Whitefish, Montana, in the Northern Rocky Mountains and gateway to stunning Glacier National Park, will surprise you. Not only is Whitefish a hotbed of outdoor recreation and the type of place where you might want to pack bear spray even for a day hike, it also has a relaxing, more refined side that even the most avid rock climbing, mountain biking, white water rafting-type will appreciate. And, I have to add, the person looking for a relaxing, not-so-active getaway will find just what they want, as well.
Garden Wall Inn
In the historic section of central Whitefish, within walking distance to everything, is an oasis of comfort and calm where a freshly-made fire in the fireplace welcomes you after a busy day and the breakfasts are prepared by a classically-trained chef. The Garden Wall Inn, a boutique hotel on a corner of a tree-lined street, is set in a two-story white clapboard home dating back to 1923. The inn fits well into the historic residential neighborhood—walk just a block past more quaint homes to the little park where you can access the Whitefish Bike and Pedestrian Trail along the Whitefish River.
I flew into nearby Glacier Park International Airport and after the short drive into downtown Whitefish was ready to freshen up before dinner. I was happily surprised to find my dream bathroom awaiting.
A porcelain claw-foot tub with fluffy monogrammed towels and robe in an art-deco black and white bathroom caught my eye as I explored my antique-filled room. A perfect red rose in a sterling silver vase accented the neutral décor.
My elegant but cozy queen-bed room was on the first floor and was amazingly quiet throughout my stay. I unpacked, rested, and chatted with the innkeeper who was as willing to share information and history as he was to simply let me settle in. They understand the individual needs of guests at the Garden Wall Inn. After dinner, I was surprised to find they had turndown service and had left me a little silver tray with a delightful local-made chocolate truffle.
The Garden Wall Breakfast Experience
After a relaxing sleep, I got up early to explore. While the inn does have a garden and porches where you can hang out, the name comes from the Garden Wall area in Glacier National Park, steep alpine terrain filled with flowering plants in summer. Both owners/chefs, Rhonda Fitzgerald and Chris Schustrom are lifelong outdoor enthusiasts and love the National Park.
When I checked in to the Garden Wall Inn, innkeeper Chris offered to bring coffee or tea to my room in the morning at my chosen time. It’s a relaxing way to start the day. After getting ready for the day’s activities, guests head to the dining room for a delightful multi-course farm to table breakfast.
Owner Rhonda Fitzgerald greeted us dressed in her crisp, white Cordon Bleu chef’s jacket. As she brought out fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh fruit, she explained that she knows exactly where to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables in town and what day the produce will be at its best.
It isn't unusual for her to shop in four different stores or go directly to the farmers for her breakfast ingredients (watch for fresh-picked huckleberries in summer). She’s active in the local farm-to-table movement, founded the farmer’s market and, we found, her breakfasts are not only fresh and local, but are also works of art.
Both local and exotic fruits filled the plates, the muffins were warm, and the fresh-squeezed juice was sweetly refreshing. Main courses are equally as pretty and provide guests with protein (eggs, ham, or fish is typical) and more local touches.
A favorite, because of its complexity and local sourcing, was Rhonda's Garden Wall Eggs in Puff Pastry. She scrambled free-range organic eggs from local Earthstar Farm in combination with shrimp, crimini mushrooms, and snow peas from Snow Country Gardens. Then the mixture was folded into light puff pastry baskets and topped with a light lemon dill sauce. The dill and other herbs were from the inn's garden and the ripe strawberry garnish was from The Wicked Good Farm.
We also learned that the lovely Blue Willow china had a purpose. Rhonda said that food is most attractive served on blue china. I had to agree. And, the cut crystal glasses, crisp white linens, and silver accent pieces added to the overall elegance of the breakfast. I have to add here that attire for breakfast can range from bike shorts to down vests. After all, you are in Montana where your outdoor activities dictate your dress.
Exploring Downtown Whitefish
After consulting with both Chris and Rhonda, it was off to explore Whitefish. There is so much in walking distance of the inn. These walkable outings are must-dos for your relaxing getaway at the Garden Wall Inn and are only a small sample of what you can enjoy in this beautiful Rocky Mountain town.
Walking the Whitefish Trails
While the Whitefish Trail is a 42-mile system of trails for hiking and biking for all ability levels, I chose to stroll the paved paths the locals call “Fish Trails” that would take me downtown. Starting at Riverside Park, close to the Garden Wall Inn, I noticed that there were places to launch kayaks—ducks plied the quiet waters.
The short walk downtown provided me with views of the river and an interesting educational stop at a pond to learn about the little floating water treatment “islands” made with post-consumer plastic that helped reduce pollutants. But soon I was downtown and walked up from the river to check out some of the services and shops (and breweries, too).
Going to the Salt Spa
I had heard about another relaxing way to spend time in Whitefish— The SaltBox dry salt therapy spa. The health effects of that beautiful pink Himalayan Sea Salt wasn’t new to me but what I was to encounter was a whole spa dedicated to state-of-the-art dry salt therapy.
While you can get more traditional massage treatments at The Salt Box, the draw is rooms where you can sit in a comfortable chair on a floor of salt crystals, put your feet up, fix your eyes on a beautiful wall of salt blocks, and receive the comforting and healthful benefits of the fine salt filtered into the room during your session.
You may get some salt on your skin (wear shorts and a tank top) as the fine particles of dry salt surround you. No matter what, you will come out of that room relaxed and rejuvenated—the escape from sensory overload in itself was a welcome change from a busy, over-stimulated life.
Shopping for Unique Gifts
Downtown Whitefish, with its western-style covered sidewalks, has some great shopping. You can shop for fine jewelry made with sparkling Montana sapphires, find an outdoorsy t-shirt for your favorite little one, and shop for western glam and Lucchese Boots at S.M. Bradford Company. I especially enjoyed seeing the work of local artists at Whitefish Pottery.
Dining Local in Whitefish, Montana
Whitefish has an active and creative culinary community. While you can get some delicious pub food, local fine dining venues offer a marvelous cross between traditional locally sourced foods and creative international flair. Annually, during Feast Whitefish, many of the local restaurants trot out their best dishes for a week of prix fixe three-course dining.
We enjoyed the vibrant Abruzzo Italian Kitchen while sitting at long tables in view of the huge wood-fired oven. They make everything in-house by hand, from scratch, including the fresh pasta and wood-fired pizzas alongside an Italian-focused cocktail program and an Italian-centric wine list (try one of the Chiantis). You’ll know you are in Whitefish when you look on the appetizer menu and see things like Elk Tartare: seared elk, lemon, capers, and red onion. The morel mushrooms, used in an appetizer with poached egg, shallots, and Italian cheese, were locally foraged.
Another evening we headed for Pescado Blanco for a locally sourced, Mexican-inspired cuisine adventure that surprised us with such specialties as the Chef's local elk chorizo with caramelized onions, crimini mushrooms, and roasted sweet chiles. The special of the evening was grilled wild Coho salmon garnished with avocado, tomatoes, and pepper. As a fan of Pacific Northwest salmon AND Mexican food, I have to say this was the best salmon dish I had experienced in a long time—creative and fresh.
Why You Relax in Whitefish
While this has been an enticement to get you to visit beautiful Whitefish, Montana surrounded by snow-capped peaks to pamper yourself, the truth is that there is a reason you’ll need a bit of relaxation. You’ll want to get out and hike the beautiful Glacier National Park, bike the iconic Going-to-the-Sun-Road in the spring before they open it to cars, and ski at the close-by White Mountain Resort in the winter.
A stay at the Garden Wall Inn will put you in the middle of it all. Glacier National Park is a quick half-hour drive from the inn. The free S.N.O.W. bus between Whitefish and Whitefish Mountain Resort stops at the Inn in winter, and a few blocks from the inn in summer. And, if you want to experience something new, the innkeepers will arrange for you to fish with a guide, learn to rock climb, rent a kayak, tour breweries with Big Sky Brews Cruise, or go horseback riding.
Watch for our action-packed light adventure article coming up next and check out what other Wander writers have to say about their visits to Montana.
Getting to Whitefish, Montana
Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, with direct flights from major cities, is just 15 minutes from the Garden Wall Inn. Amtrak’s historic depot is a walkable and flat six blocks from the inn. Whitefish Montana is accessible from many west coast locations for a long weekend or an extended vacation.
Note: The author toured as a guest of Explore Whitefish. As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations, meals, tours, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.