Tucked away on a bay of the north end of Flathead Lake is the small but bustling town of Bigfork. Known for its laidback vibe, incredible natural bounty, and a populace obsessed with all things outdoors, Bigfork is a great place to base yourself while you’re visiting the Flathead valley.
Flathead lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and is one of the cleanest in the populated world. Bigfork’s location just adjacent makes it a perfect destination for freshwater fishing, wild swimming, and boating, but there are many attractions in town, as well.
If you’ve visited other cities in Montana, the weather in Bigfork might surprise you. While Montana is famous for its wildly swinging temperatures – sometimes brutally hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter – you’ll likely welcome the Flathead Valley’s microclimate that keeps the weather a bit more moderate year-round.
If you’re unsure what’s the best time of year to visit Bigfork, here’s a brief rundown of the various tourist seasons, monthly weather, and calendar of major events.
Best Time To Visit Bigfork For…
- Best Time to Book Hotels – While the least expensive time to book a hotel or a lodge is definitely January and February, many travelers are dissuaded by the cold, often snowy weather. If you’re looking for a time of year without the high season prices but with weather that allows you to still spend time outside, aim for late September or early October.
- Best Time for Sightseeing – Thousands of tourists visit Bigfork and the nearby Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park in the summer, and you can avoid the bulk of them by visiting in June. While you may encounter a bit of rain, packing some rain gear will keep you comfortable if you get caught in an unexpected shower, and activities and tours are far less likely to be booked to capacity.
- Best Time for Shopping – In and around Memorial Day is when you’ll see pop-ups like farmers, artists, and craft markets return for the season. Combined with the steep discounts you can find at national retailers over Memorial Day Weekend, it’s an ideal time to shop in Bigfork.
- Best Time for Festivals & Events – Summer reigns for festivals in Bigfork, and when the weather allows, they love to throw them outdoors. Read on for a few picks for some of Bigfork’s best summer festivals.
Bigfork Travel Seasons
Unsurprisingly, Bigfork’s high season is during the summer. The warm weather attracts thousands of tourists to the adjacent Flathead Lake for boating, swimming, and fishing, and prices for rental cars, tours, and accommodations can skyrocket.
But you may find that the charms of summering lakeside outweigh the expense and the crowds, especially if you’re not a fan of weather over 90º, which is extremely rare in Bigfork (most summer days hover around 80º.) You’ll find the warmest, clearest weather between the beginning of July and the middle of August.
The low season is the winter when a lot of the lakeside recreation facilities close and locals tuck in for the season. Though outdoors pursuits are somewhat curbed by the weather, this is one of the most beautiful times of the year: the snowcapped mountains ringing the valley and the gentle, white snow cover can look magical. You’ll also likely find some steep discounts on accommodation in the winter, with prices sometimes half of what they are in July or August.
If you’re looking for the best mix of high vacancies, low prices, and fewer crowds, shoulder season is the perfect time to come to Bigfork. While the spring can be extremely rainy, the end of September and early October still boasts some warm days punctuated by crisp nights, and you’ll be spoiled for choice when picking a place to stay as the bulk of the summer tourists will be gone.
Bigfork Weather by Month
Average High: 37º | Average Low: 28º
While Montana’s winters are notoriously brutal, January in Bigfork can feel practically balmy compared to some of its high-altitude neighbors. You can still expect the occasional snow – especially in the first half of the month – but it’s more likely to be overnight when temperatures drop below freezing. Driving is usually fine in the valley, but if you’re headed up to any of the nearby passes, you’ll want to at least stow a set of tire chains.
Average High: 38º | Average Low: 28º
February in Bigfork though cold can be far less snowy than December or January. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter rain this time of year; it can rain as much as a third of the time. Nights can still get well below freezing, so be sure to pack appropriate winter gear, bonus if it’s waterproof. Watch out for icy roads first thing in the morning, as the wet pavement can freeze overnight.
Average High: 46º | Average Low: 33º
While March still falls within what you could call Bigfork’s winter, you can definitely start to feel spring around the corner. Temperatures at night, particularly toward the end of the month, begin to climb out of the freezing range to make driving much less risky. Though some days can reach well into the 50s, it still gets cold enough to warrant packing plenty of layers.
Average High: 54º | Average Low: 38º
Though April in Bigfork usually means a break from below-freezing temperatures until October, there can still be the occasional snow flurry, especially at the beginning of the month. Packing plenty of layers can help shield you against the erratic weather, and some rain gear will keep you comfortable in Bigfork’s spring rains. Driving usually proposes no considerable risk, though trips into the nearby mountains could meet with fresh snowfall.
Average High: 63º | Average Low: 45º
May in Bigfork starts to get legitimately warm; most days are around 60º, though it can occasionally reach as high as 80º. Nights are cold but not freezing, so you’ll still likely need to pack a proper coat if you plan on going out in the evening.
Average High: 68º | Average Low: 51º
June marks the beginning of summer in Bigfork. Days are balmy and long, and nights are usually chilly but easily managed with a jacket. It can still be quite rainy this time of year, especially at the beginning of the month, so packing some rain gear would be a wise choice. Passes across the nearby mountains are generally clear by this time of year, so driving requires no special preparedness.
Average High: 79º | Average Low: 58º
July in Bigfork is when it starts to get quite warm. The spring rains have mostly cleared and the long days can get as hot as the mid-80s. This is when locals start spending a considerable amount of time outdoors: hiking, boating, and swimming are all popular pastimes in July, so be sure to bring a swimsuit in case you decide you’d like to join them for a dip in the lake.
Average High: 77º | Average Low: 58º
The hottest month of the year in Bigfork, August has the clearest skies of the entire year. While not impossible, it’s very unlikely to rain, and temperatures can occasionally get as high as the low 90s. Nights can get chilly enough to need a jacket and long pants, but be sure to pack plenty of shorts and sundresses to enjoy the long, sunny days.
Average High: 66º | Average Low: 51º
September in Bigfork, though still warm, can be considerably rainier than August, sometimes by twice as much. Temperatures decrease significantly as well, with some days getting down into the 50s. Packing for a trip to Bigfork in September can be tricky as you may end up needing a coat, a rain jacket, and a swimsuit all in the span of a week. Best to be prepared than sorry, and bring plenty of layers and outfits for all possibilities.
Average High: 52º | Average Low: 42º
As fall descends onto Bigfork, the leaves begin to change and temperatures start to get legitimately cold. While it usually doesn’t get cold enough to freeze, you may still need to pack a winter coat, especially at night. The first few snow flurries can occur at high elevations, so be prepared to drive in sub-ideal conditions, just in case.
Average High: 41º | Average Low: 33º
November in Bigfork can be cold and blustery, and temperatures fall below freezing frequently, particularly at night. You’ll need to bring an adequate winter coat, as well as all the accoutrements like a hat, gloves, and scarves if you want to make sure you’ll be comfortable.
Though in-town roads will usually be clear this time of year, driving at high altitudes can require snow tires or chains. If you’re also visiting Glacier National Park, note that the Going-to-the-Sun road has annual partial closures beginning in November.
Average High: 35º | Average Low: 27º
As winter begins in earnest, Bigfork may get its first few in-town snowfalls. December in Bigfork is usually the coldest month of the year, and often it’s the snowiest too: as many as 25 inches of snow can fall in December, spread over about 30% of the month.
Major roads in town, as well as nearby highways and interstates, are generally plowed, but if you’re veering onto service roads you may encounter closures, as well as on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Annual Bigfork Events and Festivals
Bigfork celebrates the nation’s birthday with an annual parade including floats and classic cars. At the end, they are judged in several different categories, with the winners receiving prizes and bragging rights. This is a family-friendly affair, but adults can stick around downtown afterward for ad-hoc parties at local restaurants and bars.
This annual rubber duck race along the Swan River is a beloved but quirky fundraiser for the Bigfork High School Scholarship Program. For $5, you ‘buy’ a yellow rubber duck that is released into the river after the annual Fourth of July parade. The first duck to pass under the Single Lane Bridge wins $200!
This long-running arts fair is held every year over the first weekend in August. Alongside over 100 booths manned by local artists and artisans are live music, activities for kids, and plenty of food and drinks.
The Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bigfork VFW Post 4042 organize this vintage car show every year in early September. Hundreds of people from around the Northwest register their dutifully maintained classic cars for display, so there’s plenty to see. Several pop-ups and food trucks are invited to participate, so come hungry.
BIFF was created to protect the legacy of both Montana and Montanan filmmakers with a juried film festival. Categories include both narrative and documentary selections, as well as student films. Screenings are held at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, with a kick-off party at the River View Bar and Stage and an awards ceremony at the Bigfork Inn. There are also panels, workshops, and un-juried screenings of select work by established filmmakers.
On Halloween, businesses in Downtown Bigfork band together to offer trick or treating along Electric Avenue. Activities begin at 4 pm, and most businesses participate!
Kind of like a Christmas stroll in reverse, the Downtown Parade of Lights invites residents and businesses to create Christmas “floats” by covering their vehicles in lights for an auto parade down Electric Avenue. The show culminates with Santa’s arrival at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, where he’ll be available to take pictures with kids until 8 pm.
Ski Areas Open for the Season
The ski season opens every winter, and ski areas in Montana are practically clairvoyant about predicting their opening day. Rarely does a resort have to deviate from their season open plan, but allow a little wiggle room in your trip planning just in case they have to delay by a day.
This three-chair, family-friendly ski area is a local favorite. They open for the season in mid-December.
Whitefish Mountain Resort is the region’s premier Alpine ski area, replete with hundreds of options for lodging, gear rentals, dining, a ski school, and even zip-lining. They open in early December.
This non-profit, members-only cross-country ski area opens in late December. Day passes are available if you don’t want to purchase an annual membership.
This cross-country skiing area is run by the USDA Forest Service and usually opens in mid-December.
Celebrating the Montanan traditions of whitewater rafting and kayaking, the Bigfork Whitewater Festival is a competition held every Memorial Day weekend on the Swan River right where it meets Bigfork Bay. The most challenging races are staged on the “Wild Mile”: the very turbulent last mile of the Swan. This festival has been held every year since 1976.
With all of the best restaurants in Bigfork participating, the Taste of Bigfork is the perfect opportunity to sample a wide variety of Flathead Valley cuisine. This is a very popular event and generally sells out well in advance, so start planning early if you’d like to attend this late April soiree.
This annual outdoor festival gathers together all the best brews in the region for you to peruse and sample. There’s also live music, vendors, and food trucks.