Fall 2015: What Shoulder Season?

Autumn offers plenty of popular festivals and events for tourists and locals alike

By Molly Priddy
Visiting from Munich, Germany, Guenther MoLer dances across the large dance floor with his wife Rosemareie MoLer during the first Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish hosted by the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

Perhaps by now, after the hustle and swing Labor Day brings into our lives, after the thick traffic snarls of summer and the long days spent lakeside or in the alpine regions, and after the rushed hellos and goodbyes of houseguests, perhaps it is time for fall.

A three-day weekend at the beginning of September is the perfect hinge on which the seasons swing, ushering in a cooler, calmer autumn. This isn’t to say the fun is over; on the contrary – businesses and locals have worked hard on stretching the summer tourism season into the shoulder seasons, and the work is starting to pay off in the form of increasingly popular events and tourism dollars spent.

With that in mind, here are some of the upcoming fall events in the valley. For more, check www.FlatheadEvents.net for daily updates on happenings in the valley.


Hit the field – or the cribbage board, hockey rink, or horse arena – for the ever-popular Whitefish Summer Games, taking place from Sept. 11-13. The specialty event is the soccer tournament, which brings in competitors from around the region, and will run at the Grouse Mountain and Smith Fields soccer complexes.

For more information, visit www.wfsummergames.com.

Runners, lace up: the Two Bear half and full marathons come back to town on Sept. 20. Marathon racers start at the Lion Mountain Trailhead and wind their way 26.2 miles back to the finish line at The Wave. Join in, or cheer on these brave runners as they cross this race off their list.

For more info, visit www.twobearmarathon.org.

And no autumnal list would be complete without the Great Northwest Oktoberfest, the main event in Whitefish in the fall. Put on each year by the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, this year’s Oktoberfest runs on Sept. 24-26 and Oct. 1-3 in Depot Park.

Chamber president Kevin Gartland said the beer, brats, and Bavarian music will be back in full force, with an extra bonus in this year’s games: the stein-holding contest is now a qualifying round for the international Beer Stein Holding Contest, or Masskrugstemmen, taking place in Munich, Germany.

The renowned Hofbräu Haus in Munich heard about the Whitefish Oktoberfest through some of the musicians who play both events, Gartland said, and the haus reached out to the chamber to include it in the contest.

The winner at the Whitefish competition will receive bragging rights, as well as a trip to the next level of the competition. If they win that level, they move on to the national finals in New York City, and a win there takes them to Munich.

“Rather than doing it just for fun and laughs, this year the big guys will have more of a reason to hold that stein out longer,” Gartland said.

For reference, the world record is 20 minutes, 13 seconds.

For more information on Oktoberfest, visit www.whitefishoktoberfest.com.

“We’re looking forward to getting it all back together again,” Gartland said.


On the first Friday of each month, head to downtown Kalispell as businesses celebrate First Fridays with sales, discounts, snacks, beverages, live music, and more. It’s a great way to find new treasures, meet up with friends, and stroll through the autumnal weather, bundled in sweaters and fortified by warm drinks.

On Sept. 19, hike up your kilt, grab the family crest, and head out to Herron park for the inaugural Flathead Celtic Festival, an event that will share music of Celtic origin, Highland Games like hammer throw and stone put, bag piping, historical society presentations on Celtic background of the valley, and more.

For more information, visit www.flatheadcelticfestival.com.


Fall weather is the best for a sweat-free stroll, and on Sept. 19-20, wanderers will be treated to a show of chalky proportions at the annual Chalk n’ Rock Festival in downtown Bigfork.

Artists take to the street armed with buckets of chalk and their imaginations, turning the pavement into temporary works of art. It’s truly a remarkable sight, appreciated by all – last year’s Guest Artist, Bill Spiess, was the first registrant for this year’s festival.

For more information, visit www.chalknrock.org.

And on Oct. 10, head to Electric Avenue for an old-fashioned harvest celebration during Tamarack Time!/Oktoberfest. There will be food tastings, harvest decorations, and plenty of entertainment, followed up with an Oktoberfest party at the Garden Bar with beer and brats. It all starts at 1 p.m.


The dragons are swarming to Flathead Lake’s west shore on Sept. 12-13 for the fourth annual Montana Dragon Boat Festival. The event brings together teams from around the region and Canada to compete in unique fashion: 20 rowers, one steerer, and a drummer climb aboard 46-foot-long Hong Kong-style dragon boats, racing in sync along Flathead’s pristine shores.

The competition is friendly, and the atmosphere is electric. It’s free to watch, with the main viewing area in Volunteer Park offering 190 feet of unobstructed shoreline.

For more info, visit www.montanadragonboat.com.

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