Under the Big Sky

Under the Big Sky

A summertime trip to Whitefish—with music, mountains & more.

Ahh… another summer in Big Sky Country. If you’ve ever read or watched anything about Montana, it’s likely you’ve heard the phrase. And those who have spent time here know exactly why Montana has been coined as such. Almost inexplicably, views seem to extend well beyond 360 degrees as the air & clouds go on forever. It appears as though everything is being distorted by a fish-eye lens. That quality, amongst many, is part of what makes life in these parts so special. But also on that list is one of the most unique gatherings around: the Under the Big Sky Festival, happening July 12-14 this summer.

The Big Mountain Ranch, just outside of Whitefish, has invited excited visitors to its grounds for the festival since 2019. This year’s musical guests include big names like Miranda Lambert, Billy Strings, and the Turnpike Troubadours; also on the docket are a handful of local musicians, including Bozeman-based Hannah King and Michelle Rivers, who are launching their collaborative project, Gold Denim.

But the festival is of course much more than music. It’s a whole melding of culture and art that’s guaranteed to stimulate all your senses. There are food trucks serving a variety of eats. Visual displays and art stands build on the western aesthetic. And oh yeah—there’s an entire rodeo event to welcome the crowd and get the party started. (Make sure to download the Under the Big Sky app, to plan for and stay updated on all the happenings.)

Additionally, there are lots of other fun things to do while you’re up north. Whitefish is an outdoor-recreation powerhouse. First, Glacier National Park is right around the corner and well worth the visit for those who haven’t had the experience. Beyond that, there's floating, biking, fishing, and more, all with some of the most scenic views in the state, and possibly the world.

Before you head out, or if you want to slow down and check out town, downtown Whitefish is as quintessential of a mountain town as they come. There’s good food, neat shops, and plenty else to keep you occupied. If you’re getting geared up for the weekend, FORLOH has you covered—literally, with technical mountain apparel. Also consider paying a visit to Tamarack Cannabis to make your excursions a little more elevated. To get you pointed in the right direction, here are a few adventure options:

When it comes to river-fueled activities, there are several places to hop in and cool off. The Flathead River is among the best, with the North, Middle, and South forks all offering exciting waters to explore. Each has something to offer for first timers and pros alike, and everyone in between. Just make sure to do a bit of research to be certain you’re not getting in above your head with potential whitewater downstream. For more chill floats with canoes, tubes, and paddleboards, or just for a dip to cool off, check out the Whitefish River and Whitefish Lake. On the river, put in just past the city beach and float as long as your heart desires (read: until your sunburn becomes unbearable). If you’re going to the lake, though, stop by the Tiki Bar or Boat Club Restaurant for some lakeside food and views. Both offer fun, lively atmospheres and delicious food & drink.

The Whitefish area has something for everyone when it comes to pedal-powered fun. For an in-town spin, there's a lakeside bike path that’ll take you along the water straight from downtown. If you’re looking to get on some dirt, there are loads of single- and doubletrack trails, too. You can pretty much encircle Whitefish Lake on a mountain bike on what’s called the Whitefish Trail. It makes for some nice rolling, cross-country riding with ups and downs to get the blood pumping. Or you can pick a specific area to home in on. There’s Spencer Mountain for more developed riding, or go to Whitefish Resort for the whole downhill-biking shebang. Alternatively, get out on the Reid Divide Trail for an epic loop. Finally, instead of going blindly into the trails, you could always get some local experts to show you around. To get the full experience, team up with the folks at Whitefish Bike Retreat. They have trails right on site that you can access for camps and clinics, general riding, downhill shuttling, plus lodging & camping. 

Lastly, for folks looking for tight lines, there are more than a few places to hook into a trout. Once again, the Flathead's where the action's at. It’s a freestone river that offers a wild & scenic look at the area and its waters. As usual, the further you can get away from town, the better to find the road less traveled. The Middle and North forks are talked about the most often for fishing access. There’s also some great creekin’ options if smaller water and wilder fish are what get you going. For a start, try Swift Creek right as it drains into Whitefish Lake.

There are tons of adventures to be had in Whitefish, and we've barely scratched the surface. If fishing, biking, and boating don’t get you going, then bring along whatever other toys you want. There’s sure to be plenty of opportunities to blow your hair back however you see fit. Or, if you’re just trying to have a good time around town, that’s great too. Stop into Whitefish’s newest scene, called Thirty Eight. It’s a live-music venue and food-truck park on Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish. Visitors can stop by there to listen to music, grab a bite to eat, and take in the vibes (opening mid June). See you all there this summer!


Editor’s note: Like most beautiful mountain towns, Whitefish is being loved to death. With the increased traffic, wear & tear is inevitable—but we can each do our part to minimize impacts by simply being mindful of our surroundings. The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce has created its “Friend of the Fish” campaign to ensure the town operates sustainably. Give their checklist a run-through at explorewhitefish.com.