Welcome to Travel Crush, where our editors pine over places we’ve yet to explore, why they intrigue us so, and what we dream we’d accomplish once we get there. This week, the mountains are calling us to Whitefish, Montana.
For most of my nearly 24 years on this earth, the allure of the northwestern United States has all but eluded me. Mountainous and severe with an eerie air of desertion, sprawling states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana never topped my list. Then I moved to N.Y.C. and, like so many, changed my tune. Unlike Montana, the city doesn’t allow much in the way of disconnectedness (and with it, true relaxation). I believe what they have in those parts is what devout followers of the Dixie Chicks commonly refer to as “wide open spaces.” I want me some of that.
“I’m itching for a very particular kind of mellow.”
Now that it’s fall—cuffing season, decorative gourd season, some say the best time of year—I’m itching for a very particular kind of mellow; one that requires a log cabin (maybe, dare I say, a tent?) surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. I know it doesn’t make me special or whatever, but I love a good oversized knit, a roaring fire, a fleece or flannel item within which to swaddle myself. I have a feeling that northwestern Montana—in particular, an area of the Flathead Valley near Whitefish Lake—can scratch this ever-growing itch.
From unparalleled leaf-peeping to lakeside campgrounds and a wealth of hot springs, the Flathead Valley of Montana has clawed its way onto my dream itinerary. But it’s not just the promise of hygge—how very 2018 of me—that is drawing me here. There’s a little cowgirl who lives within me just yearning for that sense of isolation and independence that only a place like western Montana can provide.
DO: Hot Springs and Paddle-Boarding (But Not at the Same Time)
Northwestern Montana is home to some of this country’s most beautiful natural scenery, especially with Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, and Whitefish Lake all so close by. I’ll be hiking around Glacier (keeping my eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, and maybe…bears?) and stand-up paddle-boarding on Whitefish Lake. Everywhere I go, I will be taking huge gulps of the clean mountain air.
When I get tired from all the physical exertion, I’ll find a nice hot spring to soak my mountain-weary muscles. I’m not the world’s biggest camper, but in Montana it seems silly not to. Consequently, I’ll be laying down my tent in Whitefish Lake State Park and rising early to watch the sun crest over the snow-capped mountains. That’s what campers do, right?
EAT: Did Someone say, “Elk Burgers and Huckleberry Wine?”
So, Whitefish, Montana, isn’t exactly a “foodie destination” per se. That being said, Montana is all about the food and drink festivals in fall, from Oktoberfests to McIntosh Apple Day on October 7. An easy road trip through the Flathead Valley along route 93 will take me past local breweries, distilleries, and wineries, including Mission Mountain Winery in Dayton and Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery in Missoula.
Some of Mission Mountain’s wines are made with huckleberries (a local delicacy) and cherries—rather exotic for my palate, but I’m never one to turn down a glass of something red. And speaking of exotic, Montana has a reputation for including lots of variety on the food menu as well. I’ll be on the lookout for bison meatballs and elk burgers everywhere I go, but for a standard and hearty meal, I’ll be heading to the restaurant at the Hidden Moose Lodge, famous for its frittata.
STAY: Cozy Up at Hidden Moose Lodge
Fall is just about the cheapest time of year to travel to Montana because shoulder season really means something here. National parks draw folks in summer, as do ski resorts in winter—but in fall, crowds thin and lodging frees up. When I’m not camping under the stars (obviously), I’ll be staying at the Hidden Moose Lodge.