Autumn Road Trip: Exploring Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake via Kalispell

In Northwest Montana, autumn is the season that locals lust for. The temperatures are still comfortable and the sun is still shining, yet the summer vacationers have gone home to jump into work and school — leaving the exploring during the secret season to the savvy travel pros. Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake and the greater Flathead area shine in fall.  The dramatic, golden larch trees offer a stark contrast to the blue skies and freshly snow-dusted peaks. It’s an ideal time for hiking, fly-fishing, sailing and indulging in a little retail therapy.

To start out, take advantage of the affordable lodging packages at the Hilton Garden Inn, Red Lion or historic Kalispell Grand Hotel. Visit www.discoverkalispell.com for a listing of current package specials. Spend an afternoon poking around the downtown area of Kalispell, lined with local shops, galleries and restaurants. Don’t forget to stop by the historic, impeccably preserved Conrad Mansion, or take in a taste of the local art scene at the Hockaday Museum of Art.

After exploring Kalispell on foot, drive north along Highway 2 and the base of the Flathead Mountains to the west entrance of Glacier National Park. Many visitors believe the park is best viewed in the autumn — with the entire park seemingly all to yourself. Fly-fishing this time of year is particularly good along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Call on the seasoned guides at Glacier Anglers in West Glacier (www.glacierraftco.com) to assist you in landing a lunker trout. Inside the park the hiking is pristine. Take a quick stroll up to Avalanche Lake and afterward enjoy the view from the back deck of the Lake McDonald Lodge. Once the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed to motor vehicle traffic after the first snowfalls in the higher elevations, you can still bike the lower elevations of the stunning highway and relish the bounty of nature. Bike rentals are available at Wheaton’s Cycle in downtown Kalispell.

The next day, after grabbing breakfast in Kalispell at the popular Montana Coffee Traders or Ceres Bakery, head south along Highway 93 for Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states west of the Mississippi. You can spend a whole day driving around and exploring the lake and its waterside communities of Somers, Lakeside, Polson and Bigfork. On the west shore, stop in for a refreshing wine tasting at the Mission Mountain Winery, where the tasting room offers stunning views of the lake and Mission Mountains. At the end of your day, head north along Hwy 35 and up the east shore to enjoy the spectacular sunset over the lake.

The vibrant city of Kalispell is the gateway to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Whitefish and all of the recreation, art, shopping and adventure that northwestern Montana has to offer. Plopped in the center of the Flathead Valley, it’s an easy drive to the park entrance, the art galleries of Bigfork or the water sports mecca of Flathead Lake — and well-equipped with affordable, comfortable lodging, great dining and a range of shopping from one-off boutiques to price-conscious large-format retailers. For more information, visit www.discoverkalispell.com 


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