Hostels Help Travelers Stay On Budget

By Beacon Staff

To travel is to discover, to shed previous notions and to expand a worldview. It’s an integral part of human nature to seek and connect, and for many, wandering to new places fills this need.

But on the flipside of this romantic notion lies dollar signs, and when the costs start racking up, travel dreams can end up just that – dreams.

In the Flathead, a pair of new hostels are hoping to help make travel dreams a reality for those who prefer to move about on a budget. In Whitefish, Kirtlye and Lynon Lohof’s recently opened Whitefish Hostel has already attracted visitors from around the world, and Mistie and Greg Fortin are accommodating travelers at the River Rock Hostel in Columbia Falls.

“We’ve been really pleasantly surprised,” Kirtlye Lohof said last week.

The Lohof sisters opened the Whitefish Hostel at the end of June after buying the building at 28 Lupfer Ave. in April. The decision to open a hostel, however, was much longer in the making.

Both sisters wanted to work for themselves, they said, but weren’t quite sure in what direction they wanted to take that drive. It wasn’t until they were on their first major trip together to Colombia that they realized the hole a hostel could fill in Whitefish’s travel scene.

In their extensive travels to different countries, the Lohofs usually stayed in hostels. It’s a common way to go in many places, especially Europe, they noted, but hasn’t really caught on in much of the United States.

It felt like a good fit, they said, and once they returned from their trip, they got to work figuring out business plans and how to make this dream a reality.

“It was the first idea that we were both really stoked about,” Lynon Lohof said.

The building on Lupfer worked for them, due to its proximity to downtown Whitefish and the cozy, homey feel it affords their guests.

What was once a restaurant has now become a travelers’ rest, complete with 10 beds, a salad bar, a juice bar and espresso. The Lohof’s prize-winning baked goods and prepared sandwiches are also available for purchase.

Kirtlye Lohof stands in the six-bed dorm at the Whitefish Hostel. With year-round lodging, the hostel offers room in a six-bed dorm or a four-bed dorm. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Most of the remodeling work went into splitting the existing commercial kitchen in half, and using part of the space for a new shower and bathroom. There is a laundry facility, lockers, a common area and the sleeping area upstairs.

So far, many of their international travelers have been Canadian, the Lohofs said, but there have also been many Australians who are spending the summer working in Canada. Locals have also used the $33-per-night beds as a place to crash after a night on the town, Kirtlye Lohof said, and their salad and juice bars are gaining their fair share of local customers.

“The local response has been tremendous,” Lynon Lohof said.

In Columbia Falls, the Fortins’ River Rock Hostel has been open for about a month, and already the couple has seen several full-house evenings for their eight-bed at their place at 24 Seventh St. West.

“We’re just right in the middle of town and there’s so many amenities here in Columbia Falls,” Greg Fortin said. “ At 35 bucks a night for a brand new clean place to stay, it’s not too bad.”

The Fortins have been thinking of opening a hostel for years, he said, and it complements their existing business, Glacier Adventure Guides. The hostel is a “great jump-off point” for guests looking to explore Glacier National Park, he said, helped along by the hostel’s shuttle into the park.

A selection of healthy snacks and deserts are seen for sale in a display case at the Whitefish Hostel in Whitefish. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Since the hostel is relatively new, the Fortins are still working on getting information about it out to travelers, and they are considering adding a shuttle to Whitefish during ski season.

The owners of both new hostels attribute their openings to a demand for inexpensive-but-comfortable travel, which is something Oliver Meister at the North Fork Hostel in Polebridge is quite familiar with.

As the hostel owner for the past five years, Meister initially visited it 25 years ago as a guest, and kept coming back. Originally from Germany, or “land of the hostels” as he calls it, Meister said he views the new hostels as a good sign for the local travel scene, and hopes they thrive.

“I’m really excited about the new hostels in the area,” Meister said. “It’s exciting to have more popping up and hopefully even more will pop up over time.”

For more information on the Whitefish Hostel, visit www.whitefishhostel.com or call 406-863-9450; for more information on the River Rock Hostel, visit www.riverrockhostel.com or call 406-871-2161 or 877-735-9514; for the North Fork Hostel and Inn, visit www.nfhostel.com or call 406-888-5241.

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