MEET IN MONTANA – A MEETING PLANNER FAM TRIP

We all know that the best—and quite frankly the only way—to really know if a destination is right for your next meeting, conference or corporate retreat is to experience it firsthand. With that in mind, the first week of June, Western Montana’s Glacier Country invited four professional meeting planners from around the U.S. to Montana for a familiarization (FAM) tour to visit our three anchor cities of Missoula, Kalispell and Whitefish, where we showcased meeting facilities, off-site venues, farm-to-fork offerings and authentic Montana experiences that seemed custom-made for meetings.

After flying into Missoula International Airport (MSO) the group took a scenic 30-minute drive to The Resort at Paws Up an authentic working cattle ranch and one of Western Montana’s luxury guest ranches. The ranch has varying accommodations from lavish guest homes to riverside glamping tents that include a camp butler who’s dedicated to your group’s needs. The glamping tents were a hit with the planners and we took a few minutes to relax around the fire along the Blackfoot River—one of Montana’s premiere blue-ribbon fly-fishing trout streams.

Relaxing around the campfire at Paws Up.

After the site tour we returned to Missoula, Montana’s second-largest city and cultural hub—and met up with Mimi Hall Gustafson from Destination Missoula—the official convention and visitors bureau—and took a short walk along the Clark Fork River to Caras Park to watch river surfers on Brennan’s Wave. After tasting and touring Montgomery Distillery we ventured to one of downtown Missoula’s premiere restaurants, Plonk Wine Bar, where we dined in the elegant wine cellar. We had a restful night’s sleep at the Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, (featuring 200 guest rooms and 15,000 sq. feet of meeting space) considered one of Missoula’s leading convention hotels. The next day started with a site tour and breakfast at DoubleTree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater (featuring 171 guest rooms and nearly 9,000 square feet of meeting space) before visiting some of Missoula’s meeting and event spaces including The Wilma Theater, Missoula College and the unique and expansive meeting space at the University of Montana followed by lunch overlooking the U of M Grizzlies stadium.

Colorful drinks from Montgomery Distillery.

The view from the Canyon Club overlooking University of Montana’s stadium.

The drive from Missoula to Bigfork north on Highway 93 happens to yield some of the most scenic vistas in Montana, including the National Bison Range and the Mission Mountain Range. With Montana’s spring wildflowers on full display, the drive through the Jocko and Mission valleys was stunning.

Our next stop on the FAM tour was an overnight at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge. Family owned and operated for over 65 years, the 2,000-acre resort sits on the east shore of Flathead Lake—the largest freshwater lake in the West—where it offers both horse and water recreation, as well as accommodations that vary from small cabins to rustic lodges and 5,000 square feet of meeting space. While the resort hosts families for week-long vacations from mid-June through Labor Day, it can be reserved for groups the months of May, early June, September and October making it the ultimate spring or fall retreat destination.

Tour of Flathead Lake Lodge.

Fun ride home from Steak Fry via an old fire truck.

After a hearty ranch breakfast, we meet up with Dawn Jackson from Discover Kalispell—the Kalispell Convention & Visitors Bureau. After several site tours we ventured out to Purple Mountain Lavender, and owner Deb took us on a tour of her farm where she grows, cultivates, drys and manufactures everything lavender from sachets to lavender lemonade and shortbread cookies. The afternoon took us to downtown Kalispell and a lunch dine-around featuring DeSoto Grille, 406 Grill and Slit Rock Café. After some down time the planners enjoyed an insightful historical tour on the Montana Trolley, a service that’s used to transport groups on specialty tours and events throughout the Flathead Valley. The trolley dropped us at the Conrad Mansion—once the home to Kalispell’s founder, Charles Conrad—for a tour and delicious dinner served on the mansion lawn, the perfect setting for off-site receptions.

Group or spouse outings to Purple Mountain Lavender.

Beautiful dinner at the Conrad Mansion in Kalispell.

Our overnight accommodations were at the conveniently located Red Lion Kalispell in the heart of downtown Kalispell (featuring 170 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of flexible meeting space).

Our final destination was the charming mountain town of Whitefish where we were greeted by Dan Hansen with Explore Whitefish—the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau. Our first stop was to visit the newest boutique property in downtown Whitefish—The Firebrand Hotel (featuring 86 guest rooms, a small meeting room and board room). We headed up to Big Mountain and stopped in at Whitefish Mountain Resort and lodging options including the option to buy out the mountainside Kandahar Lodge for groups of 10 to 50 in the spring and fall months. We had lunch at Casey’s in downtown and enjoyed the rooftop lounge and the beautiful views of the mountains and valley.

Next on the itinerary and a highlight for the planners was a visit to Glacier National Park. Upon entering the park, we stopped for a photo at the Glacier Park sign, then continued on to Lake McDonald Lodge were we embarked on a boat cruise with Glacier Park Boat Company aboard the DeSmet on Lake McDonald. It was a perfect afternoon in Glacier National Park.

Welcome to Glacier National Park, ladies and gentlemen.

Having some fun on the DeSmet on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

Our final evening was spent touring Grouse Mountain Lodge and dining at one of the local favorites, Abruzzo Italian Kitchen one of Whitefishes newest additions before heading to The Lodge at Whitefish Lake (featuring 101 guest rooms and 10,000+ square feet of meeting space) on the shore of Whitefish Lake for a restful night’s sleep.

Good morning from The Lodge at Whitefish Lake.

After a delightful breakfast, the planners departed Glacier Park International (FCA) (a 15-minute drive from downtown Whitefish) for home.

It was an action-packed week full of great food, fantastic venues, fun activities and lots of learning about Western Montana’s meeting options.

If you would like more information about Western Montana’s Glacier Country as a meetings destination (feel free to check out our week at #MeetInMontana on instagram or if you are interested in participating in the next meeting planner FAM highlighting our three anchor cities of Missoula, Kalispell and Whitefish, drop me an email here.

Meet me in Montana,

DP