Whitefish (pop. about 7,700) calls itself the “recreation capital of Montana.” It’s a likely enough claim, what with the town’s 3,033-foot setting at the base of a major ski mountain some 40 miles from Glacier National Park.
To orient yourself in Whitefish, it may help to realize that Highway 93, usually a north-south road, turns to the west as it passes through Whitefish.
Fur trading and logging brought the first white settlers to this area, but it took the railroad to bring about permanent and stable settlements. In 1893 Whitefish became a division point for the Great Northern Railway. Railroad workers flooded into town, and the bars followed.
In 1904 Whitefish supported 14 saloons. Central Avenue was a muddy rut then; the Cadillac Hotel, at the corner of Central and Railway, had a wooden boardwalk built on stilts to avoid the mud.
Success as a tourist destination has brought changes to this town that pulled tree stumps out of its muddy city streets for so long that it earned the nickname “Stumptown.” Whitefish Mountain (formerly known as Big Mountain) has become a major ski area, and many of those skiers are returning for summertime visits or to start their own businesses here.
Getting to Whitefish
Amtrak stops at the North Central Avenue Depot (406/862-2268, www.amtrak.com) on its way across the top of the country. The Empire Builder runs between Chicago and Seattle or Portland and stops in Whitefish daily. The eastbound train comes through around 7:30 a.m., the westbound at approximately 9 p.m.
Rimrock Trailways stops at the Amtrak station at 11:25 a.m. daily on its run up from Missoula; after a quick stop it heads south again.
The Duck Inn (1305 Columbia Ave., 406/862-3825 or 800/344-2377) doubles as a rental car agency. Rentals are also available at Budget Rent-a-Car (803 Spokane Ave., 406/862-8170 or 800/248-7604).
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition