Are you interested in what this area has to offer? Do you have a passion for the outdoors, winter sports, and are considering a community like this to move to? Here is some of food for thought based on our stay in the area and some of the research I did before we arrived.
Kalispell is the largest town near Glacier National Park and has most of the big box stores you may be looking for. It is fairly wide open and spread out, but you do get some nice views of Glacier National Park from there on clear days. We enjoyed some of their bike/walk paths and did take advantage of some of their conveniences, such as the local REI, Cabela’s, and RV dealership/supply stores.
Whitefish is a cute little town north of Kalispell, with a riverside walk, some bike/walk paths that take you part of the way around Whitefish Lake, and several nearby hiking trails. The first day we visited they were hosting an evening farmer’s market near their rail yard, which was one of the busiest farmer’s markets I have witnessed. During the height of their tourism season, it can be challenging to find a place to eat for lunch or dinner, but we did enjoy a place north of the rail yard called Jalisco Cantina. They have friendly staff, a lively ambiance and a relaxing patio. The food and drinks were delicious and it’s a great place to go if you are in the area.
Columbia Falls also hosts a farmer’s market downtown, is closer to Glacier National Park and had some nice pluses as well. Across the street from the RV park where we stayed is a fish market called Flathead Fish & Seafood that also sells wagyu beef, sausages, locally raised eggs and some pantry items like vinegars and olive oils. They have both frozen and fresh fish options and the prices were amazing. We stocked up on freezer items and eggs before we leave the area. 😋 We also enjoyed dinner and beers at Backslope Brewing with our neighbor friends from the RV park. One interesting note on that: there seems to be a rule either in the county or state that breweries cannot be open past 8pm, but a bar and restaurant can be open later. So, if you are looking for a local brewery to check out, go early!
Our favorite grocery store was Super 1 Foods, which has stores in the Washington, Idaho and Montana areas. They are similar to a Fred Meyer for those of you on the west coast and a Cub Foods for my midwestern folks. Their produce section is decent, they have a large beer and wine section, a local/organic section, and much more. We found pretty much everything we needed here. There are more local produce and health food stores in the area, but this place was balanced enough to make our shopping a little easier.
Near West Glacier we enjoyed a pre-anniversary meal at the Belton Chalet Restaurant. The chalet has a long history in the area, with rooms available, excellent food and service. They are now owned by Pursuit, which we mentioned owns most of the businesses outside of the West Glacier entrance and operates in other areas like Alaska, Jasper/Banff, Iceland and a few others. The buildings are quite historic and beautiful, so check it out if you are in the area.
The Kalispell metro area (including Whitefish and Columbia Falls), is about 96,000 in population, gets high walk, bike and park scores, is leaning conservative on the political spectrum, the unemployment rate is fairly low and cost of living is just above average, with median home prices around $300,000. The winters are cold and their average days of sun is not much better than the Portland area (144 days) at 151 days of sun on average in a year. The average for the US is 205 days of sun. Summers can be lovely, but you will be faced with smoke from wildfires on a regular basis, so be prepared for that if you have any conditions that put you in a sensitive group for air quality. The state has no sales tax and moderate income tax at 6.9%. Overall, this area is growing and could be a great place to live if you love being outdoors and having access to rivers, lakes and mountains.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of great photos of the towns nearby to do them justice, but here are a few pictures. Check out the captions for details.