FOR EONS, ICE BLANKETED ALL but the highest summits of what is now Glacier National Park in Montana. Under writhing ice floes, mountains took shape. Glaciers gnawed gaping valleys, etched rocks, piled up long ridges of rubble, and left large turquoise-blue lakes on the landscape. Since the time that ancient ice birthed the park’s landforms, several miniature ice ages have come and gone. They scooped out the nooks with cirques and hanging valleys. More recently, Glacier Park has sung a different tune. In the late 1800s, when explorer George Bird Grinnell first laid eyes on the Continental Divide, a ridge that the Blackfeet called the Backbone of the World, he lobbied for its preservation. By the time Congress designated Glacier as the nation’s 10th national park in 1910, the 150 pockets of ice from Grinnell’s day had begun to thaw into ponds.
Author Becky Lomax Photography Jim Franco
DAY TWO / As the sun rises on Whitefish Lake, walk the half-mile on the town’s new bicycle path to Rising Sun Bistro for breakfast. Split two versions of the bistro eggs Benedict. They come trussed up with sausage, salmon, or spinach and drizzled with lemony hollandaise.
Next, drive to City Beach to meet a guide from Whitefish Sea Kayaking. Rent a tandem kayak and paddle the glassy lake in the morning before the drone of Jet Skis starts. Tour the shoreline south to the Whitefish River outlet and float down to the Riverside Park walking bridge. The river yields a riparian habitat perfect for birds. Watch for bronze-headed mergansers, red-winged blackbirds, and the flashy-tipped tails of cedar waxwings before paddling back.
Cruise up to Whitefish Mountain Resort. In winter, it’s one of Montana’s biggest ski resorts, but in summer it’s a top-of-the-world sightseeing pleasure. For the 15-minute ride up to 6,818 feet on Big Mountain, go alfresco on the chairlift or inside a gondola. From the summit, a panorama of Glacier’s 1 million–acre ridgeline spans from Kintla Peak near the Canadian border to the southern St. Nicholas spire. Flathead Valley sprawls thousands of feet below. Tour the United States Forest Service Summit Nature Center to run your fingers through the fur of a grizzly bear (unless you did that yesterday!). Lunch on the panino of the day while sitting on the deck overlooking the park.
For the return to the lowlands, ride the chairlift or hike four ski slope miles downhill back to the resort for the drive to Whitefish. With all the hiking you’ve been doing, it’s time for a Mountaineers Survival Foot Treatment at Remedies Day Spa. In this 100-year-old farmhouse, your feet get fed all-natural products stirred up in the kitchen. First, you’ll soak them in hot water mixed with peppermint and eucalyptus leaves, fresh garden flowers, and essential oils. Then, your feet receive an olive oil and sugar scrub before being wrapped in honey and whipped cream for remoisturizing. The treatment finishes with a foot massage.
Your rejuvenated feet are now ready to explore shops on Whitefish’s Central Avenue. Drop in to Imagination Station, where the owners carry the type of eclectic toys they grew up with. They’ll even ship them home for you. Try a handmade dark-chocolate truffle at Copperleaf Chocolate Company. Browse the art in a few of the 14 galleries, and check out at least one of the three antiques shops. For Glacier Park art and rare books about the park, visit Two Medicine Gallery.
Relax over dinner at Tupelo Grille & Fine Wine. Your hikes have earned calorie credits, so choose from the menu brim full of Cajun specialties and an award-winning wine list. Start off dipping “Looziana” crawfish cakes in tarragon mustard. Relish the grilled shrimp and garlic cheddar grits smothered in tasso cream, and finish off with the just-right sweetness of the bread pudding.
Then, walk two blocks to the Whitefish Performing Arts Center for an evening with Alpine Theatre Project. Featuring Broadway talent lassoed from New York and LA, the company stages three shows each summer. If you visit after the theater season ends, dance to live music at the Great Northern Bar & Grill on Central Avenue.