Whether you’re looking for a leisurely backcountry tour after work, a glide along the rolling network of illuminated loops at the Whitefish Lake Golf Club, a leg-burning ascent from Haskill Basin to the base of Big Mountain, or an abundance of trails along the north shore of Flathead Lake, the local options are ample for Nordic skiers of all levels and abilities.
Thankfully, the Flathead Valley has an expansive map of cross-country ski sites where people can bust out their skinny skis and hit the corduroy, even during the week, when time and light are limited. Here’s a rundown of some of the best spots in Northwest Montana to hit the trails.
Glacier Nordic Center
Conveniently located just a mile from downtown Whitefish, the Glacier Nordic Center at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course offers 12 kilometers of groomed trails for skate and classic skiing. About 4 kilometers are lit at night so people can ski from sundown until 10 p.m. The trails are maintained and groomed by the Glacier Nordic Club, which also runs the Glacier Nordic Center and Shop, where people can rent gear, get their skis waxed and purchase day or season passes (adult season passes are $70, while seniors pay $35 for the season and families $140; adult day passes are $12; children and teen day passes are $6; folks over the age of 70 pay $6; kids below the age of 7 ski free).
Big Mountain Nordic Trails
On the slopes of Big Mountain, the Glacier Nordic Club maintains more than two-dozen kilometers of trail through the forest in collaboration with the Iron Horse Golf Club. This year, the club will be using its Bombardier 275 snowcat groomer, aka “Kirby,” purchased with a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce, which will help transform the trails into a river of corduroy every day before 9 a.m. Access to the trails is also available at the trailhead off Haskill Basin Road. There is no fee to ski on the trails, although donations to the Glacier Nordic Club help keep it maintained and groomed to perfection.
River’s Edge Park
The final trail maintained by the Glacier Nordic Club is located just off of 3rd Avenue East and 5th Street East along the shore of the Flathead River at River’s Edge Park in Columbia Falls. The grooming, which is contingent on snowfall, includes about 2 kilometers of trails that wind around trees and through meadows in a spectacular setting. The park is a public park and trails are shared with other users. Planned grooming days are Friday and Monday as snow allows.
Blacktail Nordic Trails
Located on the south face of Blacktail Mountain, 8 miles above the community of Lakeside, this 25-kilometer trail system is maintained by the North Shore Nordic Club. The trail offers skiers great views of Flathead Lake and the Mission Mountains. Snowmobiles, ATVs and other motorized vehicles are not allowed, but dogs are. To find a map, visit the North Shore Nordic Club’s website. There is no fee to use the trail, but donations are always accepted.
Bigfork Community Nordic Center
The Bigfork Community Nordic Center has 10 kilometers of trail off Foothill Road, not far from the Jewel Basin, with a wide variety of terrain perfect for skiers of all levels. The trail is on State Trust Land and therefore a valid Montana Recreational Use License is required (permits are $10 for individuals, $20 for families and $5 for people under the age of 17 or over the age of 60, and can be purchased from any authorized Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks license agent). Dogs are not allowed.
Dog Creek Nordic Center
Located three miles north of Olney, the Dog Creek Lodge and Nordic Center features 27 kilometers of groomed trail on private and public land (specifically the Stillwater State Forest). Dogs are welcome on the trail, but owners are asked to make sure their animals are fixed, friendly and picked up after. Adult day passes are $20, ages 12 to 17 pay $10 and 12 and under ski free. Lodge guests also ski free. Season passes are available for $150.
Izaak Walton Inn
Located on the southern edge of Glacier National Park, the historic Izaak Walton Inn maintains 30 kilometers of trail through the Flathead National Forest. The trails are perfect for skiers of all abilities. This year, the inn built two new bridges on the trail system as well. Adult trail passes are $18 and children trail passes are $10. Season passes are $100 for an individual and $200 for a family. The trails are open from mid-December until late-March.
Round Meadows Trails
Located on the Tally Lake Ranger District northwest of Whitefish, the Round Meadow Trail is groomed by volunteers at least once a week or after big storms. The trail has seven different loops for a total of 12 miles of easy and advanced terrain. To see a map, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5443488.pdf.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Glacier Nordic Club was grooming at Meadow Lake Golf Course. Weather permitting, the club has plans to groom at River’s Edge Park instead this year.