Kalispell, MT is a small city located just north of Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. This area is an outdoors person's paradise. Here you'll find a great little town surrounded by lakes, rivers, and parks. The most popular activity in town is to visit the Conrad Mansion. Charles Conrad was one of the original founders of Kalispell in 1891. The mansion was completed in 1895 and you can tour it today with guides in period dress.
The area around Kalispell is where most of the action is. A few miles to the northeast is the Apgar area of Glacier National Park. This is the western entry point for the Going to the Sun Road which traverses the park. It is also the access point for most of the western and northwestern portions of the park. Glacier is one of the most beautiful parks in the national park system and should not be missed. Just outside the park, there are numerous white water rafting outfitters which can take you on a trip down the local rivers. Depending on the time of year and recent weather conditions, these trips range from class 2 to class 4 rapids and there are family-friendly trips available.
Just north of Kalispell is Whitefish, MT which is a great small mountain town. They have a great walkable downtown shopping area and a small park that hosts many events like art shows. It is also home to the Great Northern Brewing company which makes great beer and food on site.
To the south of Kallispell is the Flathead Lake. This is a large freshwater mountain lake where you can participate in watersports as well as get in on some great fishing. Common fishing targets here include lake trout, pike, and whitefish. Rainbow trout, bass, kokanee salmon, and bull trout can also be found here.
The road trip to Olympic National Park is a gorgeous one and not too challenging. You start by heading out of Kalispell on RT-28 to Plains, MT. There, you'll take RT-200 to just past Paradise, MT where you'll pick up RT-135 to St. Regis. In St. Regis you'll get on I-90 west which you'll follow all the way to Snoqualmie, Wa. There you'll take RT-18 to I-5 south to Tacoma. In Tacoma, take RT-16 across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (no fee, fee only applies to eastbound traffic). In Gorst, take RT-3 north RT-104 west. RT-104 connects to US-101 west which will take you all the way to Port Angeles and beyond around the park.
There are a few things to note on this trip. First, the area between Kalispell and St. Regis is exceptionally rural. Don't expect any cell service here and do not rely on GPS mapping tools which require a cell signal to operate. If you use your phone for GPS driving directions, reload the maps before you leave Kalispell.
I-90 does a decent job of flattening the mountains out on this trip. Even so, you'll still hit some long steep climbs and descents both in the Rockies and Cascades. Make sure your rig is in good working order and take your time. Finally, if you're traveling in the winter months make sure you follow the tire chain laws in these states. Many of these states require you carry chains during the winter even if you don't need them at the moment.
Our route takes us right through St Regis and if you're in luck, or plan accordingly, the St. Regis Flea Market may be in full swing. This is the largest flea market held in the state of Montana. It is held annually on Memorial Day weekend at the St Regis Community Park. The market is open during the daylight hours on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. You'll find a wide variety of things for sale including crafts, tools, furniture, and other miscellaneous items. There are also food vendors on site. St Regis is a great small mountain town to stop at while passing through Western Montana. They have a great golf course, antique shopping, and access to the Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail.
Campground St Regis is a great place to stay in the area. It is a beautiful, well-run campground located conveniently close to town.
The Dockside Restaurant in Coeur D'Alene is located in the Coeur d'Alene Resort right on the shores of Lake Coeur D'Alene. This is a great family restaurant in a beautiful location in northern Idaho. The food and service here are outstanding. The menu is basically American fare, but they are really known for three things. First is the Gooey Sundae Bar which features dozens of standard concoctions and even more individual flavors that allow you to build your own. Next is Sunday brunch which is widely known to be the best in the area. Finally, the views from the dining area over the lake are breathtaking, particularly during sunset.
Blackwell Island RV Park is located on the north side of the lake and it provides a great place to stay near the water. They have over 140 sites available along with 500 feet of beach and boat launch facilities. They are also close to the many activities in town.
River Front Park is located on the shores of the Spokane River in downtown Spokane, Wa. This is a beautiful park which offers a lot to do on a family road trip. One of the main attractions here is the Upper Spokane Falls which, when combined with the neighboring Lower Falls, makes up the largest series of urban waterfalls in the United States. While you can enjoy the falls from the shore, the best way to see them is via the Numerica SkyRide which is an enclosed gondola cable ride that carries passengers up and over the falls.
For a different perspective of the falls, you can also try out Huntington Park which is located on the south bank of the lower falls. This park features extensive public art displays and has a good-sized portion within the spray zone of the lower falls. This is a particularly popular area during hot summer days
The best RV Park in the area is Coeur d'Alene RV resort. This RV park is just a short distance away just over the border in Idaho. In addition to the great amenities, the park offers a perfect location for visiting the sights in both Spokane and Coeur d'Alene.
The Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington is a 75,000 square foot facility that houses one of the finest collections of blown glass art you'll find anywhere in the world. Even the bridge leading to the entrance is made of some amazing samples of the medium. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a 500-foot long footbridge spanning I-705 and it features thousands of exquisite blown glass art pieces.
In addition to the amazing exhibits of blown glass on display, this is an active museum where you can watch local artisans create beautiful blown glass pieces, attend seminars on the glass making process, and even try it yourself first hand under the supervision of one of their local artisans. They even have a hot shop that can be rented for your own use to create your next masterpiece. They have a team of people who can work with you to help you create the items you have envisioned. If you prefer to let the experts handle the hot stuff you can commission their team of experts to create that special piece just for you.
Gig Harbor RV Resort is a good place to stay in the area. It is located along RT-16 northwest of town and it provides easy access to the city and surrounding areas.
Olympic National Park is a very interesting park. It is one of the few parks that has no roads crossing it and that has extremely divergent climates depending on where you are in the park. The park is located on Washington's Olympic Peninsula with US-101 running around the perimeter of the park. As you travel around the park on US-101 you'll pass through all the major zones within the park. The northeastern side of the park is drier and warmer, falling in the rain shadow of the mountains. The west side is cooler and wetter. In fact, with an average rainfall of 140 inches per year, the Hoh Rainforest is one of the wettest places in the continental US.
The majority of the action in the park occurs in the northern, northwestern, and coastal regions of the park. The main visitors center is at Hurricane Ridge just south of Port Angeles, Wa. The visitors center is located at the peak of Hurricane Ridge and the drive up offers some stunning views. From the visitor's center, there are numerous trails ranging from short easy day hikes to difficult multi-day backcountry trails. One of the best trails here is the Hurricane Hill Trail. It is a moderately strenuous four-mile trek mostly uphill back to the top of Hurricane Hill. From there you'll be treated to breathtaking views of Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan De Fuca several miles to the north.
Other great places to go include the Hoh Rainforest where there are three or four easy day hiking trials through the moss-covered wonderland of America's largest temperate rain forest. Crescent Lake's high mineral content and cold temperatures give it crystal clear sapphire blue water and is a must-see. While you're there, hike the Merrymere Falls Trail and/or head to the north side of the lake and hike or bike the Spruce Railroad trail. This trail is part of the excellent Olympic Discovery Trail which runs over 100 miles from Port Townsend to Pacific Coast. Not far from the Spruce Railroad trailhead you'll find the Devil's Punchbowl. This is a favorite swimming hole for the locals and you can watch them cliff jump from the adjacent rock faces here.
The park also includes several miles of Pacific coastline. Some of these areas are within local tribal lands and require permits to visit. Two of the best areas to visit that don't need tribal permits are Ruby Beach and Cape Alava. Ruby Beach is an easy to access classical pacific northwest beach with giant rock features and tidepools all over the area. Cape Alava is the westernmost point in the lower 48 states. Getting there involves driving to the Ozette Ranger Station, parking, and taking the trail behind the ranger station on about a three or four mile hike back to the coast. To get there, stay on the Cape Alava Trail which branches off the Sand Point Trail about a quarter-mile back from the ranger station.
One of the most beautiful places in the eastern part of the park is the Enchanted Valley also known as “The Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls.” This is an overnight hike so you'll need your backpacking gear but it is well worth the effort. The trailhead is near the Graves Creek Campground and the hike is 13 miles each way. The valley itself is a mile long and there are many many waterfalls cascading down the surrounding mountain faces, particularly during the snowmelt season in spring and early summer.
The best place to stay in the area is along the northern section of the peninsula between Port Townsend and Port Angeles. Some good choices include Olympic Peninsula/Port Angeles KOA, Conestoga Quarters RV Park, and Rainbow's Edge RV Park. All of these are located between Sequim and Port Angeles.