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Kalispell, Montana

A getaway for everyone

Five wild horses currently reside at Wild Horse Island State Park along with many Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and mule deer. Photo credit: Montana State Parks

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On the lookout for clean, crisp air? A sky that stretches beyond your field of vision? Very little traffic and friendly, welcoming residents? Then take a trip to Kalispell, Montana. Whether you drive (eight-and-a-half hours from Joint Base Lewis-McChord) or fly (a 90-minute flight), you'll notice the difference between the Evergreen State and Big Sky Country right away. Besides a bevy of activities and attractions your whole family will enjoy, Montana doesn't levy any sales tax, so costs are all considerably lower than here.

Day one

If you arrive in the afternoon or evening, dinner, some window-shopping and a sweet treat coupled with some rest should be in order. Get acquainted with the local culture while sampling the well-known pizza at Moose's Saloon ( To help digest your meal, saunter along Main Street and decide which stores you want to visit the next day. Before heading back to the hotel, visit Sweet Peaks ( for the best Montana-made ice cream around. Can't decide between huckleberry, espresso, salted caramel or grasshopper mint? Opt for a flight with scoops of all four. Time to walk back to your hotel.

Spend your nights at the Grand Kalispell Hotel (, which gives you instant access to the historic downtown and lets you explore its more than 100-year-old building. Be sure to take some time to check out the period-appropriate antiques and the artist's gallery tucked into the lobby.

Day two

Cross the street from the hotel to Montana Coffee Traders ( for an eye-opening shot of caffeine and a pastry before taking to the road. Less than five miles from Kalispell via Foys Lake Road, a spectacular view of the Flathead Valley awaits you at Lone Pine State Park ( The park offers 7.5 miles of trails designed for hiking and mountain biking (you can rent bikes in Kalispell). Visit in May and join staff for a wildflower walk or learn about what you can and can't eat in the wilderness.

Back in town, immerse yourselves in local history at The Museum at Central School ( Most of its Romanesque architecture has been preserved. Note some of the telltale remnants of the school building like the principal door. Kids get in free.

Norm's News (34 Main St.) makes a good lunch stop for burgers and shakes. Buy a magazine or two from the hundreds on display and let the kiddos choose some old-fashioned candy from the vast selection. Don't worry, you'll work off any excess calories at Lawrence Park (1105 N. Main St.) by bouldering (a form of rock climbing that doesn't use ropes or harnesses) or tossing 18 holes of disc golf.

Satiate the appetite you've worked up with a bison burger or elk lasagna at Hop's Downtown Grill (

Day three

With eight different flavors of Eggs Benedict, loaded hash browns and 10-cent cups of coffee, Sykes Diner ( is a must-stop for breakfast. You'll also find a market inside the building if you want to pick up some snacks for your upcoming road trip.

In less than 10 miles, you'll begin to see Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the West and one of the cleanest. At the Flathead Lake Ranger Station (8600 Mt. Hwy 35, Bigfork), inquire about a boat tour to Wild Horse Island State Park. That's right -- wild horses on an island plus 100 head of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and some mule deer, all living in harmony. After the boat tour, continue driving around the lake and select a place to swim or fish from one of the six state parks. The wildlife viewing continues along the lake's perimeter; watch for black bears, white-tailed deer and birds of prey.

After a few hours outdoors, why not tour the Conrad Mansion (, an 1890s-era home built by a shipping magnate that measures 13,000 sq. ft. with three floors, 26 rooms and eight sandstone fireplaces. Your guide, dressed in period costume, will enchant you with stories of the Conrad family. For example, the grandma's mailboxes, in which each of the children's two grandmothers could leave them messages and sometimes candy, showed that the role of grandparent to grandchild has always been precious.

If you have more vacation time, drive north 30 miles, and you'll have arrived at Glacier National Park.

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