Drive around northwestern Montana for a while, and by the time you pull into Kalispell you’ll feel that you’re in a real city. Kalispell is the commercial center for the booming “resortification” of northwestern Montana, although like too many other Montana towns, the locals seem to measure success by the length and relentlessness of suburban commercial strips.
Kalispell is on the Flathead River near where the Stillwater and Whitefish Rivers converge with it (elev. 2,930 feet), about seven miles above Flathead Lake. It’s at the upper end of the Flathead Valley, and the mountains visible to the north are part of the Whitefish Range; to the east, the Swan Range rises. Between Kalispell and Flathead Lake, the Flathead River is as convoluted as the folds of a brain.
In the days before the railroad, Flathead Lake steamers made it up as far as Demersville, a now nonexistent town located four miles southeast of Kalispell.
When transcontinental railroad building was underway, Charles Conrad, a Fort Benton freight kingpin, got a hot tip from the head of the Great Northern Railway, Jim Hill, to move west to the Flathead area. Conrad did, and in 1891 the Great Northern arrived. The existing towns of Demersville and Ashley (0.5 mile west of present-day Kalispell) picked up and moved to form a new town, Kalispell.
Conrad prospered and became a uniquely Montanan model citizen, keeping his own buffalo herd on what is now known as Buffalo Hill, just north of downtown.
Getting to Kalispell
Glacier Park International Airport, eight miles northeast of Kalispell on Highway 2, is served by United, Delta, Alaska/Horizon, and Northwest.
At the airport you’ll find Avis (406/257-2727 or 800/331-1212), Budget (406/755-7500 or 800/527-0700), Hertz (406/758-2220 or 800/654-3131), and National (406/257-7144 or 800/227-7368). Dollar, Enterprise, and Thrifty are all near the airport.
Rimrock Trailways (station at the Sawbuck Casino, 1301 Hwy. 93 S., 406/245-5392 or 800/255-7655) provides bus transportation to Missoula and the I-90 Greyhound line.
Amtrak serves Whitefish, just 14 miles north.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition