We’re reminded this time of year — often by local visitor bureaus — that when fires blaze and the sky fills with smoke we should keep the devastation in perspective for our readers, especially tourists.
To be sure, losing historic buildings in Glacier National Park for the second summer in row is depressing. And, for visitors and locals, the easiest access to some of park’s most popular attractions, Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan Pass, is now restricted. Still, what is currently burning and forcing closures is tiny compared to the abundant outdoors and other activities available in the region. You just have to look, and not that hard.
For one, the east side, which is arguably the best side, of the park remains open. Many Glacier and the Two Medicine regions are most reminiscent of the “American Alps.” It’s a drive, but there is plenty to see and do along the way, as U.S. Highway 2 is dotted with plenty of quirky pit stops, from unique bars to gift shops to mom-and-pop amusement parks.
Another option is to head up to Whitefish Mountain Resort, which, anymore, is as much of a summer as winter destination. It has zip lines, alpine slides and an aerial adventure park that will test the mettle of kids and adults. Seriously, I challenged the black diamond course a few years ago. The course won.
If you’re looking for a different type of course, hit the links. Northwest Montana is regularly ranked as one of the top golf destinations in the country. There’s an abundance of options with multiple price points and difficulty levels.
As any local could tell you, there are rivers and lakes everywhere around here. You probably drove by or flew over Flathead, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Taking a tour around the lake is well worth your time, with great eateries in Lakeside, galleries in Bigfork and great views most of the way. Day-tripping is one of the best parts about living here; so hit the road for the day.
If you’d rather stay closer to your hotel, that’s fine, too. The Flathead loves hosting summer events. Kalispell throws a street party every Thursday of the summer aptly called Thursday!fest. The Whitefish Downtown Farmers Market (Tuesdays) and Columbia Falls Community Market (Thursdays) feature artists, music and great food trucks along with locally sourced fruits and vegetables.
Something you may not know about the Flathead is its flourishing music scene. Local musicians can actually make a living playing music here, and many of them do. Check this newspaper or online event sites for a diverse lineup of shows scheduled nearly every night of the week.
And perhaps most importantly — since you likely arrived here to explore the outdoors — consider all the other public lands not named Glacier National Park. The Whitefish Trail is as good as any trail system you will find within a city, winding miles through beautiful valleys and surrounding lakes. The same can be said for the Foys to Blacktail Trails in Kalispell, which just completed its ambitious goal of connecting the city to Lakeside. That’s not to mention the miles upon miles of state and national forest trails located in every direction.
The point is, if you’re visiting or live here for that matter, don’t lose perspective. There may be smoke in the sky, but there’s still plenty to explore.