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Bigfork, Montana Area Chamber of Commerce


Let it Snow!

Winter in Bigfork and Montana’s Flathead Valley is simply gorgeous.  Underneath a cozy blanket of snow, this part of Northwest Montana tends to have mild temperatures relative to the rest of the state. People who like to play in the snow have a myriad of options: downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and ice fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding and of course, relaxing in front of a crackling fire.

For more than 60 years, Whitefish Mountain Resort has offered some of the best downhill skiing in the northwest.  There are 67 runs on 3,000 skiable acres.  The resort is family-friendly with lodging and a wide variety of activities including snowboarding, snowmobiling and snowcat adventures, lessons, restaurants, nature center and even a day spa.

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A Hiking Jewel – Jewel Basin Hiking Area

Its proper name is the Jewel Basin Hiking Area, but to Bigfork area hikers, it’s simply “The Jewel”.  This area is a true gem for hikers, fishermen, photographers or anyone looking forward to a day of spectacular views, clear lakes and meadows of wildflowers. With more than 15,000 acres, 27 lakes and 35 miles of trail the Jewel Basin has gained a reputation as one of the foremost hiking areas in Montana.

The Jewel is located just outside of Bigfork in the Flathead National Forest.  The trailhead at Camp Misery has an elevation of 5500 feet, which allows hikers to begin their treks at an elevation more than 2000 feet above the Flathead Valley. Even non-hikers will make the drive to the trailhead just to drink in the view.  This is a hiking area only. Mountain bikes are not permitted and even horses are restricted.  Dogs must be on a leash.

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Where Great Fishing Begins

It is quiet here.  A path winds its way through a grove of trees. At one point it crosses a bubbling creek. In some places, it follows the age-old trail created by generations of deer as they move from field to creek foraging for food and water.  Overhead, the eagles and osprey are a common sight. In the spring, the route is bright with wildflowers.  In the fall, the reds, oranges and yellows take over. Less than a mile from one of the Flathead Valley’s major highways, you’ll find the Creston National Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Center.

Before there was a fish hatchery, there was a mill and a small town surrounded by some of the valley’s prime agricultural land.  Today the area is known as Creston.  In the late 1800’s, it acquired the name of Jessup.  It was Herbert Jessup who built a timber and earthen dam at the site.  This new dam created Jessup Mill Pond, providing a source of power for a sawmill and a grist mill. At its peak, the sawmill produced up to 30,000 board feet of lumber per day, providing wood for homes, barns and other buildings.

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Take 35! The Scenic Route to Bigfork and Glacier

Many Montana visitors drive across the state via Interstate 90, following the route taken by Lewis and Clark when they explored the area more than 200 years ago.  But Lewis and Clark missed the best part.  So to find out what they missed, get off the main road, toss out the GPS and follow the northwest route along Highway 35 to Bigfork and Glacier National Park.

The route begins just west of Missoula where Highway 93 crosses the interstate, traveling north to Canada and south through the mountain west.  At Ravalli, just a few miles north of the junction, start looking for a bison or two—-or 500.  The National Bison Range is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States spanning more than 18,000 acres. In addition to the powerful bison, elk, antelope, mountain goats, black bear and coyotes call the refuge home. While we’d love to have you head straight for Bigfork, we do recommend a side or day trip into the Range. Take your time. Plan your trip so that you can enjoy several stops along the way. After all, you’re on vacation!

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Take a Drive to the Sun

When Congress established Glacier National Park in 1910, there were only a few rough wagon roads. Transportation to and in the park was provided through the Great Northern Railroad which operated not only the trains, but the hotels and lodges as well. Most guests stayed close to their lodges, but the more adventurous could choose a long trek by horseback and mule to reach into the park’s vast interior where they could stay at one of the railroad’s alpine chalets.

Glacier’s first park Superintendent, William R. Logan, wanted to open the interior of the park to more people and he began to lobby for the construction of a road. The first appropriation for the road was approved in 1921 and construction began in 1925. This was not an easy project.  In fact, the road is such an engineering marvel that it earned designations as both a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. In many places, the road was literally carved out of the mountainsides. Contractors were required to use small blasts of explosives in order to reduce the destruction to the surrounding landscape.

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Tap Rooms and Tasting Rooms

Made-in-Montana products have come a long way from 1946 when Eva Gates first produced the strawberry preserves that made the little white house in Bigfork famous.  Today, there is a wide range of items created with local ingredients.  And some of the newest are wines, ales, beers and spirits made from local ingredients and pure glacial water.

It started with wines, continued with the development of craft breweries that now produce more than 40 varieties of ales and lagers, and now includes distilleries that hand-craft small batches of spirits.  In other words, there’s something for any taste. As we said in another article, a favorite drive is one that circles Flathead Lake.  And while you’re enjoying the scenery and the wildlife, why not stop along the way to sample some other local favorites?

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Hiking in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park has more than 700 miles of hiking trails and the Going-to-the-Sun Road serves as the trailhead for many.  There are trails for all abilities, from short strolls to more strenuous climbs and hikes of ten miles or more. (More – read rest of story).  Here are some favorites.

  • Trail of the Cedars: This beautiful nature trail is wheelchair accessible. Winding through old-growth forest, the northern portion of the loop is boardwalk with a paved southern portion.  0.7 mile
  • Avalanche Lake: One of the most popular day hikes in Glacier, the trail takes off from the Trail of the Cedars boardwalk and follows the west rim of the Avalanche Gorge where rushing water has cut numerous chutes and bowls in the rock.  4.6 miles round trip to the foot of the lake.
  • Hidden Lake Overlook: This nature trail begins at the Logan Pass Visitors Center.  The boardwalk protects the fragile alpine fields of wildflowers as the trail gains about 500 feet along the 1.5-mile route to the overlook. Some simply enjoy the view while others take the trail down to the lake. This is a rather steep 700 foot decline making the return climb rather strenuous. 1.5 miles to Overlook.  3.0 to Hidden Lake.

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This Precious Reserve: The Flathead National Forest

In 1898, John Muir advised readers of Atlantic Monthly, “If you are business-tangled, and so burdened with duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy-laden year, then go to the Flathead Reserve…Get off the track at Belton Station, and in a few minutes you will find yourself in the midst of what you are sure to say is the best care-killing scenery on the continent…Give a month at least to this precious reserve…the time will not be taken from the sum of your life.”  Muir’s words described what is now known as the Flathead National Forest, more than two million acres of spectacular scenery and outstanding recreational opportunities.

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Honoring the Past

In less than one year, a wooded and overgrown corner of Bigfork’s Sliter Park was transformed by volunteers into a memorial for those who founded and built this community on the bay. The Memorial Park was formally dedicated on a Sunday afternoon in 2011 and has quickly become a favorite attraction for the village.

Located just across the historic steel bridge at the entrance to Sliter Park, the memorial includes a 25’ lighted flagpole, native plantings, rock wall perimeter, rock benches, informational signs and a brick memorial walking path. Two bronze statues mounted on native stone anchor the memorial. Pioneer Woman was created by Ron Adamson of Libby while Fallen Heroes was sculpted by Ken Bjorge of Bigfork.

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A Short History of the Flathead National Forest

As settlers moved west across the vast American heartland, early conservationists realized that something had to be done to insure that a growing country would always have enough timber. They could not allow the western timberlands to be stripped like the eastern ones had been. Others noted that the western forests also protected the western watersheds, providing water for irrigation on the plains. Timber and water were two of the main reasons for the 1891 Forest Reserve Act authorizing the President to establish forest reserves in the US. That same year Benjamin Harrison created the Yellowstone Reserve as the first forest reserve. Six years later President Grover Cleveland established 13 new forest reserves in the west.  The huge Flathead Forest Reserve was one of the thirteen.

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