There’s nothing quite like the snow in Whitefish. When the Pacific moisture first hits that cold Rocky air, it drops some of the finest snow in the world. But there are things to do in Whitefish for every season, and I know the incredible biking in Whitefish added years to my skiing before my knees forced me to hang up my boots.
Why I Wrote the Whitefish and Glacier Biking Guide
Ever since writing the Ultimate Guide to Biking in San Diego, I knew I had to write a Whitefish and Glacier biking guide. Instead of blue ocean views and golden sandy beaches of Southern California, you discover an entirely new alpine world in Montana. If you think hiking in Glacier National Park is epic, wait until you try biking. You cycle through forest green mountain passes and pass aquamarine alpine lakes as a kaleidoscope of summer wildflowers greet you, and the adorably cute Whitefish downtown always welcomes you back.
What’s more, the climb up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park is my favorite ride in all of the world. There’s a magic month in the spring as the snow is cleared and before motor vehicles are allowed. Bikes have the road all to themselves, and the views are even more stunning from the saddle. Keep reading to learn where to ride in Whitefish and Glacier National Park.
Map to Biking Whitefish Montana and Glacier National Park
My husband, Ed, puts together these interactive bike maps, and I think he does a pretty decent job. My favorite Whitefish and Glacier bike rides are on the map, along with points of interest. The layer containing stop and start points is clicked off, but you should click it on for more details. We also put notes on each ride and points of interest, so feel free to click around.
We also included is MapMyRide inserts throughout the post, which will give you detailed directions and an elevation profile. You can also access these routes from the MapMyRide app for live navigation. If these maps don’t load, just hit the refresh button 😉
Whitefish Montana is the quintessential mountain town. The picture-perfect downtown is filled with local restaurants and art galleries, and many of the ski shops offer bike rentals. We went ahead and put the rental shops on the bike map to make it easy. You can even rent fat-tire bikes for winter riding.
This town embraces bike culture with abundant bike paths and a vibrant outdoor scene. You could put together rides of every description, distance, and difficulty, but I’ll give you a couple of Whitefish bike rides to get you going.
Downtown Whitefish / Whitefish River Trail (3.7 miles / 70′ gain)
My route for the Whitefish River Trail starts from Depot Park, where passenger trains still come in and out of the station today. You take Railroad St to Baker, where you’ll see a trailhead across the road. You could hop on here, but it’s a little prettier to cross over tracks on the dedicated bike lane and enter the Whitefish River Trail on the north side of the tracks. One more safety point, there’s limited visibility because of the overpass on Baker, so you’d be much safer crossing at Railroad and taking the dedicated pedestrian lane on the west (left) side of the overpass.
About a 1/2 mile after you get on the trail, you’ll reach a spur trail, which goes to City Beach before you continue down the Whitefish River. City Beach is a City Park with a sandy beach, picnic areas, and concessions on Whitefish Lake, with mountain views and spectacular crystal blue water.
I’d recommend taking the river trail all the way down to the Pine Lodge and then backtracking a 1/2 mile back to the ramp that exits onto Central Ave. The views along the Whitefish River are so beautiful that you’ll want to take advantage of every trail mile you can find. You’ll be riding under a canopy of green leaves almost the entire way, and you’re likely to find paddleboarders or kayakers playing in the water on a hot summer day. It’s a scenic slice of nature just outside of downtown Whitefish.
To close the loop, you could take Central Ave. back to be fully immersed in the downtown Whitefish scene. But you’d probably be happier taking the bike lanes on US 93 / Spokane Ave back to Depot Park and then exploring downtown on foot. It will be easier to hop into shops and explore with your bike safely back on your car instead of dealing with traffic and biking around parked cars.
Whitefish Lake / Lakeshore Drive (8.4 miles, 300′ gain)
My 8.4-mile out-and-back on Lakeshore Drive starts from Depot Park. Only this time, you stay on the east (right) side of Baker, head over the overpass and continue onto Wisconsin Ave, which turns into Lakeshore Drive a little bit down the road.
I love this ride because it’s fairly flat and flowy. There’s even a couple of miles of dedicated trail along I like to hop on, and where there isn’t a trail, the road has a nice, wide shoulder. I turn around at the Les Mason State Park entrance because the nice shoulders disappear, and you’re about to enter a series of rolling hills. Experienced riders might push on, but I’d rather climb up Whitefish Mountain if I were looking for a longer ride with elevation gain. It’s safer with better views. You can also ride the Whitefish River Trail on the way back to get a couple of extra miles.
Whitefish Mountain / Big Mountain Road (15 miles, 1850′ gain)
If you consider yourself a road rider in Whitefish, you’re going to climb Whitefish Mountain sooner or later. In part, because it’s a right of passage, but mostly because of its breathtaking views. Along the way, you’ll see Whitefish Lake, Whitefish Mountain, and downtown Whitefish. Sometimes, you can even see all three at once.
The start of this ride is very similar to the Lakeshore Drive Route. Only you turn up Big Mountain Road at mile 2.5. You can see that point on the elevation profile. That’s where it starts getting steep. You’ll be gaining 1,600′ over the next 5 miles with a steady 6% climb. The shoulder is extra wide here to facilitate snow removal in the winter, and traffic is generally light, especially if you’re heading up in the morning before summer resort hours (10:00 am).
The Big Mountain Road climb is a fantastic ride all by itself, but there are a couple of ways you can pimp your ride to make it even better. First off, there are some excellent restaurants at the resort. It might be awkward to show up at the James Beard-nominated Café Kandahar in biking clothes (only open from 6–9:30 pm, btw), but you should be just fine taking the lift up and eating at the Summit House. Secondly, on the way back down, detour on Ridge Run Drive and explore some manicured mountain top mansions to add a couple of extra miles to your ride. (Side note, this was my old hood. I was just a humble ski instructor, but I got a sick deal renting out a caretaker apartment under one of the homes, and now I’m ruined for life. Nothing else can compare!)
Whitefish Mountain Resort Mountain Biking (32+ miles, 2353′ vertical Drop)
Unfortunately, I left Whitefish right as the Whitefish Mountain Resort Bike Park was getting going. It has grown into something remarkable with over 30 miles of trail accessible by two chair lifts and 2353′ of vertical drop. To quote their site –
You know the feeling– the state of being completely immersed in the moment. As a mountain biker, it’s a connection to the trail as if your bike is an extension of yourself. Rolling over features, plunging through berms, catching air, and landing like a feather. The Whitefish Bike Park is known for its flow. A feeling that begins as you approach the mountain, elevates as you ride the lift, and culminates as you descend lap after lap.
If you’re new to the mountain, they recommend starting at the Bad Rock Zone. This zone encompasses 4 miles of trails ranging from beginner to expert. They even have a prescribed trail sequence to help you get rolling. From there, you can progress to The Summit, with almost 25 miles of lift-accessed gravity riding on four long and flowing routes. Alternatively, thrill-seekers can take on the B-Side with the park’s biggest jumps, technical trails, berms, and more to challenge even the most skilled riders. They even rent downhill bikes, full-face helmets, and protective pads.
The Whitefish Trail Mountain Biking (42+ miles, 4000’+ gain)
No Montana mountain biking adventure would be complete without riding the Whitefish Trail. Currently, the trail consists of 12 trailheads and 42+ miles of natural surface trail, including single‐track trails and gated logging roads. Riders will enjoy beautiful forests, prime wildlife habitat, sweeping vistas, pristine lakes, and inter-connected recreation areas. Riding on the Whitefish Trail is a different beast than the gravity trails at the bike park, but every bit as beautiful. Hardcore mountain bikers will want to make room for both in their Whitefish biking getaway.
How do you tell if you’re a hardcore mountain biker? An easy way is if you’re staying at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. This is an affordable lodging option for people who desire immediate access to the Whitefish Trail. They also provide rentals and shuttles service. Their branding sleep-eat-ride doesn’t tell the whole story because the Whitefish Bike Retreat isn’t just a place to stay. It is a place to experience. One more way to tell a hardcore mountain biker, they pick the Whitefish Bike Retreat as their wedding venue, which is another service the retreat offers.
Kalispell / Great Northern Historical Trail (41.5 miles, 1000′ gain)
Visitors to Whitefish should be familiar with Kalispell. It’s probably the airport they used if they flew in. It’s also home to the Great Northern Historical Trail. Technically, the trail runs 22-miles from Kila to Somers, but Kalispell is the largest community in the Flathead Valley, so it gets the H2 header name. If you prefer to start this ride from Kalispell proper, you can start with the Kalispell Parkline Trail instead of the trailhead at Kila. It’s about the same distance from either point but I like the countryside around Kila just a little bit better.
I “discovered” this trail when I took my special needs cat, Toki, to the miracle workers at Calm Animal Care in Kila. Every other vet told me to put sweet little Toki down when she was a kitten due to her frequent seizures. They gave her kitty chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and put her on a low protein diet so her food didn’t metabolize into ammonia. Long story short, she is now the ripe old age of 14 and still kicking. Along the drive, I saw the Great Northern Historical Trail passing through the undulating grasslands and knew I had to ride it. I came back on my next day off and loved every mile.
If you ride this as a 44-mile out and back, it’s a long day ride but perfectly doable, especially since there’s only 1000′ of elevation gain along the way. You’ll never forget rounding the corner in Somer and seeing Flathead Lake spreading out in front of you. It’s the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and truly a sight to behold.
Now, more than ever, visitors to Whitefish need to recreate responsibly. I consider myself to “Be a Friend of the Fish” and want to do what I can to keep my favorite restaurants, shops, and activities open. I also want visitors to think of safety first and adventure second. Plan ahead and be prepared to change when conditions do. Ask about the new “Be a Friend of The Fish” checklist“Be a Friend of The Fish” checklist to find out how you can wander lightly and be a positive impact on this fragile community.
This motto applies to your adventures and your health too. If we’re in a pandemic, wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines and stay home if you’re exhibiting symptoms. Outdoor adventure in Montana can be challenging enough if you’re healthy and treacherous if you’re ill. Also, it’s a small mountain community that’s not well equipped to handle a significant outbreak.
Biking Glacier National Park
I fell in love with Whitefish, but I came to Montana because of a deep and passionate love affair with Glacier National Park. She came into my world while I was watching An Inconvenient Truth. The assertion that of the 150 glaciers present in the park in 1850, only 26 remain was as shocking as the rugged beauty of the park’s jagged peaks and the sapphire blue alpine lakes. I moved to Whitefish less than a year after first watching the movie, and I made it my mission to explore all of Glacier National Park while I could.
I still consider Glacier the most beautiful of all the National Parks. It’s an easy trip from Whitefish to Glacier National Park since the park entrance is only 45-minutes away from town. That said, my pro-tip is to plan to get an early start.
I love every second I spent there with an insatiable desire to return again and again, which is saying a lot for a chronic non-repeater!
Biking Going to the Sun Road (31.5 miles / 3273′ gain)
Of all my experiences hiking, camping, and exploring in Glacier National Park, biking Going to The Sun Road stands out above the rest. This is my favorite bike ride in all of the world, and not just because of my unabashed love of Glacier. Over 3-million people visit the park every year, and many of them drive Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass. They have an idea of the experience by watching the sweeping vistas from their car window.
However, there’s a magic time from mid-April / early May to mid-July when the road is closed to vehicle traffic, and cyclists have the road to themselves. It’s like a two-line bike trail into a magical wonderland. Waterfalls cascade beside the road as you pedal by recently plowed snowbanks.
Going to the Sun Road Bike Ride Details
The Going to the Sun Road Bike Ride is challenging with 3,273′ of elevation gain, but the road’s gentle 6% grade makes it obtainable for most riders with a bit of training. Since the pass is at 6650′, the altitude effects aren’t as severe as similar climbs in Colorado, but you still want to drink plenty of water and watch for signs of altitude sickness. Even though you’re below the 8000′ threshold that’s often talked about for such things, heavy exercise increases your oxygen demands.
I usually started my ride from the Avalanche Creek Picnic Area, making the Going to the Sun bike ride a 31.5-mile out-and-back. However, some people start as far back as the park entrance, which doubles the mileage. In general, it takes about 30-minutes to ride the first 5-miles (200′ gain) from Avalanche to the “Start of the Climb” just past Logan Creek. You gain 3000′ over the next 11-miles to get to Logan Pass. It’s a relentless grind, so I always packed a lunch and enough warm clothes that I could stop for a break on the way up. Strong riders could make this section in just over 2-hours, but I took my time and planned accordingly.
This year, riders who start at Avalanche are subject to a new Going to the Sun Road reservation system starting Memorial Day weekend, as well as previous existing bike rules for summer, which I’ll cover in the What You Need to Know section of this piece. If you want to make a summer ride, seriously consider getting a supported bike tour to Glacier to solve the myriad of logistic issues and provide critical logistic support to ensure that you are safe and have fun.
Some people love summer full moon rides and coming in the fall once the summer traffic slows down, but for me, the Going to the Sun Road bike ride was always a spring activity when the road was closed to vehicle traffic. The park service provides a Going to the Sun Road plowing updated so you can know exactly how much of the road is cleared and what to expect when you’re riding.
Bike Trails In Glacier National Park
Bike trails in Glacier National Park are an excellent option for casual riders and summer visitors. For the most part, biking is allowed on all park roads but prohibited on the trails in Glacier with the exception of these three trails:
- The paved path from Park Headquarters to Apgar Village (Paved Path)
- The Fish Creek Bike Path from Apgar Village to Fish Creek Campground
- The old Flathead Ranger Station Trail (Unpaved)
Also, during construction, riders can use unpaved Inside North Fork Road, which is temporarily closed to vehicles between Camas Creek and Logging Creek.
Our Glacier National Park Bike Trail map shows these options, and you can find ride details on the MapMyRide links in this post and the map.
Gateway to Glacier Trail (10.7 miles / 500′ gain)
The Gateway to Glacier Trail is relatively new and postdates my time in Montana. I would always ride Blankenship Road during the summer, but this trail looks incredible. It’s an 11-mile one-way (22-mile out-and-back) off-highway path from Hungry Horse to West Glacier along US-2. You get that great Glacier scenery without the red tape and rigmarole. I’ve ridden some of the sections along Old Highway 2, and they are breathtaking.
Biking in Glacier National Park – What You Need to Know
Biking in Glacier National Park can be challenging between the park rules, unpredictable weather, traffic, and bears. Below is our list of what you need to know when biking in Glacier National Park:
- Glacier implemented a new ticked entry system for the Going to the Sun Road Corridor from May 28 to September 6. Long story short, you will need a reservation to get through the West Gate to ride the Going to The Sun Road or bike trails in Glacier unless you are on a guided tour. You will not need to do this to bike the Gateway to Glacier Trail.
- Cyclists must observe all traffic regulations.
- Keep well to the right side of the road and ride in single file only.
- Pull off the road if four or more vehicles stack up behind you.
- During periods of low visibility or between sunset and sunrise, a white light or a reflector visible from a distance of at least 500 feet (152 m) in front, and a red light or reflector visible from at least 200 feet (61 m) to the rear must be exhibited on the operator or bicycle.
- Be visible by attaching a bright flag on a pole and wear bright-colored clothing.
- Wearing a helmet and carrying bear spray are strongly advised.
- Watch for falling rocks, drainage grates, and ice on the road.
- There are summer biking restrictions on Going to the Sun Road from June 15 through Labor Day. Bicycles are prohibited between Apgar Campground to Sprague Creek Campground between 11 am and 4 pm. Uphill bicycle traffic is prohibited between Logan Creek to Logan Pass between 11 am and 4 pm.
Final Thoughts on Biking Whitefish Montana and Glacier National Park
I hope that you can see from my descriptions why Whitefish Montana and Glacier National Park are my favorite places on Earth! Northwest Montana is a world-class destination for both road biking and mountain biking.
Because of park rules, mountain biking is a Whitefish thing and not really an activity for Glacier. However, there is excellent road riding in both locations, with the spring trip to Going to the Sun Road as the crown jewel of Montana road riding.
No matter how you choose to ride, be sure to recreate responsibly and “Be a Friend of The Fish.” The town has launched this campaign to educate visitors on being stewards of the community and surrounding public lands. We hope this guide inspires you to plan a trip to Whitefish and Glacier soon because, once these places are in your soul, you’ll always be looking for your next visit.
Remember to ride safely and read our bike disclaimer before you go
A big thank you to Brian Schott and Explore Whitefish for providing us with their gorgeous photography to make this post possible! Though I lived in Whitefish for over 4 years, I was not blogging at the time, so my own snaps are few. Brian Schott from Explore Whitefish took all of the cycling shots including the bike against the snow, the feature image, the first two Whitefish scene shots, and the image of the dock on Whitefish Lake.
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