Norm’s also has an enormous amount candy.
The kids had fun picking treats to fill their bags. You buy by the pound, so it’s easy to keep spending under control if you set a limit to how many pieces they can pick out.
More ideas for things to do near Glacier National Park
If you know me, you know I tend to over-plan. It works out well since I write about travel for a living. For a week-long trip to the Glacier National Park area, I had a list of several possibilities to fill our days. The list was far too long for a seven-day trip!
Here are the other day activities I considered for our trip. Maybe you’ll find one that sounds great to to you!
- Bike ride – The options turned out to be surprisingly limited since we didn’t have bike racks to transport rented bikes to a trailhead. A few trails I’d considered before learning of our transport issue included Foy’s to Blacktail Trails, Swan River Nature Trail, Great Northern Rails to Trails and the Whitefish Trail. We ended up biking inside Glacier National Park after renting bikes in Apgar Village.
- Family fun – We drove by Amazing Fun Center each time we drove to and from Glacier National Park to our rental house. The go carts and bumper boats looked inviting.
- Chuckwagon dinner – West Glacier Corral is near the West entrance of the park, and their Cowboy Cookout combines horseback riding and a cookout.
- Lavender farm – Purple Mountain Lavender occasionally offers workshops and dinners, but there was nothing planned for the time we were in Montana.
- Day trip around Flathead Lake – As we made our way from the south of Montana to our rental home on the first day, we had several chances to marvel at beautiful Flathead Lake through the trees. If it had been a little closer, we planned on spending a day visiting the popular towns, and stopping at a farm stands or cherry farm. The state parks in the area include West Shore State Park, Big Arm State Park, Finley Point State Park, Yellow Bay State Park, Wayfarers State Park, and Wild Horse Island State Park. In my mind, we’d pick an activity like kayaking at Flathead Lake State Park-West Shore with Sea Me Paddle Kayaking Tours or launch from Big Arm State Park (the bay is great for swimming, too), which has a bay used as the jumping-off point to Wild Horse Island, a 2,163-acre island that’s home to wild horses. Lone Pine State Park often has kids activities, so I checked their calendar for anything planned while we were there.
- Waterfall Road Trip – There are several nearby waterfalls, and had we not been so sick of driving, I had a tempted mini road trip planned. A few of the falls include Holland Falls at Holland Lake, Kootenai Falls near Libby, the falls on Columbia Mountain Trail, and Morrell Falls near Seeley Lake.
- Hike with a llama – I wanted to reserve a half-day llama trek through Swan Mountain Llama Trekking but it was fully booked. The trek includes lunch and swim by waterfall.
- Visit a museum – I had a list of museums to visit in case of rainy days: Northwest Montana History Museum, Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell, and Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana in Charlo.
- Farmers Market – Since we were renting a home, I knew we’d make most of our meals ourselves. The timing didn’t work out, but I was hoping to visit the Farmers Market at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell to get some fresh produce. It’s held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
- Visit a hot spring – We ended up going to a hot springs on our Montana road trip before we reached the Glacier area. But just in case, I had a list of fairly nearby hot springs, should we want to go again. These included Lolo Hot Springs, Symes Hot Springs, and Camas Hot Spring.
- See a live show: Bigfork has a thriving theater and I was tempted to take a break from nature so I could enjoy live theater. Check out the linen up Bigfork Playhouse.
- White water raft – With so many rivers in the area, there are a lot of white water rafting choices. I’m a chicken when it comes to water sports, but I’d been looking into more moderate to easy options. I’d narrowed down our choices to the Middle and North Forks of Fladhead River.