The Flathead Valley in Northwest Montana is a destination of nationally protected recreational treasures, which fosters the human delight in play and creativity.
The Valley lies in the heart of the Rocky Mountains wild lands between the Salish Mountains to the west, and the Whitefish, Swan and Mission Ranges, rising to the continental divide, to the east. Have a look at the relief map to get an idea of the contrast of the valley floor to the surrounding mountains.
These are no gentle inclines, but sudden, towering slopes that provide a very definite sense of place for the townships below.
The Valley is watered generously by the vast Flathead Lake and moisture falling west of the continental divide. With the lake to the south, and mountain ranges protecting the other three sides, the Flathead’s climate is surprisingly mild for an area so far north. In its nurturing microclimates the Valley grows a variety of crops that distinguish it from the grain and stock mainstays of central and eastern Montana.
Meander along country byways to find peppermint, Christmas trees, cherries, champagne grapes (stop in at Mission Mountain Winery), as well as barley, wheat, oats and potatoes. Flathead National Forest and the Flathead Indian Reservation encircle this patchwork agriculture.
Flathead Valley is the western gateway to Glacier National Park, one of the jewels in the crown of the national park system. The valley also lies adjacent to more than 1.7 million acres of federal wilderness in the form of the Great Bear – Bob Marshall Wilderness complex.
Other nature highlights include the National Bison Range and the Jewel Basin Hiking Area. Conditions on the rivers and lakes of the Flathead Valley range from placid water of Ashley Creek to raging whitewater. Among the popular whitewater runs are the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near West Glacier, and the North Fork of the Flathead north of Columbia Falls. Divers have been plying local waters for years. Almost all local dives require full wet- or dry-suit protection because of the cold water.
With terrific natural recreation resources in abundance, Flathead Valley is very tourist-oriented, and provides a host of things to do and places to stay. A fun way to get a great view is to take the gondola to the top of the mountain at Big Mountain Ski Resort, which offers both summer and winter-time activities. The Valley boasts eight championship golf courses offering a season from April though October. Publicly owned courses feature impressive log cabin clubhouses, built 50 years ago by Depression-era loggers under the direction of the federal Works Project Administration. Book tee times in advance through the Flathead Valley Golf Association. Within the Valley area you will also find 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, world class hunting, indoor and outdoor tennis, swimming and health facilities.
The Valley is not just the domain of sport enthusiasts. Flathead has more than its share of creative types who have found in the Valley an environment and community conducive to creating works of art. Their work can be seen in studios, galleries and other outlets throughout the Valley, particularly in Bigfork and Kalispell. Other cultural highlights include Conrad Mansion, St Ignatius Mission and the Museum of the Plains Indians.
Locals know summer has arrived when a steady stream of traffic starts to build on the secondary roads. So in peak season expect to share your enjoyment of the Flathead Valley with many others, although the mountains still offer room to get-away if you are willing to exert yourself.