Friday, July 12, 2019

5 Family Highlights from our Summer Trip to Whitefish, Montana

We launched the summer camping season in Whitefish, Montana this year, heading south as soon as school was finished at the end of June. We thoroughly enjoyed 5 special things about the area that I hope you'll check out if you make it down to Whitefish with your active family.

5 Family Highlights from our Summer Trip to Whitefish, Montana 

5 Family Highlights from our Summer Trip to Whitefish, Montana 

Finding a campground where a child could never be bored

We only have one child, so he often gets bored at campgrounds unless one of us offers to throw a football around with him, take a walk or a bike ride with him, or play a board game with him.

Boredom was not on the table though at the KOA of Whitefish/Kalispell North

Go carts that you could pedal around the Whitefish KOA campground

Below are just some of the many activities you could enjoy at the campground (all included with your stay at no extra cost:)

Indoor/Outdoor Pool at the Whitefish KOA
  • Mini golf

  • Go carts (they had tiny ones for little kids, tandem ones for parents/kids, and then larger ones for youth or adults)

  • A indoor/outdoor swimming pool with a shallow wading pool area and a separate hot tub

  • Paddle boats for little kids in a small pond

  • Horseshoes, a basketball court, and a beach volleyball court

  • A petting farm (and if you showed up at feeding times you got to help feed the animals)

  • A disc golf course

  • A playground with a tetherball pole and other outdoor games (giant jenga, connect four, etc.)

  • A free buffet breakfast every day of your stay
Mini golf included with stays at the Whitefish KOA

There was also a games room with video games and pool tables but I'm assuming there was a cost for this.

Would we Return:

While we loved this campground, we likely wouldn't return though because a full service campsite for trailers or RVs costs over $100USD per night!

That's a lot of money for camping when many campgrounds have swimming pools included at a much more affordable rate. I'll pay for mini golf if I can save at least $40 per night staying elsewhere.

The campsites were also very close together, and some were absolutely dreadful (a tent site sitting right beside the communal hot tub for example on the tiniest patch of grass.)

If you stay here, make sure you find out in advance what site number you are getting and check a map online.

Playground and tetherball at the Whitefish KOA

A rad bike park with all the berms!

Flowy riding on Legoland
I saw somebody post about a visit to the Whitefish Bike Retreat last summer and I immediately bumped it to the top of our travel list for this summer.

Just seeing a map of the bike park alone convinced me that I wanted to camp here (or at the very least, spend a day biking here.)

And we wanted to camp here, but there was no availability for our dates so hence staying at the KOA above, and day-tripping to the Bike Retreat.

What we loved about the Bike Retreat:

  • We loved the downhill flow trails with all their gentle berms (perfect for beginners and novice bikers,) easy rollers, and features that were great for bringing your skill to the next level. Legoland and Terraflow were two of the most fun trails I've ever ridden!

  • The Ridge Trail was a well-designed climbing trail and perfect for teaching kids to climb uphill at a gentle grade. I still had problems on it, but my son could crush it like a machine.

  • My boys had a lot of fun on the wooden features found on the Berm Trail, in the skills park, and on the giant circle (an elevated circular wooden boardwalk.)

  • We liked the Whitefish Trail which you can access either from the Bike Retreat or from the nearby Beaver Lake Trailhead.

  • The Bike Retreat would be a fun place to camp with friends, the kids running around the campground on their bikes, trailer or tent sitting right beside the trails... 

Wooden feature on Berm Run

What you'll want to know before you visit: 

First, there are only 8 campsites here so book well in advance if you want to camp here. Also know that the sites are quite small (best suited for tents or small camper vans,) and that they are basic campsites with no electricity or water. (Fill your tank before you come if you want water in your trailer.)

If you don't want to camp, there is also a lodge with rooms available inside.

Campsite right beside the pump track

Second, know that as a day user, it will cost you $10 per person to use the trails and facilities at the bike retreat. This was steep for us because we've become spoiled up here in Canada and generally don't have to pay to use bike parks unless there's a chairlift involved.

Wooden practice features at the bike retreat 
Don't be discouraged though by the day use fee. I highly encourage families to visit the Bike Retreat at least once and we enjoyed the property. The ultimate experience that we missed out on would definitely be camping right at the retreat - an experience you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Cruisy riding on Terraflow 

Discovering new mountain bike trails

We tried out a couple of sections on the Whitefish Trail between the Lion Mountain and North Beaver Trailheads. Definitely the loop we enjoyed the most started from the Beaver Lake Trailhead near the Bike Retreat.

From the Beaver Lake Trailhead we climbed up a short connector trail to reach the Whitefish Trail. We turned left on the Whitefish Trail and rode to the intersection with the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail. Riding the Overlook Trail and returning on the Whitefish Trail back to your starting point creates a loop called the "Angry Beaver" which you'll ride in a clockwise direction.

Easy riding on the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail

The climb up the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail was never very steep and my boys were able to ride the whole thing. I was the only one walking sections. Once we reached the high point, it was a fast flowy ride down with many gentle berms that we all enjoyed. I'd do this ride again any day!

Fun riding down the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail

The other ride that the boys did was from the Woods Lake Parking Lot back down to the Bike Retreat on the Whitefish Trail. It started with approximately 150 metres of climbing but then was all downhill back to the retreat where I was waiting.

Evening riding on the Whitefish Trail down to the Bike Retreat 

Paddling the Whitefish River

I've said this many times since our trip: We went for the biking, but I'll return for the paddling.

We've become spoiled by the great bike trails that we have close to home in the Canadian Rockies, but a nice gentle river is harder to find. Enter the Whitefish River, the perfect float-trip river where an absolute novice paddler would be perfectly safe and comfortable (even on a stand up paddleboard.)

We spent two days exploring different sections of this river, and I'd return to Whitefish in a heartbeat to spend a day paddling here.

Lots of scenic bridges to paddle under on the Whitefish River

Whitefish City Beach to Riverside Park (with a shuttle)

This first option can be done with a bike shuttle and is the perfect length for children with short attention spans. This section could even be done with tubes or floaties if you walk around to the start of the river. (Note it does not flow very fast though so plan for a long float trip if you don't have paddles!)

Starting from City Beach (google maps link,) paddle over to the start of the river (heading left from the beach.) There's a very short section with rapids as the river leaves the lake that you could walk around if you had to. Otherwise, just get down on your knees if on a paddleboard and you'll be fine. After that, it's 100% floating all the way down to Riverside Park  (google maps link where it shows up as River Trail Park) where there is a parking lot just off Baker Ave.

Paddling across Whitefish Lake towards the river

There's a nice playground across the street from the parking lot where you can hang out with the kids while somebody bikes back for the vehicle. (and there's a bike trail right beside the river.)

This was the first paddle we did and it took us an hour at most on two stand up paddleboards and a child's sit on top kayak.

Gentle floating down the Whitefish River

Riverside Park to Whitefish City Beach return (no shuttle required)

If you don't want to set up a shuttle, just start at Riverside Park, at the parking lot mentioned above, and paddle up river towards City Beach. Go as far as you have energy for and then float back down to your vehicle.

Paddling up river from Riverside Park 

We tried this our second day and my son wasn't having much fun trying to paddle up river (even though the current is very gentle.) Adults will have no problems though (even on paddleboards, the vessel of choice for this river.)

First time on a paddleboard on a river was a piece of cake on the Whitefish River

Riverside Park to the Highway 40 Bridge (with a shuttle)

If you have two vehicles, or a willing partner who agrees to pick you up 10 kilometres down the river, you can paddle from Riverside Park all the way down to the Highway 40 bridge crossing. It took me 2 hours on a stand up paddleboard and I had to paddle the entire time because the current was barely moving.

It was an extremely enjoyable trip though and I counted 30 painted turtles sunning themselves on various logs along the edges of the river as I made my way down. You also get to paddle through a culvert under one of the road crossings - which was a lot of fun!!

You can see the route here if you were to drive down to the Highway 40 bridge crossing from City Beach.

The perfect barefoot adventure in Whitefish, Montana 

A brewery with trees for the kids to climb

We took a drive down to Kalispell and Flathead Lake one afternoon and discovered the most amazing brewery, The Tamarack Brewing Company

The brewery had a large outdoor patio right beside a creek with gorgeous climbing trees. A large group of kids was running around playing in the creek, climbing the trees, and having a great time while the adults relaxed on the patio. It was absolute perfection!

Patio with kids climbing the trees beside the creek

The brewery had great food, a children's menu, flights for sampling the different craft beers they produce, and I wish I would have brought home some of the Apricot Wheat Ale. (It was so good!!!)

This will go at the top of our list for things to do again if we return to Whitefish.

The Apricot Wheat Ale was amazing!!! 

Disclaimer: This story was not sponsored, we paid for our camping and entertainment, and all opinions are entirely my own.


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