Whether you’re looking for the valley’s best party spot or family-friendly activities for your Fourth of July celebrations, this guide aims to point you in the right direction from sunrise to sundown. Many of the holiday’s more traditional events like parades and local fairs are already featured on our events page, so we’ve used this space to highlight a few Flathead excursions we think hold promise for an especially memorable day. There are gondola rides and whitewater, a quirky parade and local brews. At the very least, we hope this guide will give you some ideas as you plan your own happy holiday.
For the Family:
Day: With several rafting companies and access to hundreds of miles of river, West Glacier is the headquarters for the area’s best stretch of rafting: the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Call these West Glacier guides for information: Glacier Raft Co. (888-5454), Great Northern Whitewater Resort (387-5340), Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Co. (387-5555) or Wild River Adventures (387-9453).
If your family isn’t feeling brave enough to shoot the rapids, a day at one of the valley’s waterslides might be more your speed. The area’s largest is Big Sky Waterslide (892-5026), located one mile east of Columbia Falls at the junction of Highways 2 and 206. The park features water slides for all age levels, mini golf, a river ride, a picnic area and more. Or check out Woodland Water Park in Kalispell (758-7812).
Dinner: Check out the Back Room of the Nite Owl in Columbia Falls for heaping portions of pork ribs, fry bread and other All-American fare. Or try a Flathead classic: Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell, a family-friendly pizza joint that resembles an old-time saloon.
Fireworks/Evening: Head up to Whitefish. If you make it before 6 p.m., you can check out the annual Whitefish Arts Festival downtown before heading over to the Whitefish City Beach where there will be kids activities, live music and a fireworks display.
For the Romance:
Day: The Danny On Trail starts at the Whitefish Mountain Resort Village and meanders up the slopes of Big Mountain to the 6,817-foot summit. Four different loops and trails – the longest being 5.6 miles and the shortest 3.6 miles – lead you through wildflowers and forests to the top. You and your date can stop to enjoy beautiful vistas along the way or to pick huckleberries. And for those who prefer an easier route to the top, there’s always the option of hitching a ride on the summer lifts. Q: 862-2900.
Dinner/Fireworks: Take advantage of several of the local restaurants that offer decks with great views of the lake. Not only do they offer a romantic setting and great food, but also outdoor dining near Flathead Lake or Whitefish Lake should give you prime – and comfortable – seats for the local fireworks shows. Try MacKinaw Grill in Somers for a view of the Lakeside show or Whitefish Lake Lodge’s deck to check out the Whitefish City Beach explosions.
For the Party:
Day: Rent a boat and spend the day on Flathead Lake, tubing, waterskiing, wakeboarding and lounging with your best buddies in the sun. The following businesses offer motorboat rentals near Flathead Lake: Marina Cay Resort, Bigfork (837-5861); Flathead Boat Co., Polson (883-0999); Extreme Motorsports, Kalispell (862-8594).
Dinner: Check out one of the pull-up restaurants around the lake where you can park your boat and eat dinner inside or get it to go. In Lakeside, the Docks has reserved boat spaces and a fantastic deck while in Woods Bay the Raven and the Sitting Duck can fill you up after a long day boating. Or bring your own food and grill out at Wayfarer’s Park in Bigfork.
Evening/Fireworks: No question here, the valley’s biggest party – and one of the biggest parties in the state, in fact – can be found in downtown Bigfork on the Fourth of July. Enjoy live music on the outdoor deck at the Garden Bar, if you can squeeze yourself through the crowds.
For the Uniquely Flathead:
Day: Visit the cherry vineyards along the shores of Flathead Lake, being sure to pick up some of the locally made products from jams to syrup that many of them offer. Or you can head up the North Fork Road out of Columbia Falls to Polebridge for the small town’s annual parade. Sure, holiday parades certainly aren’t unique to the Flathead, but this one’s sure to be a bit different than your usual marching band affair. This spontaneous parade is totally unplanned, yet continues to draw more and more visitors each year.
Dinner: Check out the Somers Bay Café in downtown Somers. This café is a centerpiece of this small town on the north shore of Flathead Lake, and offers an unassuming atmosphere with some great food and wine. Try jambalaya, one of its dinner specialties, but beware of ordering the ‘hot’ version.
Evening/Fireworks: Spend your evening in a quest for a new favorite beer at one of the valley’s five local breweries. From Polson to Marion, there’s plenty to choose from and if you finish up at the valley’s newest, the Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside, you’ll be just on time for the small town’s annual fireworks show.
For Avoiding Crowds
Day: If you need a little more elbow room to enjoy your long weekend, consider renting one of several U.S. Forest Service ¬¬¬¬¬¬cabins located throughout the valley. Often in remote or quiet locales, these cabins are an affordable opportunity to enjoy the backcountry and a little solitude (1-877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov). If you’re still wary of tourist crowds and noisy explosions, take the 45-minute drive up to the border, where the Canadians will have just finished up their Independence Day festivities a few days earlier!
Dinner: Catch it yourself at one of the many fishing spots on the valley’s rivers. No angler will be bored here and few go home empty handed. And from the Flathead River to Lake Koocanusa near Eureka there’s enough water that even on a holiday you can find a stretch to yourself.
Evening/Fireworks: There are plenty of area hikes ranging from moderate to high difficulty that can give you an enviable vista to enjoy the exploding lights in the valley without the crowds or noise. Try the hike to Mount Aneas in the Jewel Basin; at 7,530 feet, the views of the valley and the Bob Marshall Wilderness is unparalleled.
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