Drawing a blank on how to spend those luxurious summer days? Here are seven incredible ways to spend a day in western Montana, from a day trip through Glacier National Park to relaxing in your very own private hot tub under the stars.
Start the Day off Right
Mimosas? Crepes? It’s easy to make them at home in your Montana vacation rental, but you could also hit up the Pocketstone Cafe in Bigfork for a delicious coffee and omelet. This is hands-down one of the area’s best summer brunch spots, with reviewers citing everything from the “casual, down-home, small-town vibe” to the “best cinnamon rolls you’ve ever had.” Choose from the cozy atmosphere inside to sunny, dog-friendly tables out front. If you plan to try one of their famous cinnamon rolls for yourself, make sure to arrive early—quantities are limited!
Float the Swan River
Grab some friends and tubes, and hit the river! The Swan River float is mellow and family-friendly for older kids, but with enough little rapids to keep you laughing and pointing at the one person who seems to always be fighting a losing battle with their floatie. Plan ahead of time to pack ice chests and plastic bags full of drinks and snacks.
There are short and long float options (times vary depending on the height of the river), so it’s best to block out at least a half-day. Remember to keep valuables at home and keys on your person to pick up the second vehicle, and be cautious—it’s always important to use water safety.
- Rendezvous at the Little Brown Church in Bigfork on the junction of Highways 93 and 83. You will need two vehicles from this point.
- Continue down the Swan Highway for 6.6 miles to the longer float takeout (better for earlier summer floats).
- In one more mile (or 7.6 miles from the Little Brown Church) you will see the short float takeout on your right. Leave one of your vehicles at this point, as well as your towels and clothes to warm up when you’re done.
- Continue south until you see S. Ferndale Dr. and take a right. You can park near the bridge or continue over it for additional space. If you make a left on Rainbow Dr. there is a small public area for leaving your car.
- Don’t forget to bring the keys for your takeout vehicle on your person.
- Have a blast!
Take the Dogs on a Glacier National Park Adventure
While dog-friendly activities are limited in Glacier National Park due to wildlife conservation efforts, that doesn’t mean visitors with pets are out of luck entirely. In fact, one of the best ways to see the park is from the comfort of your own car on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road—and Fido is more than welcome to come along for the ride.
From West Glacier to Saint Mary at the eastern end of the park, Going-to-the-Sun Road is 50 miles long (about an hour and a half each way). Pack lunch back at home in your vacation rental, and when you’re ready for a rest, stop at one of the designated dog-friendly picnic areas. Dogs are allowed in developed areas, so it’s easy to stop for breaks and some excellent photo ops, especially along Saint Mary Lake.
On your way back after your scenic drive, be sure to stop at McDonald Creek Bike Path, one of the only dog-friendly trails in the park. This two-and-a-half-mile trail between West Glacier and Apgar Village gives you a great intro to the wooded areas of the park. Grab an ice cream in Apgar when you get there (and share a few licks with your pooch) before heading back the other way.
Rent a Boat on Flathead Lake
Is it worth it? Yes! There are so many places to explore on Flathead Lake, and there is no better way to beat the crowds and find private beaches than renting a boat. While the cost may seem a bit prohibitive at first, make sure to estimate the per-person cost, and check out quotes from a couple of different rental companies.
With a boat, you can explore Wildhorse Island or Cedar Island and see the Painted Rocks (ancient Native American cliff drawings on the western shore of the lake). You can also tour waterfront lake homes, where you’ll find styles from stunning and timeless to completely eccentric: Osprey House is a must-see.
You can even rent tubes or water skis and make a day of it. Load your cooler with plenty of drinks and snacks during the day, and for dinner, pull your boat into the docks at The Raven (a Jamaican style bar and grill on the east side with fabulous margaritas and burgers), or the Saddlehorn Bar & Grill on Yenne Point. Enjoy delicious food and stunning views from either deck.
Spend a Day in Whitefish
Whitefish has endless options, with fun boutiques, antique stores, and thrifting—if you love a steal, head to the Soroptimist Thrift Haus, where you’ll find all kinds of vintage goodies. For a day on the lake, go to Whitefish City Beach, or a local favorite, Les Mason State Park. If you have a chance, rent paddleboards or kayaks: it’s every bit as peaceful as it looks. You can even check in with SUP Yoga to try yoga on—you guessed it—stand up paddleboards!
Spend the day in the water, either on your own or with a guide, and then head to the rooftop bar at Casey’s in downtown Whitefish. It’s packed on Friday and Saturday nights, so get there early to grab a spot for dinner. If it’s full, enjoy an expanded menu downstairs: the spicy Szechuan wings are killer.
The roof opens up to everyone at 9 p.m.—it’s the perfect place to lounge on modern-style couches with your own fire and watch the sunset. If you’re up for some more fun, get those feet a movin’ with DJs and other entertainment every Friday and Saturday night. Grab a drink and toast a glorious day!
Watch a Sunset at Wayfarers
Wayfarers State Park in Bigfork is unique and beautiful with its beaches and cliffs overlooking the water. We suggest setting aside an evening for the whole experience.
Head to Burgertown (locals wait in anticipation for it to open each summer), and enjoy your meal there, or bring it to go. You can’t go wrong with the Flathead burger with jalapeños and a banana milkshake.
The best part? Finish the night by sitting on the cliffs watching an epic sunset from a front-row seat.
Just Breathe It All In
While getting outside during the summer in Montana is obviously a top draw, it’s possible to experience the scenery while staying right at home in your vacation rental.
One of our favorite things to do is just relaxing out on the deck, hosting a barbecue in the evening, then turning on the hot tub at dusk to watch the stars come out—they’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Though these are some of our favorite ways to spend a day in western Montana, we’ve only scratched the surface. Sometimes, you just have to get out there and explore!
Featured photo courtesy of Mark Bosky
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