Montana is famed for its stunning natural beauty, but there's more to the state than just majestic mountains, sweeping green valleys, crystal lakes, and lush forests. The quaint towns tucked within these beautiful landscapes are just as worth a visit as the outdoor wonders. Many of the state's best small towns are dotted across the Flathead Valley. Each is filled with unexpected gems, from museums and breweries to beautiful parks and cozy hotels, but they all have their own distinctive blend of culture, beauty, and charm, making them all worth a visit! Oh, and did we mention that they're all positioned around one of the clearest, prettiest lakes in America? Here are five of Montana's most delightful Flathead Valley small towns, and the coolest things to see and do in each!
Of course, the main feature of the Flathead Valley is Flathead Lake. It's one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country, and it's famously crystal clear. The lake water is among the cleanest in America, thanks to low levels of algae. When you're not spending your days boating and fishing, though, the town of Lakeside, right on the lake, provides plenty more to see and do. Grab a seat on the patio and enjoy a beer at Tamarack Brewing Company in the evenings (you can't go wrong with their Yard Sale Amber Ale!) And if you happen to visit during the winter, when it's a little too cold to appreciate the lake, you can always hit the slopes at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area-- it's a little hidden gem for ski enthusiasts, and as an added bonus, you get an incredible view of Flathead Lake from the ski lift!
Another town on the lake, Kalispell provides easy access to one of Flathead's coolest features: Wild Horse Island State Park. The park was once used as a place for the Salish-Kootenai tribe to pasture their horses without fear of them being stolen. Wild mares remain on the island, along with bighorn sheep, deer, eagles, and more. Take a boat out to the island for some really remote peace and relaxation before heading back to Kalispell to check out the opulent, 19th century Conrad Mansion and enjoy a scoop or two from local favorite Sweet Peaks Homemade Ice Cream. They serve up all kinds of flavors, like Pine with Huckleberry Swirl, Beer with Chocolate Pretzels, and Lemon Dill, among others.
One of the best things about the towns in the Flathead Valley is that it has the perfect conditions to grow all kinds of fruits-- like cherries! There's no better place to stock up on the fresh treats between June and August than Bigfork's Bowman Orchards. Try their cherry cider and chocolate cherry fudge! If you're looking for something a little stronger, head to local distillery Whistling Andy. You can tour their operation and sample their wares, which include gin, whiskey, and hibiscus coconut rum! And if you're looking for a unique way to explore the Flathead Valley, sign up for a trail ride at the Bar W Guest Ranch-- you'll be cruising along like a pro by the end of the trip.
If you want to see something a little more exciting than Flathead Lake, then you'll definitely want to check out Polson's epic Séliš, Ksanka and QÍispé Dam. The massive concrete arch dam stands 204 feet high (that's even taller than Niagara Falls!) and the spillway and scenic overlook right next to the falls offer amazing views of the valley. Polson is also home to one of the country's quirkiest roadside attractions: the Miracle of America Museum (aka the MoAM). It's made up of more than 35 rooms crammed floor-to-ceiling with antiques, oddities, and other artifacts-- keep your eyes peeled for the vintage cars, the two-headed calf, and the Viking ship. And if you work up an appetite checking all of that out, satisfy your hunger at the classic Boardwalk Outdoor Cafe. They're famous for their burgers, fish and chips, and amazing milkshakes (try the huckleberry one, it's to die for!)
If you're looking for a cozy place to spend the night in the Flathead Valley, look no further than The Garden Wall Inn. Owned by a chef (and a local resident!) the Inn provides cozy accommodations and outstanding service (you'll wake up to a tray of fresh coffee to enjoy in bed each morning) to guests looking to unwind in Whitefish. Another Whitefish favorite is the Kickstarter-backed Bonsai Brewing Project. They pour some of the most interesting, yet accessible beers you'll find in the country, let alone the valley. Sour Brown Ales, honey blondes, and an Ice Cream Sandwich cream stout are a few of the wild offerings they provide. And you can burn off the calories from eating your way across the valley by skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. During the winter, you can tackle some of the state's best slopes, and during the summer, you can take a spin on their thrilling alpine slide!