The Cyclist’s Guide to Whitefish, Montana
The best dirt, gravel, and pavement at the gateway to Glacier National Park
Whitefish, Montana is a vibrant mountain town neighboring scenic Glacier National Park. It is a welcoming community with boundless opportunities for adventure all day, every day–bookended with world-class dining, cultural attractions, and distinctive accommodations. Whitefish places the highest priority on community sustainability, working with visitors to protect the environment, community character, and livability.
For cyclists and mountain biking enthusiasts, incomparable experiences await during the secret season of spring on the bevy of gravel, single track, and road routes that surround the town and snake through the National Park.
Whether you’re a serious cyclist looking to get in your type-two-fun or just starting to explore what lies beyond the tarmac, the greater Whitefish area has something for everyone and you’ll have no problem finding a quality ride and that gravel sweet spot for you. Routes follow the myriad of rivers, streams and mountain passes that meander all around this remote, raw and beautiful landscape. As gravel cycling and bikepacking have caught on locally, cyclists have pioneered several classic routes, but with an area so immense, your imagination is the only limitation to what’s possible.
One popular gravel destination is Polebridge, a rustic outpost located just over 40 miles north of Whitefish up the North Fork of the Flathead River, just outside the Glacier National Park entrance leading to Bowman and Kintla Lakes. There are several gravel routes to get you there, but the goal is the same: to sink your teeth into a famous huckleberry bear claw from the Polebridge Mercantile.
For something a little wilder, check out Inside North Fork Road, a decommissioned, heavily eroded gravel gem meandering through Glacier National Park. You may hear wolves howl on this seldom-traveled road littered with berry-infused bear scat. (For that reason, stay alert and be sure to keep bear spray handy.) If you ride it south, you can punch out at Fish Creek Campground, take a dip in Lake McDonald and treat yourself to an ice cream in Apgar Village.
The gravel truly seems endless, and with the quality of the scenery and roads, it’s no surprise that Whitefish is quickly becoming a can’t-miss destination for gravel enthusiasts and casual riders alike.
If you visit past the quiet spring months, vehicle reservations are required in Glacier from May 27 to September 11, 2022, so be sure to plan ahead.
In the last 10 years, Whitefish has experienced a mountain biking renaissance. The Whitefish Trail, fruit of an ambitious community project spearheaded by Whitefish Legacy Partners, connects the dots of nine different zones, with long-term plans to circumnavigate Whitefish Lake. These are quality, well-built trails and every section has a distinct personality — the flora, amount of climbing, steepness and technicality of the terrain.
For the gravity junkies, Whitefish Mountain Resort, or “Big Mountain,” as locals call it, is hard to miss. Home to a lift-served bike park, it offers over 30 miles of bermed, snaked runs (yes, these are raced), with trails leading all the way to the summit at nearly 7,000 feet, for those committed to earning their day’s vert.
If you’re more into classic singletrack, Haskill Basin boasts an extensive network of trails close to town, linking to both Big Mountain and the Reservoir section of The Whitefish Trail. For a short 30-minute drive west, you can also explore the Tally Lake area, with a host of exquisite rides on both sides of the lake, including the flagship Reid Divide to Boney Gulch loop.
It’s clear that Whitefish is committed to establishing itself as a mountain bike mecca offering a smorgasbord of riding experiences, from well-manicured flow trails, to gnarly lift-served enduro runs. As Whitefish continues evolving as a mountain biking hub, there couldn’t be a better time to get in some great riding and tap into the buzz.
A visit to Whitefish, Montana, would not be complete without riding the famed, serpentine road up to Logan Pass in nearby Glacier National Park. If you plan your visit before the Going-to-the-Sun Road officially opens up to motorized traffic for the summer season, you’re in for a treat. As the pristine mountain environment wakes up to spring, there couldn’t be a more apropos ride to spin the kinks out of the off-season legs.
A crescendo of scenery mirrors the gradual climb, revealing alpine peaks, rushing streams and glimpses of Birdwoman Falls, cascading nearly 500 feet below a snow-covered glacial cirque. After 16 miles tracing the contours of the rugged and exposed terrain, the ride tops out at 6,646 feet at Logan Pass, surrounded by a majestic arrangement of mountains in all directions and views to the east side of the continental divide. Keep an eye out for wildlife and always carry bear spray. It’s not uncommon to encounter deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and, yes, black and grizzly bears. Remember to always keep your distance and never approach the wild animals.
In either late June or July, the road opens to motorists with reservations and limited hours for cyclists, for obvious safety reasons. Plan a trip in May or June to catch this rare experience, sans cars, with every year being different and quite special. Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of those rides you’ll never forget.
Through the various stages of the pandemic, Whitefish residents have worked with careful visitors to keep their community safe, asking travelers to be a “Friend of the Fish.” As locals and visitors share the love of the wild and work to protect the mountains for future generations, it’s important to remember to slow down and show respect and kindness for all the places and people you encounter. From the start of the pandemic, Whitefish became a leader in Montana for safe travel and continues to ask visitors to recreate responsibly and follow leave no trace guidelines. For more information, visit ExploreWhitefish.com and FriendOfTheFish.com