Glacier National Park and More
By Marguerite Cleveland
Photo Courtesy of Discover Kalispell
Kalispell, Montana, has a lovely small-town feel with its historic downtown but also has all the modern amenities you need for a fall getaway amid a pandemic. Centrally located, Kalispell is in the heart of all you want to see and do in the area.
Where to Stay
When booking lodging during the COVID-19 pandemic, cleanliness and safety are tops on the list for evaluating a hotel. The Homewood Suites in Kalispell follows the Hilton CleanStay program. Rooms are sealed to indicate they haven’t been accessed since they were cleaned, and extra disinfection takes place on the top 10 high-touch areas such as doorknobs and light switches. You can also check in and out with their digital key. Another thing to consider is having a place to stay that has more room and a kitchen. It is nice to have a table you can sit at to enjoy takeout meals, and the kitchen is helpful for preparing a picnic lunch for a day in Glacier National Park. This hotel is located near numerous restaurants and shops, as well as being a good central location for exploring the area.
Where to Eat
Western-themed food is the prominent style in the area. Think anything grilled or smoked and try meats other than beef. Elk and bison are common on many menus around town. Food portions tend to be generous, so plan to share some items. Here are a few local places worth checking out:
The Desoto Grill is a local family owned treasure of barbecue and hotrods. Housed in an old blacksmith shop, The Forge, and named after the owner’s Grandpa Art’s 1954 Desoto, this place rocks. From a rowdy, fun atmosphere with both indoor and outdoor seating to its outstanding food, it is worth making a visit. Make sure to order the Combo Platter, which gives you the choice of three meats and three sides. There is a huge variety to choose from, and the cornbread is terrific. Choose a “Mac” as one of your sides. A yummy macaroni and cheese can be jazzed up with bacon, a spicy grilled sausage or other options. All sides are house made, which really makes a difference in the quality of the food.
Hop’s Downtown Grill is a chef-owned restaurant in the historic downtown. It is known for some of the best burgers in Montana including beef, bison, elk and yak. The rest of the menu is eclectic with a variety of comfort food options. Since we weren’t eating in, I went next door to Brix Bottle Shop to purchase some local beer. They sell bottles and cans individually, and the clerk helped me select some good regional choices. Great service and a knowledgeable staff housed in a historic building.
My family loves breakfast, and on our trips we love to find that great diner popular with the locals. Julie’s Center Street Café is just such a spot and relatively undiscovered by tourists. It is the friendly type of place where you will see people eating alone who come in for the company. Allow plenty of time as the meals are cooked to order. The food is outstanding, and the presentation is a nice surprise for a diner. My frittata came with a sliced tomato arranged in a design on top, and the hash browns are cooked flat for a nice crispy exterior and then rolled like an omelet, so you get that crunch in every bite.
What to Do
People come to this area to visit Glacier National Park—and rightly so. But there is so much more to see in the area. The State Parks in Montana are the equivalent of National Parks with such stunning scenery and much less crowded than Glacier National Park. Make sure to allow time during your visit to explore other areas.
Glacier National Park is considered the crown jewel of the continent for its stunning natural scenery and many glaciers. Due to COVID-19, you can only enter the park on the west side. The Going-To-The-Sun road is a highlight of any park visit and is currently open to Rising Sun, which is a total of 43 miles. The park is extremely popular, so plan to get an early start from Kalispell. I would be on the road no later than 6am. There are limited facilities in the park, so be sure to pack a picnic and bring extra snacks.
A less visited area of the park can be accessed through the Camas Entrance. Exit the park here and then take the gravel road to the Polebridge Mercantile. This cute emporium is known for its great baked goods including the famed Huckleberry Bear Claw. From this area you can hike the Transboundary Flathead River Interpretive Trail or continue past Polebridge to the North Fork entrance to Glacier National Park.
The Flathead National Forest has excellent views of the Canadian Rockies, the Whitefish Range and Glacier National Park. One of the best ways to explore it is on an off-road all-terrain vehicle. Try a Can-Am or Polaris rented from Northwest Montana Adventures near Olney, Montana. They have a variety of vehicles that will seat two to six people. Based on the amount of time, the staff will recommend where to go with maps provided. The company, which is open year-round, also rents snow machines in the winter.
For a less crowded experience, visit Lone Pine State Park. There are 7.5 miles of hiking trails that lead you to overlooks for stunning views of the Flathead Valley and distant mountain ranges and lakes. Along the trails are plenty of places to stop, relax and enjoy the peaceful environment of the park. Picnic tables are available, and they are all nicely separated for social distancing. The Visitors’ Center is newly remodeled and has information on the history of the park and the ecology and wildlife of the area. This is a beautiful park that is relatively undiscovered by tourists.
Both Kalispell and Whitefish have quaint walkable downtown areas with cute local shops, galleries and restaurants. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon.
The Whitefish Mountain Resort has a variety of fun summer activities that remain open on weekends in September. Take a one-way scenic lift up the mountain and hike down. Other activities include mountain biking, ziplining, an aerial adventure course and many more.
September is a great time to visit this area with the mild weather. Visit DiscoverKalispell.com for more information.
Do your part not to spread COVID-19 while traveling. Wear a mask and practice social distancing. Do not travel if any of your party shows symptoms of the coronavirus or has had recent exposure to someone who has the illness. Plan outdoor activities and picnics, and utilize takeout options at restaurants to decrease your risks.
Where to Stay
The Homewood Suites by Hilton - Hilton.com/en/hotels/kalhwhw-homewood-suites-kalispell-mt
Where to Eat
The Desoto Grill - DesotoGrill.com
Hop’s Downtown Grill - Facebook.com/HopsDowntownGrill
Brix Bottle Shop - BrixBottleShop.com
Julie’s Center Street Café - Facebook.com/pages/Julies-Center-Street-Cafe/119968968018781
What to Do
Glacier National Park - NPS.gov/glac
Polebridge Mercantile - PolebridgeMerc.com
Northwest Montana Adventures - NorthwestMontanaAdventure.com
Lone Pine State Park - StateParks.MT.gov/lone-pine
Whitefish Mountain Resort - SkiWhitefish.com