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Bigfork, Montana Area Chamber of Commerce


Between Two Cultures

The state of Montana is home to seven Indian reservations and twelve tribal nations. And Bigfork is perfectly situated between two of them – the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the north and west and the Flathead Indian Reservation to the south. This makes Bigfork the perfect location for a trip that includes learning more about Native American culture.

Located just east of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains, the 1.5 million acre Blackfeet Reservation is bordered by Canada to the north with prairie and wilderness on its east side.  The Blackfeet or “Pikuni”, belong to the Blackfoot Confederacy which consists of the Montana Blackfeet and three other tribes residing in Canada.  With 16,000 enrolled members, this is the largest Indian tribe in Montana and they are one of only six tribes that still live on their ancestral lands.

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I Love Bigfork for Weddings

“I’ve always wanted to be married on a lake in Montana” said the young bride-to-be when she called the visitor center for information.  Had she ever been to Montana? No. But it was her dream to be married under Montana’s Big Sky.  So she became one of a growing number of brides who chose Bigfork for her wedding.

Some brides choose Bigfork for their wedding because they fondly remember family vacations on Flathead Lake. Many have friends and relatives in the area.  Others regularly visit Bigfork and want their family and friends to join them on their special day. Whatever the reason, whatever the season, Bigfork has become a wedding destination.

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Common Questions from our Visitors

As people shop our galleries, enjoy our restaurants or spend a day on the water, they also have questions about Bigfork and the area. A number of questions center on the same things; Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake or a special event. So when you’re packing for your next visit to Bigfork, here’s a list of the most common questions and answers about our little corner of the world.

Glacier National Park 

  • How far is Glacier?  The West Glacier entrance to the park is about 40 miles from Bigfork.
  • How long will it take to get to Glacier? Remember, you’re driving in the mountains and most roads are two-lane, so it will take about one hour to arrive at West Glacier.
  • How do I get to Glacier Park? From Bigfork drive north on Montana Highway 35 to Highway 206. Take a right on 206 and drive north to Highway 2.. Take a right on Highway 2.  Turn left at the entrance to West Glacier.
  • When does Glacier Park open? The park itself is always open. Many of the lodges and other facilities operate only during the summer months. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is usually closed by snow from September through mid-June.
  • How long is the Going-to-the-Sun Road? The road is approximately 52 miles long, opening up the interior of the park, linking West Glacier with St Mary.
  • How long will it take to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road? That depends. This is a two-lane mountain road and renovations and repairs are ongoing. But the scenery is spectacular! Just take your time and take the day. (Okay, if you really want to just drive from one side to the other with no stops, plan on two hours, but you’ll sure miss a lot!)

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Bigfork Works

Bigfork is more than 100 years old.  And there have been a lot of changes over the years. Like many western towns built on timber and the railroads, the early history was one of boom and bust. Now Bigfork has settled down into a community known for Flathead Lake, beautiful mountains, fine art, fine dining and theater. But behind the scenes, there are numerous businesses that provide the services necessary to live and work here year-round.  In other words, just like communities everywhere, small business is building and supporting Bigfork.

Bigfork is not your typical community of less than 1500 permanent residents. This is partly due to the fact that, while the town itself is not that large, it is on the southern edge of Flathead County, one of Montana’s fastest-growing counties. With a population of more than 87,000 people, Flathead County provides a large and ever-growing market for Bigfork’s attractions, shops and services.

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The Beginnings of Bigfork

What is now Bigfork was once a gathering place for the native tribes who camped by the lake to take advantage of the abundant natural resources of the area. Just north and east of town, the Flathead River empties into Flathead Lake while the Swan River rushes into the lake at Bigfork Bay. Some say that Bigfork took its name from the Swan River which was also referred to as the Big Fork of the Flathead River.

The town became “Bigfork” in 1901 when it was officially platted by Everit L. Sliter who arrived two years before.  By the time he began to officially create the town, Sliter had purchased land, bought and sold the trading post and built a 14-bedroom house where he began to rent rooms.  The original description of the town said that it was “nothing more than cut over stump land.”  Sliter purchased a stump puller and began to work. That same year, the Post Office was established with Sliter as the first postmaster.

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Great Art – Great Weekend

One of the reasons Bigfork was named “One of the 100 Best Small Art Towns of the West” is the Bigfork Festival of the Arts held the first weekend in August.  On August 1 and 2 of this year, Electric and Grand Avenues will be lined with more than one hundred booths featuring fine art and crafts of all types.  In addition, there will be food and entertainment, not to mention great specials in most of the shops, galleries and boutiques of the Village by the Bay.

For more than 30 years, the Festival has been a “must see/must do” tradition for visitors and residents alike. With more than 2000 artists and craftsmen in the Flathead Valley, you might think that this is a strictly Montana production.  But a stroll through the booths reveals that these are internationally recognized artists and craftsmen from throughout the Northwest and beyond. All have participated in an extensive jury process which ensures that the Festival’s reputation for quality is maintained.

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Not Your Typical School Play

Brach Thomson has seen it before. It’s the look he gets when people learn he directs children’s theatre.  It’s that ever-so-polite-but-wary look born of attendance at numerous school plays or recitals. That smile tells him that they haven’t experienced the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre.  As Brach simply says “This is not your typical school play.” And the reviews and sold-out houses prove his point. The Children’s Theatre players and crew bring not just talent, but enthusiasm, drive and a desire for excellence that results in productions that have become a mainstay of the Bigfork fall and winter theater scene.

A child of the theatre himself, Thomson serves as Artistic Director of the Children’s Theatre and Associate Producer of the Bigfork Summer Playhouse.  When asked why children’s theatre, Brach has a simple answer.  He likes working with kids and he loves teaching. “Kids need positive things they can be proud of”, and theatre can fill that need. And the young troupers respond in kind. Students from throughout the valley come to Bigfork to try out for these productions.

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An Artistic Tradition

With all the scenic beauty surrounding them, it’s probably natural that the folks in the Bigfork area love art.  Not just the occasional painting or sculpture either.  We’re talking about all kinds of art – from traditional western landscapes and bronzes to delicate watercolor miniatures to chainsaw bears and huge iron installations.  And they don’t just keep their art at home.  They display it proudly in their parks, in their businesses and even at their front gate. They also wear it and walk on it.

The Flathead Valley is home to more than 2000 working artists and craftsmen, creating a selection that’s as large as the great outdoors.  Bigfork has an artistic tradition that has made it “One of the 50 Great Towns of the West” and “One of the 100 Best Small Art Towns of the Nation”.  Fine and performing arts are found in the village center as the Bigfork Museum of Art & History faces the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, home to the Bigfork Summer Playhouse.  The Museum features changing exhibitions along with a wonderful gift shop offering the works of local artists.

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Summer Fun Begins in Bigfork

More of our visitors come to Bigfork in the summer than in any other month. The weather is great and there’s always something to do. While everyone loves being outside and enjoying our long summer days, there are also some inside activities that will add enjoyment to a summer day. We’ve provided a list of some of our indoor and outdoor favorites.

Glacier National Park: Glacier is on everyone’s list. The Going-to-the-Sun Road provides 50-plus miles of spectacular scenery, alpine meadows full of colorful wildflowers, rushing streams, and wildlife large and small. At the Continental Divide, take time for the Visitor Center at Logan Pass. The road is the trailhead for almost 700 miles of groomed hiking trails for all abilities, and two of them are right at Logan.  Take a short walk along the Hidden Lake Nature Trail or access the Highline Trail for some really spectacular views of the park. If you’re not sure about driving this curving mountain road, hop on one of the shuttle buses.  For a more classic approach, take a tour in one of the famous Red Buses  or cruise a Glacier lake in one of the classic wooden boats.

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