Updated: Apr 25, 2020
In the Northwest corner of Montana, near Glacier Park, lies the picturesque Flathead Valley. Known for its lakes, mountains, and streams, the Flathead is home to more than 100,000 people, and is one of Montana’s most popular tourist destinations. It includes Flathead County, part of Lake County, and the northern reaches of Flathead Lake and the Flathead Indian Reservation. Prominent towns are Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, and Bigfork.
The cultural and economic hub of the region is Kalispell, which was named for the Salish-speaking Kalispel tribe. One of the fastest growing cities in the Treasure State, the city is located in a wide basin surrounded by mountains, rolling hills, rivers, ponds, parks, and lakes. Some of the historic buildings lining its downtown streets are home to the community’s arts and culture organizations, such as the Hockaday Museum of Art, the Central School Museum, and the Conrad Mansion Museum, the former home of one of Kalispell’s first residents.
Theatre, concerts, festivals, and art exhibits are part of everyday life in Kalispell. The nearby communities of Whitefish and Bigfork also contribute to the rich variety of culture in the region. Montana’s seventh largest town, Kalispell is the county seat of Flathead County. Home to Flathead Community College and Kalispell Regional Medi- cal Center, it was founded in 1891 by James J. Hill as part of the westward expansion of the Great Northern Railroad. The Flathead Valley is a financial, retail, health care, education, and commercial service center with a secondary trade area of more than 150,000 people.
Whitefish is an eclectic community of 8,000 that’s at the center of year-round recreational opportunities, including skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, horseback riding, water sports, hiking, and zip-lining. Eight miles north of town rises Big Mountain, home to Whitefish Mountain Resort, one of America’s premier destination skiing venues. On some days, the clouds are low enough that skiers can literally ski above them. The little city itself, on Whitefish Lake, offers theater, art festivals, music venues, a dozen art galleries and a vibrant night life.
Bigfork is located at the spot where the Swan River pours into Flathead Lake. A number of art galleries are located along Electric Avenue, as well as the Big Fork Center for the Performing Arts, which is the home of the Bigfork Summer Theatre. Bigfork boasts a 27-hole golf course, live theatre and an annual arts festival. Visitors can rent boats or take a chartered tour of the lake. Nearby Jewel Basin offers hiking. Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness are short drives away.
Locations: Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Bigfork, Lakeside & Somers