Category Archives: Culinary

TOP 7 MEETING PLANNER QUESTIONS ABOUT WESTERN MONTANA

Meeting planners are looking for new destinations that offer experiential components to drive attendance, engagement and leave a lasting impression. Hello, Montana! I’ve gathered the top seven most frequently asked questions by meeting planners who have never been to Montana, about meeting in Montana, and why choosing Western Montana as a meetings destination is the right decision.

The perfect backdrop for a Montana dinner event.

Q: My attendees/clients are looking for more experiential destinations; what can Western Montana’s Glacier Country offer for offsite experiences?

A: Adding an outdoor adventure to your next meeting agenda in Western Montana’s Glacier Country is easy when you utilize Montana’s most notable and stunning adventure assets—rivers, mountains and lakes—along with the services of professional guides and outfitters. Whether the group wants have their own rodeo at a local arena or take a trail ride by horseback near Kalispell (read more about meetings in Kalispell here), a mountain biking excursion in Whitefish, float the Alberton Gorge near Missoula (learn more about meeting in Missoula here) or take a guided hike through Glacier National Park, Western Montana has professional, experienced and well-equipped guides to make group adventures easy, safe, educational and a whole lot of fun.

A group rafts the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Meeting attendees enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride.

For other experiential adventures, here is a partial list; you choose the fun. When in season, pick sweet Flathead cherries from an orchard. Ride the alpine slide or take a gondola ride for spectacular views at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Cast a line into a blue-ribbon trout stream. Soak in a hot spring. Stand-up paddleboard or kayak on the largest freshwater lake in the West—Flathead Lake. Personalize a Glacier National Park trip with The Glacier Institute. Set up a tour and meet with an actual smokejumper and see what he/she wears when parachuting in to fight a wildfire. Enjoy a historical walking/architecture tour. Take in a small-town rodeo. Mine for sapphires. Experience a Broadway-caliber theater performance. Visit a local Flathead Valley lavender farm and make lavender sachets or lemonade. Meet and listen to a cowboy poet. Learn to line dance. Talk with a wrangler at a chuckwagon dinner. The list goes on. In fact, here are 102 things to do.

Create your own rodeo along with line dancing lessons in a horse arena.

Wild Goose Island on St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park.

Chuckwagon dinners where farm to table food is served at every meal.

Q: Montana seems to be a little more difficult to get to; how would my attendees get there, and which airports would they fly into?

A: Traveling to Montana is easier than you might think. There are two airports servicing Western Montana’s Glacier Country – Missoula International Airport (MSO) and Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell—offering 13 direct flights from six major airline carriers. Once on the ground it takes between five and 15 minutes to get to the majority of the convention hotels located in Western Montana—most of them offering free shuttles. Montana also has train service (Amtrak’s Empire Builder) that runs from Chicago in the Midwest to Seattle and Portland on the West Coast with stops at seven stations in Western Montana, Whitefish being the most notable for meetings. If driving or needing car rentals, our well-maintained highway system offers virtually traffic free travel. Interstate 90 runs east and west through our region, and U.S. Highway 93 runs north and south.

Empire Builder near Glacier National Park. Photo: Amtrak.

Q: How expensive is the airfare to fly into Montana?

A: According to the most recent data released from the Bureau of Transportation Services flying into or out of Missoula International Airport based on average ticket prices are the lowest in the state of Montana with an average fare at $406. Flying into or out of Glacier Park International is slightly higher. American Airlines began service to Western Montana last year and, with the increased competition, ticket prices from Delta, Frontier, United and Alaska airlines have decreased substantially.

Fly direct from Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles on American Airlines. Photo: American Airlines

Q: My clients want four- or five-star properties only; do you have those?

A: The simple answer is YES. We have some of the world’s finest luxury guest ranches that are perfect for retreats, executive board meetings and corporate incentive travel programs offering one-of-a-kind experiences. Triple Creek Ranch, located in Darby, is a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux properties and caters to adults only. The Ranch at Rock Creek, located in Philipsburg, is the world’s first Forbes five-star guest ranch resort and offers world-class experiences. The largest guest ranch in Western Montana is The Resort at Paws Up, located on 37,000 acres just east of Missoula in Greenough and offers luxurious riverside glamping along with lavish guest homes and à la carte activities for up to 200 guests. Located in Whitefish, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake is the only four-star hotel resort in Montana.

The Ranch at Rock Creek’s Buckle Barn.

Sit fireside at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish.

Glamping and making s’mores around the fire at Resort at Paws Up.

While not rated by Forbes, other notable retreat locations that will give your attendees all the Montana feels include Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, Wilderness Club located in Eureka, Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort located in Paradise, and Dancing Spirit Lodge in Columbia Falls. If a smaller lodge retreat is what you’re after, consider Laughing Horse Lodge in Swan Lake, or Hidden Moose Lodge and Kandahar Lodge in Whitefish. For a more downtown retreat, stay at the new Residence Inn by Marriott at the Mercantile in downtown Missoula, surrounded by boutiques, cafés, breweries, distilleries and fine dining options.

Guests can relax around the stone fireplace at Hidden Moose Lodge.

Private entrances amid the blossoms in the central garden at Laughing Horse Lodge.

Q: How large is the convention center in Western Montana?

A: Western Montana does not have your typical convention center with a hotel attached, however, we do have significant ballroom and flexible breakout space at convention hotels located in our larger cities of KalispellMissoula and Whitefish. Missoula boasts the largest meeting space in the region, with 33,400 square feet of flexible space at the University of Montana along with a full convention services staff to make the conference easy. Missoula’s largest convention hotel, which is a Hilton property has 22,000 square feet of flexible space. Kalispell’s largest convention hotel, again a Hilton property, offers 14,000 square feet of function space, while Whitefish has two convention hotels—The Lodge at Whitefish Lake and Grouse Mountain Lodge, with roughly 11,000 square feet of space at both properties. Visit our meetings website to see more options.

Choose from unique to conventional meeting spaces.

Q: Montana seems remote; do you have all the modern conveniences we need for a conference?

A: Western Montana has all the modern technology and conveniences without the spendy price tag found in tier one and two cities. Transportation: Most convention hotels offer free shuttle services from the airport and free parking for those renting or driving a car. Uber and Lyft ridesharing services are available. Wi-Fi is offered free in guest rooms and some conference spaces along with affordable rates on AV and video conferencing needs. Attendees don’t have to pay extra for business centers, fitness centers or pools. There is no statewide sales tax in Montana, so that final BEO will only have a service charge not additional taxes on food, AV or meeting services (note: Whitefish has is a 3% resort tax). BONUS: Montana’s lodging tax is 7% currently (8% starting January 2020), which is half of some of our neighboring states.

The food is what surprises people the most about Montana. It is tremendous.

Q: Do you have a DMC (Destination Management Company) in Western Montana to help with my all my meeting planning needs on-site?

A: Yes, we do. MNW Destinations is located in Western Montana but also helps plan conferences all over the country. They have offices in the Flathead Valley (covering Kalispell, Whitefish and Bigfork) and in Missoula. They specialize in helping companies and associations pull off the perfect Montana meeting.

An outdoor dinner at the Conrad Mansion in Kalispell.

For more information on meeting facilities in Western Montana, visit our Glacier Country meetings website. For more information on pre and post itineraries or if you need additional information, drop me a line; I’m always here to help.

Meet in Montana,
DP

FOODIE FUN IN WESTERN MONTANA – FOOD TRUCKS, BAKERIES AND ICE CREAM

Authentic and delicious food is becoming more and more prevalent in people’s minds when they think about Montana. With a diverse range of culinary offerings and experiences, it’s easier than ever to find locally sourced, homemade, gluten-free and vegetarian cuisine.

To help you plan a unique and perfectly-catered FIT itinerary for your clientele, here are some unusual and fun culinary experiences that are available in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

Food Trucks – growing in popularity, food trucks can be found all over Montana. For clients who would like to experience this growing trend, food trucks are often found at special events like rodeos, fairs, festivals and farmers markets (held weekly in many towns within the region during the warm season) throughout Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

Missoula is home to many portable food vendors and often found along with music and entertainment. Every Wednesday (June – August) from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., your clients can stroll through vibrant downtown Missoula with a stop at Caras Park for Out to Lunch, where they can enjoy some of the best food trucks in the region. Another great weekly event is Missoula’s Downtown ToNight, which happens every Thursday evening (June – August) from 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at Caras Park. Caras Park is located in the heart of downtown and is nestled between the Wilma Theater, the Missoula Carousel and the Clark Fork River.

Location: Caras Park, 123 Carousel Drive, Missoula

Rain or shine, there is always music, fun and food trucks at Missoula’s Downtown Tonight

Rain or shine, there is always music, fun and food trucks at Missoula’s Downtown ToNight

El Cazador street tacos are the perfect summer lunch or dinner

El Cazador street tacos are the perfect summer lunch or dinner

Wood-fired pizza from the Clove Cart

Wood-fired pizza from the Clove Cart

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Tia’s Tamales are tasty and served from a retro trailer

Sweet treats – Fresh, rich, sweet and creamy are great words describe treats from our local bakeries and ice cream shops. Using locally sourced ingredients, these businesses are a foodie’s dream. Homemade sweet indulgences can be found throughout the Glacier County region but here are a couple stops for any food lover’s trip itinerary.

Bernices

Bernice’s Bakery, Missoula’s oldest bakery, is known as a neighborhood hangout and serves cupcakes and cookies (available in all shapes and favors) with a cup of fresh hot coffee. You’ll also see locals hanging out and catching up on the happenings about town.

Location: 190 South 3rd West, Missoula, 406.728.1358

 

Windmill

If your clients are traveling from Missoula north to Polson, Whitefish or Glacier National Park, be sure to recommend a Western Montana favorite: Windmill Village Bakery. Nancy serves up fresh and hot doughnuts, as well as cookies, huckleberry muffins and a variety of pies.

Location: 26715 U.S. Highway 93, Ravalli, 406.745.2270

*Sidenote: the Windmill is open seasonally, from spring through fall. For exact dates, visit their facebook page.

 

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Wheat Montana Bakery cinnamon rolls are big, delicious and made with Montana flour directly from Wheat Montana Farms outside of Bozeman. With three bakery locations in Western Montana serving decadent treats, recommend your clients stretch their legs by stop and grab something to go.

Locations: 2520 South 3rd Street West, Missoula, 406.327.0900; 8800 Truck Stop Road, Missoula, 406.728.8182; 405 South Main Street, Kalispell, 406.257.6530

 

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If your FIT itinerary has your clients driving through Montana’s Bitterroot Valley—a region I highly recommend exploring, especially for its history, scenery and small towns—be sure to include a stop at Valley Drug and Variety Store in Stevensville. A true old-fashioned western soda fountain drugstore, they serve Montana’s Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream and is a worthy stop when traveling through this region of Montana.

Locations: 301 Main Street, Stevensville, 406.777.5591

 

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Big Dipper Ice Cream is a star in the state with fast moving lines often 10 – 20 people deep (completely worth the wait) at the Missoula shop. Luckily, they also have an ice cream truck that scoops up their assorted flavors at various locations around Missoula. Plus, if you’re dining at local restaurants around Montana, chances are you’ll see Big Dipper Ice Cream on the dessert menu.

Location: 631 South Higgins, Missoula, 406.543.5722

 

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Bursting onto the scene a few years ago, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream is quickly becoming a Montana favorite with locations in Whitefish, Kalispell, Bigfork and Missoula.

Locations: 420 North Higgins, Missoula, 406.549.0028; 604 Electric Avenue, Bigfork, 406.257.0841; 343 Main Street, Kalispell, 406.257.1102; 419 1/2 Third Street, Whitefish, 406.862.4668

 

Photo by Tia Troy

(Photo credit: Tia Troy)

The Polebridge Mercantile, known for their huckleberry macaroons, has two locations: the original location is in the small community of Polebridge just outside Glacier National Park in an area known as the North Fork, while the second location is the Polebridge Bakery at Stumptown Market in downtown Whitefish.

Locations: Polebridge Mercantile: western edge of Glacier National Park about 35 miles north of Columbia Falls on Highway 486 which turns into North Fork Road; Polebridge Bakery: 12 Spokane Avenue, Whitefish, 406.858.0264

If you would like more information on delicious and fun culinary options for an itinerary through Western Montana or need help planning an itinerary, contact Debbie Picard, Tourism Sales Manager for assistance.

See you in the ice cream line,
RF

4 Ways to Experience Western Montana’s Breweries

While Montana is known for its stunning scenery, it’s also becoming a popular craft beer destination. More than 20 breweries in Glacier Country are serving up Montana-inspired beer by the names of Cold Smoke ®, Yaak Attack, Dry Fly, Face Plant, Moose Drool and Clothing Optional, visitors to our region are certain to discover plenty of palette-pleasing malted beverages that perfectly capture Montana’s many flavors and diverse offerings. Plus, each brewery in Big Sky Country is committed to using Montana-grown ingredients like malted grains, as well as huckleberries and honey.

GCT_Kettlehouse Tasting Room

A visit to brewery taprooms and brew pubs are a great way for individuals and groups to taste the flavors of Montana, as well as mingle with the locals. And in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, there are four distinct and fun ways to experience breweries.

1) Guided brewery bus tours

Brewery bus tours are a fun, affordable and safe way to experience multiple breweries and pubs in one day. This is a great way for a few people or a group up to 12 to ride in comfort on a guided bus tour to Montana breweries to taste award-winning beer. Tap Room Tours, located in Missoula, has scheduled and custom tours (group rates available) throughout Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley. These guided bus tours allow riders to take in the beauty of the Bitterroot Valley while making stops at breweries in the valley’s charming small towns of Lolo, Stevensville, Hamilton and Darby.

Some tours also include distilleries, providing attendees the option to taste locally made whiskey, gin and vodka.

GCT_Kettlehouse Tap IMG_9048

2) Group bicycle tours

For your clients who are looking to do something fun and out of the ordinary, group bicycle tours are the perfect activity. Thirst Gear operates a 15-person bicycle where the riders provide the pedal power that leads the bike-like vehicle to the best breweries and watering holes in downtown Missoula. Custom tours are available.

Pedal powered beer tour.

Pedal powered beer tour.

3) Brewfests

A favorite activity for locals and visitors alike is attending a festival or brewfest. During Western Montana’s warm season, it is not hard to find special events celebrating seasons, holidays and locally grown or homemade food/beverages, artisan wares and crafts. These events are highly recommended, as they often serve a selection of craft brews. Brewfests, in particular, have many breweries serving on-site, allowing your clients to hop from tent to tent and taste a variety of Montana beer along the way.

Visitors can find festivals and brewfests year-round in Western Montana: Winter Brewfest (Missoula), Tamarack Festival and Brewfest (Seeley Lake), Bitterroot Brewfest (Hamilton), Bigfork Brewfest (Bigfork), Montana Brewers Fall Festival (Kalispell) and Summer S.N.O.W. Bus Brewfest (Whitefish).

Microbrews, music and fun.

Microbrews, music and fun.

Visit Glacier Country’s event calendar for more information.

4) Self-guided brewery tour

For clientele that want to meander and explore along the way, self-guided tours are the way to go. The Montana Brewers Association Trail Map is a great online tool and lets users add stops to an itinerary as a resource. Clients and FIT travelers can open the map on their mobile device or print their route and take it along with them.

An anchor of downtown Whitefish - Great Northern Brewery.

An anchor of downtown Whitefish – Great Northern Brewery.

To add to the fun, we recommend buying a Montana Brewery Passport that’s available at the each of Montana’s craft breweries or can be purchased online, making it an interesting way to track which one visitors experience by having the passport stamped.

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Always remind your clients to be safe – drink responsibly and have a designated driver for a self-guided tour.

Notable information:

If you are not a beer enthusiast but you really like the atmosphere, breweries in Montana have delicious homemade non-alcoholic beverages like flavored soda, ginger ale and root beer. My favorite is Kalispell Brewing Company root beer.

Huckleberry soda at Lolo Peak Brewery.

Huckleberry soda at Lolo Peak Brewery.

Flights (also known as samplers) are small samples of several beers and are very popular if you are unsure which beverage to order.

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Many breweries love to share their story and offer guided tours to groups.

Montana’s breweries are legally allowed to be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and each consumer is limited to 48 ounces in a single day.

Visit our webpage or contact Debbie Picard, Tourism Sales Manager, for a complete list of breweries in the Glacier Country region to help plan your itinerary.

Cheers to beer!

RF

A TASTE OF WESTERN MONTANA’S GLACIER COUNTRY

As you drive through Western Montana’s wide open spaces you will see elk and deer along with cattle and bison herds roaming the landscape. Along with these ranches, Western Montanan’s Glacier Country has an amazing growing culture producing some of the finest crops such as sweet cherries, sugar beets, morel mushrooms and wild huckleberries, and sets the stage for why Montana’s culinary scene is so spectacular. In fact, the phrase farm-to-table describes Montana perfectly. So whether your group is here on a culinary tour or your meeting is set to take place in Western Montana, be prepared. With all of this mouth-watering goodness, your tummies are in for a real treat.

With the abundance of amazing farmers markets for fresh ingredients and well-supported agriculture operations in communities as well as farm-to-table school programs, it’s likely no surprise that Montana was recently ranked the seventh best state in the nation for its commitment to healthy, locally grown and produced food.

And when you add in some of the top chefs in the country, diners will find a winning culinary combination. For instance, Montana’s own Executive Chef Andy Blanton of Café Kandahar in Whitefish has not only been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award on several occasions, but has also had the honor to cook as a guest chef at the storied James Beard House restaurant in New York City.

Food is such a sensory experience and whether your group is in Western Montana for a corporate meeting or conference or touring the region as part of a larger itinerary, people want to experience the local flavor of the state and region. Many of our restaurants, hotels and resorts pride themselves on sourcing fresh, locally grown, in-season fare throughout Montana and Glacier Country.

Beef tenderloin tartare appetizer and a glass of wine from Plonk Wine Bar in Missoula. Delicious.

Beef tenderloin tartare appetizer and a glass of wine from Plonk Wine Bar in Missoula. Delicious.

Recent conference attendees enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Holiday Inn Downtown at the Park Missoula. My favorite—the fresh fruit parfait in the mason jar and—and the Montana placemat. Nice touch.

Recent conference attendees enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Holiday Inn Downtown at the Park Missoula. My favorite—the fresh fruit parfait in the mason jar and—and the Montana placemat. Nice touch.

Braised bison short ribs with garlic roasted baby carrots and saffron risotto finished with a root beer demi glaze from Blue Canyon Kitchen & Tavern. Blue Canyon has locations in Missoula and Kalispell next to the Hilton Garden Inn.

Braised bison short ribs with garlic roasted baby carrots and saffron risotto finished with a root beer demi glaze from Blue Canyon Kitchen & Tavern. Blue Canyon has locations in Missoula and Kalispell next to the Hilton Garden Inn.

Loula’s in Whitefish has amazing pie. Just so you know this huckleberry-blackberry pie is available for breakfast.

Loula’s in Whitefish has amazing pie. Just so you know this huckleberry-blackberry pie is available for breakfast.

The elk meatballs are a must at The Boat Club Lounge and Restaurant located at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish.

The elk meatballs are a must at The Boat Club Lounge and Restaurant located at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish.

Casey’s rooftop Skybar in Whitefish offers great atmosphere along with amazing signature cocktails like their Huckleberry Margarita.

Casey’s rooftop Skybar in Whitefish offers great atmosphere along with amazing signature cocktails like their Huckleberry Margarita.

For those looking for an authentic western culinary experience, Western Montana has several guest ranches that can offer a chuckwagon lunch or dinner.

Artemis Acres Paint Horse Guest Ranch in Kalispell serves a delicious burger.  After the meal, I suggest a horseback trail overlooking the Flathead Valley.

Artemis Acres Paint Horse Guest Ranch in Kalispell serves a delicious burger. After the meal, I suggest a horseback trail overlooking the Flathead Valley.

Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish also offers chuckwagon options to groups, but take a look at this hearty breakfast cooked up fresh for guests.

Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish also offers chuckwagon options to groups, but take a look at this hearty breakfast cooked up fresh for guests.

On the sipping side of our culinary scene, one thing is for sure—we like beer in Montana. Microbreweries can be found in Western Montana’s towns and cities and are producing some of the best beers in the nation. Groups could easily sip their way through more than 20+ tasting rooms in Western Montana’s Glacier Country alone. For a little added group excitement and a workout, visit the breweries in downtown Missoula peddling a 15 passenger bike on Thirstgear or let Tap Room Tours plan the tasting itinerary. An added bonus: an excursion with Tap Room Tours allows your clients or groups to sit back and enjoy the views.

Samplers from Big Sky Brewing. Some favorites: Moose Drool, Trout Slayer and Powder Hound.

Samplers from Big Sky Brewing. Some favorites: Moose Drool, Trout Slayer and Powder Hound.

A brewery and spirits tour on Thirst Gear in Missoula.

A brewery and spirits tour on Thirst Gear in Missoula.

We hear it from visitors all of the time, “We knew the scenery would be stunning and we expected there would be an abundance of outdoor activities, but the culinary scene in Montana was incredible and such a pleasant surprise.”

Drop us a line here if you are in need of itinerary or dining suggestions in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

Bon appétit,

DP