Glacier glimpsing and high-country ?adventure in a classic mountain town
This ride shows off the Amtrak Empire Builder line’s most impressive stretch. You’ll pull out of Portland at 4:45 p.m. and spend the evening watching Eastern Washington’s infinite plains roll by. Doze through the night (and through Spokane and northern Idaho) in one of the Superliner sleeper cars, which can include a private bathroom. Just be sure to rise early to see dawn break over Glacier National Park’s mind-bending mountains. When you step off at Whitefish’s vintage train depot at 7:26 a.m., you’ll find yourself in the ultimate Rockies town.
Far enough from major cities to avoid overcrowding, yet close enough to Glacier National Park to sniff the pristine alpine air, Whitefish promises soggy Portlanders a quintessential mountain escape to the other place that calls itself Stumptown—minus the fog more typical of our autumn. (October sees highs in the 50s or 60s and regular sunny skies.)
If Amtrak sticks to its morning schedule, hit the excellent Montana Coffee Traders for a house-roasted espresso that could hold its own in Portland. Then strike out to explore Whitefish’s low-rise downtown, just a few blocks south of the station. The false-fronted shops lining Whitefish’s Central Avenue (really, its only avenue) give the place a Wild West feel, albeit one with a chic streak. Exhibit A: Tupelo Grille, where locals flock to scarf upscale Cajun grub. If you’d prefer to indulge your inner Grizzly Adams, duck into the Bulldog Saloon, where the century-old frontier architecture, huge burgers, and beer-and-a-shot vibe may inspire you to talk like a Deadwood extra.
Beyond this quaint Flathead Valley town, where tamaracks and aspen trees give the surrounding mountains a seasonal gild, adventure beckons. Grouse Mountain Lodge (from $109) runs a Glacier shuttle for guests looking to explore the 101-year-old park’s stunningly clear lakes, soaring peaks, and gushing, glacier-fed, ?emerald-green creeks. Or leg it yourself on the brand-new Whitefish Trail, which starts just three miles north of town and loops up to Whitefish Lake and more mountain views. —Zach Dundas
It’s actually illegal to visit Montana without drinking beer (we think), so check out the fine micros at Great Northern Brewery. Or hit the Craggy Range Bar and Grille and tuck into the $22 prime rib—that’s called going native.
Whitefish Mountain Resort (from $120) is a ski mecca turned all-season recreation paradise, with a huge mountain biking and hiking trail network. The cute, B&B-ish Garden Wall Inn (from $145) in downtown Whitefish is just six blocks south of the train station.
Glacier Cyclery rents mountain bike starting at $30 per day, and their knowledgeable staff can direct you to the nearby Spencer Mountain trails, which include deep woods, great vistas, and serious singletrack challenges with names like “Malice in Plunderland.” Nice, but tough: Montana in a nutshell.