Wildlife watchers should delight in Northwest Montana’s bounty of wild critters. It’s certainly worth coming with your northern Rocky Mountain animal bucket list, whether your dream is to spot moose, marmots, or martens. And from a travel base of Whitefish, Montana, you have easy access to wilderness and wildlife management areas. Check out these spots for prime wildlife viewing near Whitefish.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is less than an hour away, and it offers up a world of Rocky Mountain wildlife to experience, from a safe and respectful distance, of course. There’s never a guarantee of a sighting, but with 71 species of mammals making their homes in the park, you have ample chances to encounter key species like bears, bighorns, mountain goats, and more. Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, open seasonally by reservation, or take a hike from one of the entrances open in fall, winter, or spring.
Flathead Lake State Park: Wild Horse Island Unit
Wild Horse Island might not be the easiest to access—you can only get there by boat, whether it be by private charter, kayak or canoe. No public ferries run to the island, and there isn’t a public dock or services beyond a latrine. But the effort is part of the appeal. Apart from the herd of wild horses, the island is also home to record-setting bighorn sheep. Make sure to leave your pets at home, and get ready for a remote island adventure.
CSKT Bison Range
The CSKT Bison Range south of St Ignatius serves a scenic drive-through grassland home to bison, grizzlies, elk, and bighorn sheep, among many other critters. With over 18,000 acres of protected area, the Bison Range holds deep natural and cultural significance. Make the drive, and see what you can see.
Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area
Ninepipe includes a state-run wildlife management area, along with a federal wildlife refuge, managed in partnership with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. For bird lovers, that means that over 4,000 acres of wetland offer habitat and viewing for a variety of ducks, a large great blue heron colony, a western grebe nesting colony, a double-crested cormorant colony, and plentiful species of other marsh and water birds.
Owen Sowerwine Natural Area
Birders should plan to spend hours at Owen Sowerwine Natural Area in Kalispell. Managed by the local Audubon chapter, Flathead Audubon, this natural area protects both river and wetland habitats for birds and other animals. Take a walk, bring your binoculars, and see what species you can add to your lifer list here.
Whitefish Mountain Resort
When you’re staying in Whitefish, the nearby Whitefish Mountain Resort is easily accessible for summer hiking and mountain biking, with the possibility to see some wildlife without going far from town. Bears, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, deer, elk, and weasels all call the resort home, among many other animals. It’s also a prime huckleberry-picking spot in late summer—one of the many reasons that wildlife is so abundant. Head up for a hike or a scenic gondola ride, and explore.
When you discover Northwest Montana’s natural areas around Whitefish, you have day trips upon day trips to choose from. Find accommodation that fits into your plans, with regenerative tourism top of mind for supporting the environment. Book your stay at a Starry Night property, and get ready to adventure.