Whitefish, Montana

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Looking north from downtown Whitefish
Looking north from downtown Whitefish
Official seal of Whitefish
"Montana's outdoor recreation playground"[1]
Location of Whitefish, Montana
Location of Whitefish, Montana
Coordinates: 48°24′42″N 114°20′24″W / 48.41167°N 114.34000°W / 48.41167; -114.34000Coordinates: 48°24′42″N 114°20′24″W / 48.41167°N 114.34000°W / 48.41167; -114.34000
CountryUnited States
 • MayorJohn Mhulfeld
 • City ManagerDana Smith
 • Total12.32 sq mi (31.92 km2)
 • Land6.95 sq mi (18.00 km2)
 • Water5.37 sq mi (13.91 km2)
3,028 ft (923 m)
 • Total6,357
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,193.35/sq mi (460.72/km2)
Time zoneUTC−7 (Mountain (MST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−6 (MDT)
ZIP code
Area code406 Exchanges: 862,863
FIPS code30-79825
GNIS feature ID0793219
WebsiteOfficial website

Whitefish (Salish: epɫx̣ʷy̓u, "has whitefish"[6]) is a town in Flathead County, Montana, United States. The population was 6,357 at the 2010 census. Whitefish consistently makes the top places to live and to visit on many publication's lists.[7][8][9][10] In 2020, the New York Times listed Whitefish, Montana as one of the top 52 places to visit in the world.[11]

Whitefish has also been ranked as one of the top places for hippies to live in Montana, [12] and is considered to be more progressive than other areas in the state. [13] Whitefish was one of a handful of towns in Montana to vote Democratic up and down the ballot in the 2020 United States presidential election. [14] It is well known for its environmentalism, with an extensive system of protected trails and forests that are designed to purify the town's water. [15] The town has been labeled as a "national model of resistance" against hate and racism. [16] [17]

Whitefish is also known as a favorite location for U.S. Military Special Operations and CIA, for retirement, business, and to hold conferences and retreats. [18] [19] [20] Military Veterans also get free entry into Glacier National Park and 50% off all food, drink, ski lift passes, rentals and hotels at the Whitefish Mountain Resort. [21] [22] Many local former CIA, Navy SEAL and Marine Corps special operators have been active in nonprofits to stop human trafficking, to bring those that profit from this illegal activitity to justice and children home to their parents. [23] [24]


Long before the first Europeans came to Whitefish, native American tribes inhabited the area, most notably the Kootenai, the Pend d’Oreille, and the Bitterroot Salish. The Kootenai lived in the area for more than 14,000 years, inhabiting the mountainous terrain west of the Continental Divide, and traveled east of the divide for occasional buffalo hunts.[25] Though trappers, traders, and waves of westward immigrants passed through the area during the second half of the century, it wasn’t until 1883 that the first permanent settler John Morton built a cabin on the shore of Whitefish Lake, just west of the mouth of the Whitefish River. Morton was joined by the forefathers of the local logging industry—including the Baker and Hutchinson brothers—in the early 1890s. Logging crews “boomed-up” their logs behind a dam built at the river mouth by the Boston & Montana Commercial Company, which, when opened, created a rush of water that helped float the logs down the river to Kalispell.[26]

Whitefish Depot

The Great Northern Railway was built through what is now Whitefish in 1904, which sparked the development of the town. The area was originally known as Stumptown due to the abundant amount of timber that had to be cleared to build the town and railroad and because tree stumps were left in the streets throughout downtown.[27] Early residents of the town worked for the railroad and nearby logging industries.[28] In 2006, over 68,000 passengers embarked and disembarked through the historic Whitefish Depot, a stop on Amtrak's Empire Builder line,[29] with some percentage of those headed to the ski resort on Big Mountain.

Skiing has been part of the Whitefish area for more than 50 years. In 1937, the Whitefish Lake Ski Club obtained a special permit from the U.S. Forest Service enabling them to build cabins and trails in the Hell Roaring Creek region. Great Falls businessmen Ed Schenck and George Prentice recognized the area’s potential and after World War II, began efforts to develop a full-fledged ski resort on the mountain with local people donating labor, preparing the slopes, even giving up free time to help push through an all-weather mountain road. On December 14, 1947, Schenck, Prentice, and a thousand townsfolk stood on the slopes of the newly christened ski resort to watch the brand new T-Bar lift bring their community vision to life.[30]


The town is located on the western side of the continental divide, near Glacier National Park. Whitefish Lake is a 5.2 square miles (13 km2) natural lake with maximum length 5.8 miles (9.3 km) and width 1.4 miles (2.3 km) and is 233 feet (71 m) at its deepest. The Whitefish River bisects the town of Whitefish as it courses south by southeast to briefly join the Stillwater River before its flows enter the Flathead River.[31]


According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Whitefish has a humid continental climate, abbreviated "Dfb" on climate maps. This climatic region is typified by large seasonal temperature differences, with warm to hot (and often humid) summers and cold (sometimes severely cold) winters.[32]

Climate data for Whitefish, Montana (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 50
Average high °F (°C) 29.3
Daily mean °F (°C) 22.5
Average low °F (°C) 15.6
Record low °F (°C) −26
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.74
Average snowfall inches (cm) 17
Source 1: The Weather Channel[33]
Source 2: NOAA[34]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)8,295[4]30.5%
U.S. Decennial Census[35]
2015 Estimate[36]
View from the top of Big Mountain, near Whitefish, in winter

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[37] of 2000, there were 5,032 people, 2,229 households, and 1,203 families living in the city. The population density was 1,138.5 people per square mile (439.6/km2). There were 2,652 housing units at an average density of 600.0 per square mile (231.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.97% White, 0.14% African American, 1.11% Native American, 0.58% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.72% from other races, and 1.43% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.93% of the population.

There were 2,229 households, out of which 26.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.2% were married couples living together, 9.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.0% were non-families. 34.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.86.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.6% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 32.9% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females, there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $33,038, and the median income for a family was $41,009. Males had a median income of $36,298 versus $19,583 for females. The per capita income for the city was $24,098. About 13.8% of families and 18.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 32.9% of those under age 18 and 12.7% of those age 65 or over.

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[3] of 2010, there were 6,357 people, 2,982 households, and 1,562 families living in the city. The population density was 988.6 inhabitants per square mile (381.7/km2). There were 4,086 housing units at an average density of 635.5 per square mile (245.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.8% White, 0.5% African American, 0.8% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.3% from other races, and 1.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.8% of the population.

There were 2,982 households, of which 24.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.1% were married couples living together, 8.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.8% had a male householder with no wife present, and 47.6% were non-families. 36.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.10 and the average family size was 2.77.

The median age in the city was 40.1 years. 19.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.1% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 30.2% were from 25 to 44; 28.9% were from 45 to 64, and 14.3% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 50.3% male and 49.7% female.

Arts, culture and sports[edit]

A writer's haven[edit]

Dorothy M. Johnson began writing as a student at Whitefish High School in 1918. She went on to one of the most respected female writers in the western genre, including the books The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Hanging Tree, and a A Man Called Horse. Johnson also taught creative writing at the University of Montana and at her request, her grave at the Whitefish Cemetery simply says "Paid in Full".[38]

Whitefish hosts the Montana Writing Retreat which is rated in the Top 3 writers workshop in the United States.[39] Other authors in Whitefish include Lara Munson, the author of Willa’s Grove and Denis Foley a screenwriter and novelist. The Whitefish Review is a nonprofit organization that publishes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, photography, and interviews, with a slant toward mountain culture.[40]

Annual cultural events[edit]

Huckleberry Days Arts Festival is an annual arts festival featuring 100 artists and food vendors. The event includes a huckleberry dessert bake-off contest.[41]

The Taste of Whitefish is an annual event that has been held for more than twenty-five years. The event features over twenty-five restaurants, caterers and beverage companies offering samples of their specialties.[42][43]

The Whitefish Winter Carnival is an annual winter festival celebrating winter topics with a parade, "penguin plunge" into Whitefish Lake, and snow sculptures. It is held the first weekend in February each year.[44]

Under the Big Sky Music Festival, takes place annually in Whitefish. The festival explores the breadth and legacy of America, with both traditional and contemporary takes on America's rich musical traditions, across two stages in naturally formed amphitheaters on a local ranch.[45]

The Whitefish Arts Festival (WAF) occurs over the 4th of July weekend and is a tradition going back over forty years. It is a favorite throughout the Northwest and maintains a long tradition of high-quality arts and fine crafts. Artists from across the country are represented in the WAF. Metal sculptures, paintings and photography, woodworking, pottery, jewelry, clothing, and home decorations are just some of the featured fine arts. All of the art is handmade.[46]

The annual Whitefish Trail Hootenanny takes place in downtown Whitefish to celebrate and support the public land and trails that ring the town. It includes live music and local culinary specialties to raise funds to protect public land.[47]

Whitefish sports[edit]

The Whitefish Trail Legacy Run is an annual ultra trail race that takes place in the town to celebrate the unique public trail system. It includes a 50-kilometer ultra-marathon as well as a 1/2 marathon, a 10-kilometer, and a 5-kilometer race. It takes place in the first week of October in conjunction with the Oktoberfest celebration.[48]

The World Indoor Golf Championship has been held in Whitefish for over sixteen years and is a 9-hole "miniature golf" tournament in downtown Whitefish.[49]

The Glacier Challenge is a six-leg, multi-sport relay covering 50 miles of Montana. The race features six legs of running, biking, canoeing, and kayaking covering almost 50 miles in and around Whitefish. A triathlon has recently been added to include the first three legs of the Glacier Challenge. Participants enter as a solo team, partner duo, or group team. The 50 miles race consists of an 8-mile run, kayak, road bike, mountain bike, canoe, and 3.1-mile run. There are also food vendors, activities for children, and music.[50]

The Glacier Twins is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit baseball team that was started in the 1960s and is sponsored by the Whitefish chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 276. The games are played Memorial Field at 1135 E Second St, Whitefish, MT 59937.[51][52]

The Whitefish Bike Retreat is a unique hostel on the Whitefish trail system that has become a mecca for mountain biking enthusiasts from across the United States.[53]


The government system of Whitefish consists of a city council with six councilmembers and a mayor and city manager. As of March 2020, the mayor was John Muhlfeld and the current city manager is Dana Smith.[54][55]


Whitefish is served by the Whitefish School District. Schools in the district include Muldown Elementary School, Whitefish Middle School. Whitefish High School and Whitefish Independent High School. Whitefish School District offers students K-12 a wide range of academic supplements, for example, online Virtual High School and dual credit opportunity through Flathead Valley Community College.[56]

Whitefish High School is home to numerous state championship teams; the most recent is the girls cross country team. They have won four consecutive titles. Other state athletic accomplishments have been made in football, girls and boys golf, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls track and field, girls softball, boys and girls tennis, speech, and debate.[57]


Whitefish is part of the Missoula media market, which covers a seven-county area of northwestern Montana. The city's main newspaper is The Whitefish Pilot, while the Flathead Beacon, a regional newspaper for the Flathead Valley based in Kalispell, publishes Whitefish Area News.[58] Three radio stations are licensed to Whitefish, all owned by Bee Broadcasting, Inc.: KJJR 880 AM, KSAM 1240 AM, and KWOL-FM 105.1.



The Kalispell Regional Medical Center is the county's largest hospital and serves the area.[59]


US 93 through Whitefish

U.S. Route 93 and MT 40 run through Whitefish. Commercial airline service is available at Glacier Park International Airport along U.S. Route 2.

The Whitefish Amtrak station is served by Amtrak's Chicago–Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, as well as intercity buses to Kalispell and Missoula. The station is Amtrak's busiest in Montana. The Whitefish Amtrak station is owned by Stumptown Historical Society and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Museums and other points of interest[edit]

Notable people[edit]


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External links[edit]