Columbia Falls – The Ultimate Outdoor Adventure

Noel Massey



Adventure sports Columbia Falls

Are you looking for that next vacation spot? Well, I’ve got a suggestion that might just end your search: Columbia Falls, Montana.

Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “Ah, another small town, how original,” let me stop you right there. Columbia Falls is not just any small town, and yes, I’ve been there, and done that, and am here to explain why you should visit this city and what you can do once you get there.

Where is Columbia Falls located?

Columbia Falls attractions

It is located in Northwestern Montana, United States. It’s part of Flathead County and sits close to the northeastern tip of Flathead Lake, one of the largest natural freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi. This town is about 15 miles from the west entrance of Glacier National Park, making it an ideal base for visitors looking to explore the park’s natural wonders.

To get there, if you’re coming from the south or from Missoula (which is roughly 2.5 hours away by car), you’d take US Highway 93 north to Kalispell, then switch to US Highway 2 East to reach Columbia Falls.

From the north or the Canadian border, you’d travel south on US Highway 93, then follow the same route from Kalispell. The closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, located about 10 miles away in Kalispell, offering flights to and from major cities and serving as a convenient gateway for travelers heading to Columbia Falls.

What is so special about Columbia Falls?

Proximity to Glacier National Park

Columbia Falls is just a short drive from one of America’s most beautiful national parks, offering easy access to miles of hiking trails, stunning landscapes, and wildlife. Trust me, the drive to Glacier National Park is as breathtaking as the park itself. I lost count of the number of times I pulled over just to soak in the views.

Vibrant community events

Hosts various local events such as the Huckleberry Days Arts Festival and a weekly summer market, showcasing the best of Montana’s culture, arts, and local produce. I was walking among the stalls, tasting local treats, and chatting with artists and it felt really heartwarming and welcoming.

Gateway to outdoor adventures

Outdoor activities Columbia Falls

Offers a wide range of activities including whitewater rafting on the Flathead River, golfing with views at Meadow Lake Golf Course, and numerous biking and hiking trails for all skill levels. And those hikes? Let’s just say my camera’s memory card was full before the trip was halfway over.

Local culinary and brewing scene

Columbia Falls features a selection of eateries and breweries like Backslope Brewing, where visitors can enjoy locally crafted beers and a taste of regional cuisine. Sitting in the brewery, swapping stories with locals, I realized this was more than just a place to grab a drink—it was a hub of community life.

Small-Town charm

Despite the various activities and proximity to natural wonders, Columbia Falls maintains a cozy, welcoming atmosphere characteristic of Montana’s friendly community spirit. There’s something about the pace of life in this small town that makes you want to slow down and appreciate the simple things.

What can you do in Columbia Falls?

Columbia Falls isn’t just a base for exploring Glacier National Park. The town itself offers a plenty of outdoor activities for those seeking an adrenaline rush.

Go on Whitewater Rafting on the Flathead River

Flathead River is running through Columbia Falls, and Whitewater rafting on the Flathead is an unforgettable experience. It was a highlight of my own trip to Columbia Falls, and it’s a must-do for anyone visiting the area.

We hit the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. It’s a mix of calm waters and Class II-III rapids, which means it’s thrilling but doesn’t require you to be an expert rafter. Our guide was a local who knew the river like the back of his hand.

He gave clear instructions, pointed out wildlife, and even shared some history about the area as we navigated through the water. Also, the rafting company hooked us up with everything we needed: wetsuits, life jackets, helmets, and paddles. The water was chilly, so I was grateful for the wetsuit.

Let me tell you, It was a mix of adrenaline-pumping moments and serene stretches where we could just enjoy floating by the stunning Montana landscape. The teamwork required to navigate the rapids added an unexpected layer of fun to the day. Beyond the excitement of rafting, we saw bald eagles and a breathtaking view of the surrounding forests and mountains.

It’s something you just don’t get to see every day. You should know that in the warmer months, guided rafting trips ranging from a few hours to several days are available. Some even include fishing opportunities, allowing you to catch trout while navigating the river’s rapids.

Ski at Whitefish Mountain Resort

Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort

Whitefish Mountain Resort is approximately 20 miles west of Columbia Falls, making it an easy drive for a day trip or an extended stay at the resort. The resort caters to all skill levels, from beginners to advanced skiers. There are gentle slopes for those just starting and more challenging terrain for experienced skiers looking for an adrenaline rush.

If you don’t have your own ski gear, don’t worry. The resort offers rental services where you can get everything you need: skis, boots, poles, and helmets. They have gear suitable for adults and children, ensuring everyone in your family is ready to hit the slopes.

For beginners, or those looking to improve their skills, ski lessons are available. The resort employs skilled instructors who can help you get comfortable on the snow, whether it’s your first time or you’re looking to tackle more advanced techniques.

The resort is family-friendly, with specific programs and slopes designed for children. There are also ski schools and lessons tailored to young skiers, making it an excellent place for kids to learn and enjoy the snow safely.

Beyond skiing, Whitefish Mountain Resort offers a variety of winter activities, including snowboarding, snowshoeing, and even scenic lift rides for those who want to enjoy the breathtaking views without strapping on skis.

What to visit in Columbia Falls?

If you thought I had listed everything to visit in this region, the list is not over yet. These are the additional places I visited and highly recommend not to miss.

Columbia Falls’ Historic Downtown

Walking through Columbia Falls’ historic downtown is like stepping back in time. The well-preserved buildings and quaint shops showcase the rich history of the area.

The Nucleus District, the town’s historic center, boasts old-fashioned storefronts and unique small businesses. Here, you can shop for souvenirs, and locally made goods, savor local cuisine, and experience the warm hospitality of the town’s residents.

Also, visit Depot Park, a community hub that hosts a farmers market, live music events, and festivals throughout the year. This park, located in the heart of downtown, is the perfect place to relax or take a picnic.

Dining and Cuisine

Columbia Falls restaurants

A trip to Columbia Falls isn’t complete without indulging in the local cuisine, a unique blend of classic Montana staples, and innovative, locally-sourced dishes. These are the restaurants I recommend as I enjoyed the food so much, and went back a few times for lunch and dinner.

Backslope Brewing

This is a must-visit for foodies and beer connoisseurs alike. Located in the heart of Columbia Falls, this popular brewpub offers a great menu and an array of locally crafted beers.

At Backslope, you can sample unique takes on classic Montana dishes such as elk burgers, rainbow trout, and huckleberry cheesecake.

As for the beer, options range from traditional brews to innovative concoctions, with many featuring Montana-grown barley and locally sourced ingredients.

Extra info

  • Address1107 9th St W, Columbia Falls
  • Hours: 11 am – 8 pm
  • Phone: +1 406-897-2850
  • Price per person: $5–20

Three Forks Grille

They are committed to serving fresh, locally sourced food. The menu changes seasonally to give you the best of what local farmers and ranchers have to offer. Diners can expect dishes such as Montana-raised bison meatloaf, organic chicken, and fresh Flathead cherries, all served in a warm and inviting atmosphere.

When I was there, I ate a Bison Burger, priced at $17. The bison meat was topped with house BBQ, pickled red onion, and white cheddar, and served with a toasted bun, which was a perfect choice. For sides, there was a slaw that added a crisp.

For dessert, I chose the Olive Oil Pound Cake, a light cake with whipped cream and huckleberry sauce. 

The meals were reasonably priced for the quality and creativity of the dishes.

Extra info

  • Address729 Nucleus Ave, Columbia Falls, MT 
  • Hours: 5-9 pm
  • Phone: +1 406-892-2900
  • Price per person: $30–50

Where to Stay in Columbia Falls?

Columbia Falls where to stay

When it comes to accommodations, Columbia Falls offers a variety of options. I was very hesitant about these two accommodations based on google reviews I was reading before the trip, but in the end, the price determined which one I would get, and it was the second option. However, I will give you both suggestions here, so you can choose what fits you the best.

Moss Mountain Inn

It is located on the edge of the Flathead National Forest, and it offers the bed and breakfast experience. This eco-friendly inn combines rustic charm with modern amenities, providing a comfortable retreat after a day of exploration.

Guests can enjoy home-cooked organic breakfasts, cozy rooms with forest views, and easy access to nearby hiking trails. On cooler evenings, the fireplace lounge serves as a perfect spot for relaxation and socializing with fellow travelers.

Approximate price per night: $200.

Cedar Creek Lodge

For a touch of luxury, consider staying at Cedar Creek Lodge. This hotel combines the atmosphere of a mountain lodge with upscale amenities, making it an excellent choice for travelers seeking comfort and convenience.

Amenities include an indoor pool, a fitness center, and spacious rooms with modern furnishings. It’s also conveniently located, with downtown Columbia Falls, Glacier National Park, and various recreational areas just a short drive away.

Approximate price per night: $120.

Final Words

A visit to this magical place is really dynamic as there is a lot to see and do, so if you like a little more activity during your vacation, this is definitely the place for you.

And I’m definitely coming back!