After our epic drive along Flathead Lake and into the valley, we were greeted by a host that exuded kindness. Our host, Dave, welcomed us into his home, located in a neighborhood off the main drag, and almost immediately made us feel like old friends. Looking left out of the house: mountains.
He gave us the tour of his home (including our beautiful bedroom and private bath) after telling a bit of his story: born and raised in this town, away for a while, then realized just how special it was here and returned to continue building his life (working at the nearby ski resort for years and years). Dave was as good a spokesman for the town and the region as any. Excitement builds just by talking to him. It’s no surprise he’s hosted hundreds of guests (check out the map in the guest room!) He loves his town and we soon saw why.
Columbia Falls is nestled up against the mountains leading you to Glacier National Park. As far as locations go, I’m not sure you can beat this…if you can handle the cold, that is. This town is real. And it is resilient. It’s seen way more of its fair share of factory closings and resulting job loss over the years, but the people here press on and do their best to evolve.
Being there in the fall we got a peek at a more normal time in town, in comparison to the boom of the summer months. It felt like being let in on a secret of small town living… I loved Columbia Falls. We easily fell into a daily routine that to some may sound boring and not vacation-y at all, but to us it was perfect. This is how we like to travel.
In the morning I woke up first, ever the early riser. I used the shared kitchen to make my breakfast as the wind chimes sang the most beautiful song outside and the train chugged by. Once we dressed and packed our snacks we headed out for coffee. 30 degrees or so in the car. My favorite place was Montana Coffee Traders and to this day I wish I lived next door. The coffee was great. The people were so kind. They had a huge selection of books in the center ranging from wildflower identification guides to histories of top Western characters. Unfortunately, another sweet place in town, Basecamp Café, has since closed. I can’t imagine how hard it is to make a go of a business year round here. But it was wonderful. The type of spot where the barber from across the street gets his breakfast alongside hikers heading to the park.
After drinking way too much coffee, we’d head to the park. We’d drive the winding road into the mountains and gawk at the Larch trees until we finally reached West Glacier then head in to choose our route for the day [our time there deserves a entire post, maybe two +…coming up].
In late afternoon, we head back the way we came. Along the way is Hungry Horse, “Best Dam Town in the West!” Though we took the wrong route to see the damn and ended up in some suspect looking restricted area. Nevertheless. One afternoon we’d stop at a shop—like The Apple Barrel Fruit Stand, recommended by our host (and me!)—and others we’d just slowly make our way back to the house.
We’d be greeted by our host and his tribe of pets (who I came to love other than “the incident” on the last morning wherein the senior cat shot out the door as we were trying to leave before the sun had come up. Eventually, my luring techniques worked, FYI). He’d ask us all about our day and meet our glee with his own tales of his adventures out there and more recommendations than we could possibly take in one trip. Despite the restaurants nearby that came highly recommended by him and anonymous online critics (Mudman Burgers, Three Forks Grille , Backslope Brewing) we stayed in each night, cooking up incredibly simple meals from our Costco finds (remember Costco gourmet?) and having a bit of wine.
To us, it was heaven.
*PS: You should stay there too