June 13, 2017
Our first morning, we parked at the Herron Park Trailhead off of Foys Lake Road, ten minutes from Kalispell, and met our guide, Mark from Wheaton's Cycle. With so many trails to choose from, a good guide like Mark can quickly assess a group's abilities and get them rolling right into the fun without any awkward, decision-by-committee moments. After pumping up some tires and a quick chat with Mark, we climbed manageable, family-friendly grades and swooped through flowing singletrack on the Notch Trail like we knew what we were doing. Thanks, Mark!
This trail system has evolved from unplanned trails to sustainable trails, suitable for many different types of recreation. Along with hikers and equestrians, you'll find these trails have much to offer mountain bikers, and if you're feeling ambitious, head for the Chase Overlook.
The Foys To Blacktail Trails organization has increased the size of Herron Park from 120 acres to 440 acres since 2010 and continues to focus on securing public access all the way to Blacktail Mountain, five miles to the south. That will prove to be quite an amazing trail system.
After a solid ride, we fueled up at the Split Rock Cafe in Kalispell's historic KM building. They serve breakfast, lunch, and great coffee in a relaxed setting with plenty of vintage furnishings.
And we needed fuel because our next stop was the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Each spring, before the road crews completely clear snow from the highest sections of the road, cyclists from all around journey to this stunning national park for weekend, car-free rides on this jaw-dropping road. Monday through Friday, the road crews work hard, but on the weekends, cyclists come to play.
Interested in this five-star bike ride? You'll need to enter the Park at West Glacier, Montana, a 50-minute drive northwest of Kalispell. Once in the Park, it's another 17-mile drive to the often busy area of Avalanche Creek. We found a parking spot at the campground here where the road is gated and the bikes-only cycling begins.
Trust me, this is worth it! This country boggles the mind and you'll likely snap the family Christmas photo of your dreams. We rode about 8.5 miles up the road. This put us about one mile beyond The Loop, the major, dramatic switchback on the west side of this famous road. And if you look carefully in the upper left of the photo below, you'll see the highest reaches of the still snow-clogged Going-to-the-Sun Road where it begins to reach the top of Logan Pass.
We enjoyed lovely weather while in the Park and felt lucky as we departed in a big, drenching storm. They say the weather changes quickly in the mountains, and this was a perfect example. Take warm clothing!
After a long day of cycling, we needed a great meal. We shuffled into the Desoto Grill in Kalispell ten minutes before they closed and I sheepishly asked the waitress if our late arrival was OK. She smiled and said, "No problem! Would you like some fresh strawberry lemonade? I just made it." We were in the right place! My kids' eyes popped when bright mason jars of lemonade arrived. And when our beautiful meals arrived, our plates looked like something you might post to Instagram. #foodstagram! Thanks, Desoto Grill.
In Columbia Falls, Montana, halfway between Kalispell and West Glacier, you'll want to search out Montana Coffee Traders. We grabbed great deli sandwiches and the adults loaded up on super coffee. Even though a crowd of customers filled this roastery, we enjoyed quick service and great smells. Plus, we grabbed a pound of Grizzly Blend coffee beans. Why not?
Rails to Trails of Northwest Montana convert abandoned railroad beds to non-motorized recreation trails. We rode seven miles southwest out of Kalispell on a rail trail (map) for a bike ride to the Smith Lake WPA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service owns this public land, managed for nesting geese and ducks, other migratory birds, and wildlife. You'll find scenic spots along this car-free alternative to Highway 2 with lush green all around and snow-capped peaks in the distance. Watch out for turtles warming themselves on the pavement!
The tasting room at the Kalispell Brewing Co. is open from noon to 8:00 PM, thanks to Montana's rather complicated liquor laws, so don't delay if you're on the hunt for top-notch local brew. Located right on Kalispell's Main Street, this is the only brewery in town and you won't be disappointed. Bring the whole family in to the relaxed-atmosphere tasting room, set the kids up with sodas, and enjoy the tasty wonders of drinking Two Ski Brewski Pils, Rope Tow Pale Ale, or Snowslip Stout, and others, right where it's brewed.
Want a tour of this brewery? Give them a call.
You'll want to visit Hop's Downtown Grill for dinner. It's great. I started to order some chicken thing and my wife said, "Hey, you can order chicken anywhere. Why don't you order a burger 'made from Flathead Valley born and raised, free-range, grass-fed, grass-finished beef.'" I'm not kidding, she really said all that because she was reading it from the menu. Well, burgers, beer, and bikes go together if you think like I do, so I was pretty much in my groove at Hop's. I ordered the burger and loved every bite.
What's so special about "grass-fed?" Corn-fed cattle tend to have the bland flavor we're familiar with. The beef from cattle that have eaten nothing but grass, tends to have a more complex, wild flavor, like the venison from deer and elk. It's a culinary thing worth experiencing. In my family, we say, "Keep the game gamey and the fish fishy."
Our final day in the Kalispell area started with breakfast at Sykes Diner. If you're looking for a straight-ahead, all-American breakfast, here you go — power up for the day with an omelet or pancakes bigger than your plate. Wash it all down with their famous ten-cent cup of coffee.
Food and bikes are great, but eventually you'll need a break from food and fun for a little culture. Kalispell will not disappoint.
Open Monday through Friday, the Museum at Central School holds the history of the Flathead Valley. An impressive collection of Native American cultural items awaits you. Can you find the necklace made from 40 grizzly bear claws? It's not hard to spot this tremendous piece because grizzlies have very long claws, unlike their black bear cousins.
Frank Bird Linderman, 1869–1938, spent time with Charlie Russell, learned from and befriended the native people, and the Museum tells his story with artifacts and photos. And the Timber Exhibit will teach you about the sand monkeys, tie hacks, and river pigs of the early timber industry.
Need to relax in a park? Need a shady spot for a picnic? You'll find Woodland Park east of Main Street on Woodland Ave. The ducks and geese will try to convince you they are VERY hungry.
Not far from Woodland Park, you'll find the Conrad Mansion, owned by the city of Kalispell. A hard worker in the right place at the right time, Civil War veteran Charles E. Conrad started at the bottom and eventually made his fortune in Fort Benton, Montana with his shipping empire. While moving to Spokane with his wife, fortune in hand, Conrad stopped in the Flathead Valley and stunned, never left its beauty. The Conrads built their mansion with every conceivable comfort available, including a laundry staff working upstairs, a kitchen staff on the main level, and a muscle-powered elevator between them to help keep a busy house with many guests running smoothly.
We took the tour and you can too. Honestly, every place you turn in this amazing, huge house has something interesting to behold. If you love vintage furniture, you'll be tripping over yourself. Ever seen the full mount of an albino whitetail deer?
If you love art or find Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indians interesting, you'll want to visit the Hockaday Museum of Art. Find the Crown of the Continent Glacier National Park Gallery and relive your time in the Park through the eyes of these artists. When we visited, Manel Alvarez had a special exhibit for his work inspired by Montana, Native American tribes, and the West called "STEP by STEP."