Our Montana winter experience was magical, beautiful and active, just the way we like it. We found lots of winter activities, including Downhill/Nordic Skiing, Snowshoeing, Fatbike Winter Rentals/Trails, and Sledding near Whitefish, MT. We stayed in a downtown Whitefish condo that was within walking distance to great restaurants, shops and grocery stores. Send me a note, if you’d like recommendations.
Staying Active and Warm
It was too windy and cold for Downhill, but Jim tried Nordic Skiing and really liked it. For downhill or Nordic/Cross-Country Skiing, check out the Whitefish Resort and Whitefish Nordic Club, which offers rentals, lessons and space to play. You’ll want to book lessons in advance. Jim watched a couple of Cross Country YouTube videos and decided to try without a lesson. You’ll be working up a sweat, so wear layers that unzip and enough to keep you warm while active.
If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ll know that Majestic Meadows is more than a dream and blog. We own 12.44 glorious acres featuring two open meadows, generous Swan Mountain views and a completed driveway and home site. The highway and community roads were all plowed to our driveway, including a short route on gravel. We had been wondering for weeks, would the drive be difficult? It, wasn’t. How many inches of snow? Views of Swan? We had fun exploring our winter wonderland. There were deer and possibly turkey tracks, which we followed for a time through our lower meadow until they disappeared into the trees and bush. Luckily there was less than 2 feet of snow, so in spite of wet pant ankles, our waterproof Keen boots and SmartWool socks kept our feet warm and dry.
We’d been checking the weather, so we knew to bring lots of comfortable clothes that were easy to layer. We definitely brought cold, wet and wind gear for this trip. You can see it’s 5 degrees on the thermometer, but you can’t feel the -30 degree wind chill. We listened when the Ski Haus rental guy and lunch time bar maiden in Kalispell, said respectably “You’re a couple of brave souls.” and “Now, I’m really worried about you two.” Each in their own way, showed a concern for us, which is another big reason we love NW Montana. It was cold, which can be dangerous if you’re inexperienced or not prepared. We reassured them that we are experienced hikers, having covered hundreds of miles and many hikes in cold temperatures and snow. We’ve been exploring mountains and their surrounding landscapes in US and abroad for over 20 years. But Jim and I still get a child-like excitement with the prospect of exploring these beautiful places! This is our sixth active vacation to MT, plus we’ve had similar experiences in six other states, France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Baja Mexico. Hey, if we lived in MT, we would wait for nicer weather too, but we only had a week and planned to make the best of it.
Round Meadows State Park
It was nice to sleep in a bit and enjoy a good breakfast before heading out the second day. We recommend Ski Haus to rent Downhill/Nordic Skis and Snowshoes. Snowshoeing is a bit harder than hiking, but we quickly got it and checked the Round Meadows trail sign to plan our path. You’ll find groomed Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Trails for all levels at Round Meadows. When you’re not skiing, you’ll want to stay off the ski trails, but don’t worry there is plenty of room for everyone. Blue skies made a cherished appearance, revealing the Whitefish Mountain Range in this peaceful setting. The natural beauty beckoned us forward and we were rewarded with mountain views, an arctic blue creek and snow-covered trees. Theses trails were scenic and ranged from easy to difficult. An adjoining trail along the creek, was moderate, narrow and included some small steps up and around trees. The final stretch brought us through a pretty Round Meadow finishing at 6 miles round-trip.
Glacier National Park
A morning call to Ski Haus allowed us to keep our gear and we were off to Glacier. The National Park Service keeps Going-to-the-Sun Road open and plowed to Lake McDonald Lodge all winter. It’s a beautiful drive with views of Lake McDonald. The lodge is closed in winter, but provides parking. To make things easier, buy your annual US National Park Pass ahead of time, so you won’t have to stop to pay a fee at the entrance. Montana’s wild places draw us outside and we were excited for our next adventure.
McDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascades
It was really awesome to snowshoe past the closed gate and start our journey to McDonald Falls. Somebody with a fun streak made a life-size Frosty the Snowman to greet visitors. We’ve certainly explored dozens of GNP trails, but it was surreal to travel this iconic roadway on foot. It was really peaceful and quiet until we got closer to the falls. As you can see from the picture above, even though they were partially frozen, the falls roared above the quiet landscape. We crossed the bridge, followed the trail to the right and found a protected spot above the river to have a snack and hot tea. Check out the Sacred Dancing Cascades below, where McDonald Creek was the most beautiful blue. We saw a total of four people on the trail going out and no one on the way back to the SUV during this fun 5 mile round trip.
We’ve visited and stayed in Polebridge before, so we know it’s breathtakingly beautiful and the road can be pretty bad. Camas Road is closed in the winter, so we took the North Fork Road from Columbia Falls to Polebridge, turn left at the Polebridge Mercantile to take the Inside North Fork to the Polebridge Ranger Station. We were surprised that the road was actually much better than when we’ve come in the Summer and Fall. We parked at the Ranger station, put on our snowshoes and walked past the Bowman Lake turn-off and beyond. It was a cold, gray and windy day, but we saw some small animal tracks and a lone grouse. By the time we got back to the SUV, the sun started to shine and blue skies appeared. Met a great guy who suggested we drive up the North Fork towards Canada. There are several rustic Forest Service cabins for rent in the area. We stopped at the vacant Ford Cabin and Flathead river access for lunch. As you can see from our pictures, the Livingston mountain range was a sight to behold and worth the trip. To our complete delight, there were at least 10 elk in the road on the drive back.
We love Glacier and its surrounding wild places, but we weren’t sure how we’d feel about spending time outside in the winter. During our trip from Feb. 2nd-9th, 2019, we experienced “unusually” cold-windy weather. That’s a quote from several locals. In spite of the weather, this trip confirmed that we will always find a way to Get Outside! in Montana.
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“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” – Robert Louis Stevenson