As always, if you follow along on Instagram, then you know we just returned from Whitefish, Montana. It was by far one of the most magical trips we’ve taken to date.
Early December is actually still ‘off-season,’ making it ideal for families! Even though Whitefish Mountain Resort opens their ski season on December 7th, tourism doesn’t pick up until the holidays. And even then, Whitefish tends to be a hidden gem among other ski resort towns. It has an incredibly small town feel with affordable lodging, few crowds and a community eager to chat about their special spot in Montana.
One of my favorite things about visiting in the off-season is being able to really enjoy the local spirit. I found there to be a handful of homegrown Montana folks mixed in with transplants from all over the world. People tend to visit Whitefish once or twice and fall madly, deeply for its beautiful seasons and young, adventurous culture. And I could see why…I had my heart eyes on this little wonderland all week.
With that said, I felt inclined to share 15 things to do in Whitefish in early December that are all family friendly! And of course I’ll be sharing how to get to this magical town and where to stay!
First of all, hands down, the best way to go is Amtrak. Leaving from King Street Station in Seattle, WA it’s a little over 13 hours. Definitely reserve a sleeper car (we had two adjacent) and enjoy the luxury of eating dinner aboard the train followed by a restful night and then waking up in Whitefish!
The Empire Builder Train, which runs from Seattle to Chicago, travels daily and with a departure out of Seattle at 4:40pm and arrival in Whitefish at 7:20am you feel like you gain an entire day of vacation thanks to the early arrival. The same with the return trip, it leaves Whitefish at 9:16pm and you arrive in Seattle at 10:25am. It allowed us to entirely maximize our time while providing space for the kids to burn some energy, avoiding the stir-craziness that tends to happen in a car or plane.
I’m also pleased to share the staff aboard Amtrak were very gracious and patient with our two busy little bodies. We had a personal attendant that frequently checked on us, helped with the bed transitions and even provided a morning wake up call in Whitefish (I was nervous we’d miss our stop!).
We also forgot a pair of little sneakers on the way there…and came to find out they found them and had them waiting at the train station for us when we returned. And lastly, as we boarded the train for the ride home, 5 days later, they remembered our entire family by name. It really is the journey that makes the destination and this one was unforgettable.
You can learn more about the route and see it on the map via Amtrak.com!
I also shared a peak at King Street Station in Seattle in this post.
So once we arrived in Whitefish, the adventure continued..
Where To Stay
If you have the opportunity to stay 4 nights, I’d recommend 2 nights in the town of Whitefish at the Good Medicine Lodge, a bed and breakfast owned by Betsy & Woody Cox, also named by Travel America Magazine as one of the ’10 Most Romantic Inns.’
When we arrived a little after 8am they had a fresh, home-cooked breakfast warm and ready the moment we walked in. We immediately felt at home and even though the Good Medicine Lodge is incredibly spacious with 6 guest rooms and 3 suites, it feels especially intimate and private…almost exclusive, if you will.
This was actually our first time staying in a bed and breakfast and we weren’t sure what to expect. Would it feel like we were staying in someone else’s home? Not at all. It felt like were in our own personal resort. With bountiful meals and an overflowing cookie jar, it was hard to leave!
Besty & Woody moved to Whitefish years ago after falling in love with the area, a common thing you’ll hear among the locals. They opened their doors to our family, and provided a first peak into the beautiful Whitefish soul. If you want a truly authentic experience that provides both lodging and culinary comforts, I recommend the Good Medicine Lodge.
For the second leg of your trip, definitely head up to Whitefish Mountain Resort and stay at Kandahar Lodge (which is only 7 minutes from downtown Whitefish). Their free shuttle takes you right to the slopes, which offers over 3,000 acres of mountain terrain. The annual average snowfall is 300 inches, so plenty of powder to play in!
Early December offers very low occupancy, so it’s a great time to enjoy the lodge as if it were your own! The great room offers a crackling fire, board games, and plenty of space for the kids to ‘stretch their legs.’
You also have access to their outdoor hot tub, upscale restaurant and complimentary breakfast daily.
Now for the LIST! I’ve included both food and activities since both are experience-based, sharing 15 things to do in Whitefish in early December…
Where To Eat
- Amazing Crepes
- In historic downtown Whitefish, you’ll find homemade sweet and savory ‘Montana-size’ crepes that are perfect for all ages…any time of day. They also have a few games for the littles ones to play with while waiting (though the crepes come out really fast – another plus with kids). I also recommend one of their handcrafted espresso drinks (#InstagramWorthy).
- Mackenzie River Pizza
- We first discovered Mackenzie River Pizza in Idaho a few years ago and since they first opened over 24 years ago in Montana and are actually headquartered in Whitefish, we knew we had to return. Their menu has over 70 items including pizza, pasta, salad, sandwiches, etc. it’s sure to please the masses. Coloring pages and crayons also provided for the kids – makes such a difference when dining out!
- Wasabi Sushi Bar
- One of the best ‘experience meals’ in Whitefish, Wasabi offers an authentic sushi experience with a variety of options for all palettes. Named Best Sushi in Flathead County, they’re famed for their Hamachi Carpaccio – a thin veil of fresh yellowtail with hot curry oil, avocado, tobiko, chives and tare sauce. And for those 21+ I recommend trying a sake flight!
- Last Chair Kitchen & Bar
- The perfect spot for Apres Ski, offering happy hour Friday – Sunday, 2pm-5pm, along with live music on Saturday afternoons. Offering a variety of sandwiches, burgers, small plates and a $6 kids menu. And of course a top notch wine and beer list!
- Whitefish Coffeehouse
- Part of the Montana Coffee Traders family, we knew we had to stop by the Whitefish Coffeehouse to see how it measured it up to our Seattle roots. It passed the test by a landslide, especially paired with a local-inspired gift shop full of Montana-made products and artwork. Oh and free WiFi!
- Ciao Mambo
- “The lights are low, the music is turned up, wine is flowing, and energy is buzzing the air.” This Ciao Mambo quote perfectly describes the cozy, authentic Italian restaurant in Whitefish. The pasta dishes are rich and savory, the pizza is baked to perfection and the salads are insanely good. Tucked away on Second Street, you’ll find this packed foodie spot with a line out the door. A definite must for dinner! p.s. The kids can color on the tables!
- Second Street Pizza
- Owned by a husband and wife team (one from Chicago and the other from New York), they decided to bring their love for pizza to Whitefish. Their menu includes 18″ NY Pizza Pies, 10″ Chicago Deep Dish Pies, 20″ Sicilian Pies, along with calzones, pizza by the slice, appetizers and salads. Something to note – Second Street Pizza delivers to the Whitefish Mountain Resort area!
- The Great Northern Brewing Company
- Coming from a craft brew scene in Seattle, we love finding local breweries when we travel. We spotted The Great Northern Brewing Company on our first day, but didn’t actually make it inside until our very last night. Glad we did though – amazing aesthetic & premium beer (we recommend Going to the Sun IPA, Wild Huckleberry Wheat Lager, and homemade Root Beer for the kids!). They also offer private and group tours and tastings if you’re looking for an afternoon activity.
Where To Play
- Stumptown Ice Den
- Indoor ice skating in the only facility in Montana that has ice year round! An estimated 75,000 come through Stumptown Ice Den each year for pubic skating, summer hockey and figure skating camps.
- Stumptown Art Studio
- A non profit art studio in downtown Whitefish open everyday for walk-ins to paint pottery, make mosaics or do glass fusing. They also offer adult and youth classes, along with a full event calendar annually. Shipping is also available if your new masterpiece won’t fit in your suitcase!
- RockFish Climbing
- Let the littles burn off some energy in this family-friendly climbing space located inside the Whitefish Mountain Mall. The gym includes over 12,000 square feet of climbing and fitness equipment including a kid-specific bouldering area and a variety of terrain for climbers of all levels.
- Glacier National Park
- Just a short 40 minute drive from Whitefish you’ll find one of the most beautiful parks in the U.S. With over a million acres, 130+ named lakes and 1000+ different species of plants it’s also become known as the ‘Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.’ We ventured up to Apgar Village and discovered the Sacred Dancing Cascades (you can find a peak on Instagram + more to come!). Add to your bucket list immediately.
- Downtown Shopping
- Whitefish offers a variety of shops perfect for the outdoor enthusiast, the gift purveyor and the culinary connoisseur. Spend an afternoon perusing some of these shops listed on Explore Whitefish!
- Spa at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake
- Just a few minutes out of downtown Whitefish, you’ll find a luxury resort hotel with a newly renovated spa overlooking Whitefish Lake. For my mamas, I recommend enjoying a quick respite with a massage or facial, followed by a dip in their lakefront hot tub (available to spa guests on day of service). The spa is open 7 days a week, making it easy to work into any itinerary!
- Ski at Whitefish Mountain Resort
- As I mentioned, ski season opens on December 7th and goes until April 18th! For beginners, I recommend the Learn to Ski or Ride Package which includes two days of equipment rentals, two days of beginner-area lift tickets, and two half-day lessons. It’s the most bang for your buck and helps you enjoy the snow safely! There’s also a Kids Center open daily from 8:30am-5pm for either ski/board play or indoor activities with a low staff-to-child ratio.
- Adalyn and Mila did half day lessons which included down-time in the Kids Center for breaks and absolutely loved the entire experience. If you ask them, they think they’re pro skiers at this point (don’t worry…I won’t send them down a black diamond yet…).
- Something else to note while skiing at Whitefish, Mountain Life Photography has photographers around various chairlifts and on the mountain to capture you in action. They save the files by location and time, making it easy to find and purchase in the Base Lodge. They can Airdrop or email them immediately. Best souvenirs!!
Whitefish Mountain Resort offers plenty of room to learn the slopes, especially in early December, before the tourists roll in. We found most of the ski and snowboard-goers during the first week of the season to be locals or instructors – another perk for the family traveler.
So as you can see, we are completely smitten with Whitefish, Montana and regardless of how many people told us the BEST season to visit is in the summer, early December served us incredibly well. With that said, we’ll have to make a return trip to compare the two, as I imagine both have unparalleled value. ♥
Stay tuned for more photos from Glacier National Park in the next post…until then – thanks for following along with the Smith squad!
If you’re looking to learn more about Whitefish, I recommend the Whitefish Review, a Nonprofit Literary Journal containing short stories, essays, and artwork of local and published authors, poets, photographers and artists. It’s published twice a year in December and June and available to order via WhitefishReview.org!
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*Photos by Elsa Eileen Photography
Disclosure: Glacier Country Tourism and their partners graciously sponsored this post. The opinions expressed here represent my own, which I take great pride in providing pure honesty…because I’m OBSESSED with sharing the Good!