Plan Your Three-Day Weekend Outside (of Glacier)

Avoid the park’s crowds, sleep under the stars and enjoy some of the valley’s best laid-back outdoor escapes and culinary treats

By Emma Epperly
Illustration by Dwayne Harris | Flathead Beacon

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When it’s Monday and it feels like it has been a long week already, it’s time for a three-day weekend. In the summer in the Flathead Valley, time off means time outdoors, but Glacier National Park is full of tourists. They are searching for the perfect Instagram photo, and you want to get one, too, but avoid the masses. Where do you go for an outdoor adventure that’s not in our national park? Well, there are a lot of places to explore in the Flathead Valley, but we’ve narrowed down a few gems. No crazy hard hikes or expert-only activities — just a much-needed long weekend in the great outdoors.

Thursday Night

After work, start your weekend right on Thursday night. The Columbia Falls Community Market has live music, tasty food and a beer and wine garden. There are kids’ activities and even a little dance floor. It’s the perfect place to mill around and pick up a few homegrown snacks for your weekend of adventures.

The Blue Moon holds an open rodeo every Thursday night at 7 p.m. Swing by on your way home to watch some good old-fashioned rodeo.

Friday

Early in the morning, head back to Columbia Falls for that first cup of coffee at Uptown Hearth, a coffee bar, brunch spot and micro bakery that is too good to miss. It also offers freshly baked breads and pastries. On the weekend, a full brunch menu offers an array of locally sourced ingredients. After coffee, pop next door and browse for a good book to read over the weekend at Bad Rock Books. Bad Rock features an eclectic array of used books and has been a fixture in the area for years. They have two “book kitties” that roam the store and greet customers as they walk through the door.

Uptown Hearth in Columbia Falls. Beacon file photo

Next, head up the North Fork Road to Big Creek Campground, 20 miles outside of Columbia Falls. Located in the Flathead National Forest, the area boasts similar wildlife to that of Glacier National Park, with a fraction of the tourists. The campground is large, offering a variety of campsites for both tent camping and RVs. The North Fork Flathead River that runs through the campground makes the area perfect for fishing, floating, rafting, and canoeing.

The Glacier Institute’s Big Creek Outdoor Education Center is right across from the campground and offers guided hikes and visitors programs. If you want to learn more about the Flathead National Forest and its ecosystem, the education center has you covered.

After a long day in the sunshine, have a relaxing evening. Enjoy a good old-fashioned campfire, roast some marshmallows and stargaze. This is a great opportunity to meet other campers and swap your best campfire stories.

Saturday

Wake up with the sun and head for a quick hike, or sleep in and then head back into town. Whitefish is a great next stop. Shop around on the quaint Central Avenue, which has everything from locally made gifts to Montana’s best fashions.

After you’ve shopped ‘till you drop, it’s time for some food. Get some lunch at the Bonsai Brewing Project, a spot that’s all about community. The small taproom offers craft beer and great food. It offers everything from house-made hummus to beer-braised beets and is famous for its “soul bowls.” The large outdoor space next to the brewery is full of tables shaded by tall trees with children and dogs running around. After lunch, fill up a growler and head up to Tally Lake.

Visitors relax at Tally Lake. Beacon file photo

The Tally Lake Campground is about 30 minutes outside of Whitefish and is located on its namesake lake. The campground has an onsite host and dozens of campsites where you can park an RV or pitch a tent. There are short hikes on nature trails located at the campground. Enjoy time on the usually quiet lake and hunt for the local favorite rope swing. Kayaks and paddleboards are available to rent at the campground.

A new campground means new people. Enjoy the community fire pit or head back down to the beach area for a night swim.

Sunday

After a second night under the stars, a hot breakfast is in order. Make your way back into downtown Whitefish and stop at Loula’s Café on Second Street. Loula’s has hot coffee and yummy breakfast with even better huckleberry pie (yes, pie is 100 percent a breakfast food). Don’t forget to grab a coffee to go for the drive into Kalispell and then hit the road.

A quick hike is in order, so go to Lone Pine State Park and start on up. The lower entrance to the park allows you to choose either a direct route to the top on the Cliff Trail at about 1.5 miles round trip or the longer route on Lone Pine Trail, that is just under 3 miles. From the top of the park, most of Flathead Valley is visible. From Somers on Flathead Lake, all the way up to Glacier High School visitors can search for their favorite spots around town from this bird’s eye view.

The best after-hiking snack waits on Main Street in Kalispell, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. Head inside and pick your flavor before climbing to the rooftop deck to enjoy the locally made favorite.

Sweet Peaks. Beacon file photo

After a sugar fix, it’s time to finish off the weekend with some good food and a view. Right outside of Bigfork, across from Wayfarer’s State Park, is Burgertown. Burgertown is a longtime summer favorite that offers everything from your basic burger and fries to some local legends. The Flathead Monster is a two-patty burger with all the classic fixings, from mustard to pickles and everything in between. The Notorious P-I-G is the bigger and better bacon cheeseburger. Burgertown is famous for its fry sauce and giant milkshakes, too.

The next and final stop is Whitecap beach, a small rocky beach tucked at the end of a neighborhood in Woods Bay on Whitecap Lane. It’s a public-access beach with a boat ramp, perfect trees to hang a hammock and shallow water that’s perfect to let kids roam in freely. The sunsets here are unbeatable and the perfect way to end a weekend outdoors.

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