Nestled in the northeastern corner of the largest freshwater lake this side of the Mississippi – Flathead Lake – the tranquil Bigfork Bay is the setting for one of the most charming villages in Northwest America.
Staying in Bigfork is a true escape from the stress of modern life. Where you choose to stay could be the difference between a relaxing vacation, a cultured one, or an adventurous expedition.
The best areas to stay in Bigfork:
- Best neighborhood for a tranquil escape: Tranquility is the name of the game in this area of Montana; serene lakes, cozy villages, and vast expanses of greenery make up the landscape. It is by very nature, a tranquil escape. But for ultimate privacy and relaxation, North Bigfork & the Eagle Bend Golf Course is the place to stay. It’s a few minutes outside of central Bigfork and downtown, so tends to avoid the crowds, and the houses and cabins are usually incredibly spaced out across the sloping hillside.
- The best base for adventurers: South of Bigfork Bay and the area around Woods Bay is ideal for adventurers. Base Camp Bigfork is located close to Bigfork Bay and offers outdoor adventures to people of all abilities. Woods Bay is a state recreation area hugging the edge of Flathead Lake and is particularly worthwhile for its huge variety of watersports facilities.
- Staying in Bigfork on a budget: As accommodation is quite limited in Bigfork, it does tend to skew on the expensive side. Demand is high, and the village is only small. But there are some budget-friendly motels in the Bigfork Bay area, and a few reasonably priced Airbnbs if you book early enough!
- The best area for art enthusiasts: Downtown Bigfork has a dozen fine art galleries, and the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center serves as both a creative and educational outlet for the community. Electric Avenue is especially blessed with an abundance of galleries and outdoor art exhibitions – it’s an unmissable spot for any art enthusiasts.
1. Bigfork Bay – a charming
Bigfork is a village with a wonderful storybook quality. The idyllic scenery of the Rocky Mountains, alpine forests, and the glistening blue waters of the lake are well-matched with the quaint storefronts and rustic houses of the town.
The whole Bigfork area revolves around the bay; it’s the center point of the community – everything seems to gravitate towards it. Downtown Bigfork takes up the biggest portion of the bay, but there are other smaller communities that also overlook the water, like the Marina Cay Resort. Marina Cay is located on the west side of the bay, and the all-condo style resort offers a comfortable and relaxed stay only a few minutes away from the village. In your immediate vicinity is the Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Pubhouse, where you can grab a local ale within walking distance of your accommodation. The Gypsy Theatre Guild – a community-run performing arts theatre – is close by, as well as a few options for fishing.
The bay isn’t just a picturesque part of the landscape to gaze at – it is used for recreation as well. Many people use it as a sheltered access point for Flathead Lake. You’ll find boats ready to set sail lined up on the harbor, and people flying out of the bay on jet skis all through the summer. Staying downtown is fantastic (more on that later); it’s where you’ll be treated to streets straight out of a fairytale and some good old-fashioned Western hospitality.
The Swan River, which flows down from the Mission Mountains and curls around Bigfork, is an excellent place to fish. In the cooler months if you are lucky you can catch cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and bull trout. To the south of Bigfork Bay, you’ll find the lovely Sliter’s Park and a small collection of shops and restaurants. The Whistling Andy distillery is a local favorite – if you like whiskey, gin, and huckleberry-infused vodka, this is the place to go.
The south end of the bay is also the home of adventure company Base Camp Bigfork, which operates everything from kayaking expeditions to dog sledding trips. Continue on towards Woods Bay and you’ll quickly find the rocky cliffs and dense forest of Wayfarers State Park. Locals often claim there is no better spot for spectacular views over Flathead Lake.
Best Hotels around Bigfork Bay:
($$$) • THE INN Bigfork Bay • 19.2 miles from Glacier Park International Airport
($$) • Swan River Inn • Approximately 2 miles from Bigfork city center
($) • Timbers Motel • 0.2 miles from Flathead Lake
Best Airbnbs around Bigfork Bay (Marina Cay Resort):
($$$) • Marina Cay Retreat • A 30-minute drive from BlackTail Mountain
($$) • Tranquility Shores Condo in Bigfork – Lake Access • A few minutes from downtown Bigfork
($) • Beautiful “walkout to the lake” studio condo • 45 minutes from the Glacier National Park
2. Downtown Bigfork – a charming village bursting with creativity
Many people come to this corner of Montana just to experience downtown Bigfork. It sums up everything that makes the state special: a charming town of rustic storefronts and cozy cabins tucked away in the rugged wilderness of rural Montana, inhabited by a warm and welcoming community of people.
It’s so enchanting that it has led to the town earning the title of Montana’s Christmas Village. And while Bigfork is especially lovely at that time of the year, it is always worth a visit. It’s a village that punches far above its weight in terms of its fine dining, fine art, and theatre offerings. That such a small community has garnered such a big reputation is truly incredible. The Bigfork Summer Playhouse is famous for the quality of its productions, which have been playing to crowds for over 60 years.
Many of those who have performed here have gone on to win awards, a star on Broadway, and even win an Academy Award – a feat achieved by the most famous Bigfork Summer Playhouse alumni, J. K. Simmons. The creativity of the community here relative to the size of the population is unmatched. If you aren’t in town during the summer months, you can see a performance at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts year-round.
Electric Avenue is where you’ll find most of the town’s art galleries and museums. You can admire the work of local artists and learn about Bigfork’s history at the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center, or head to one of the many fine art galleries dotted around the town. There’s also a number of upscale restaurants and dining experiences to be had in the neighborhood.
Just wandering the streets is a lovely experience downtown. The picturesque setting holds a few little surprises – including a Bear Fountain – and is filled with an absurd amount of cozy places. In the colder months, there’s no better place to enjoy a warming open fire than in the historic timber lodges of Bigfork’s downtown.
Best Airbnbs around Downtown Bigfork:
($$$) • Wild Mile River Retreat • Overlooking the Swan River
($$) • Downtown Bigfork, Luxury 2 Bedroom Condo • In the center of Bigfork, close to shops
($) • NEW! Charming Downtown Bigfork • On Electric Avenue – in the heart of downtown
3. North Bigfork & the Eagle Bend Golf Course – for a quiet escape
If your idea of the perfect holiday is world-class golf surrounded by unparalleled views, then the Eagle Bend Golf Course is something that simply cannot be missed. The course dominates the remote area of North Bigfork, and people come from far and wide to experience it.
This area is located a little further away from the waterfront of Flathead Lake, and a few minutes drive outside of Bigfork’s center; it follows the Flathead River all the way down towards the lake. If you’re looking for complete peace and privacy, there are few places more suited than North Bigfork. It’s a remote area – even for Montana – and lodges and cabins tend to be spaced out away from each other. You can usually avoid people if you wish to – and enjoy astonishing views of Flathead Lake in practically complete solitude.
While the North Bigfork area is fairly sparse in terms of shops and restaurants, there is one exception. The Montana Highway 35 travels through the neighborhood on the way to the center of Bigfork. As it tends to get a little more traffic than the other parts of the area, there are a few restaurants and shops lining the road. More than enough for someone just looking to stock their shelves at home.
The biggest draw to the area is, of course, the Eagle Bend Golf Course.
Golfers of every skill level will be challenged by the 27-hole championship Eagle Bend Golf Course. It is an excellent and varied course, exquisitely kept and offering views of the Rocky Mountains and the lake. The course has been designed to blend harmoniously in with the landscape; it’s a phenomenal experience for anyone who loves golf – you would be hard-pressed to find a course more scenic than this one.
Best Airbnbs in Lake Hills & Eagle Bends Golf Course:
($$$) • New Listing! Stunning Bigfork Lake Property! Private boat launch, two docks, and sleeps 10!! • Located on Flathead River at the mouth of the lake
($$) • Private Home – Eagle Bend Golf Club – Bigfork • Situated along the 6th fairway of Eagle Bend Golf Club
($) • Private Lake-view Retreat • A 5-minute drive from downtown Bigfork
4. Woods Bay – for adventurous travelers
The small community of Woods Bay sits around 10 minutes south of Bigfork, occupying a slice of land between a towering pine forest and the sparkling clear waters of Flathead Lake.
It’s officially a state recreation area, and the feel of the community reflects this. It’s a village brimming with an adventurous spirit – people here tend to be avidly into sports and love to explore the landscape. Thanks to the town’s close relationship with nature, there are dozens of hiking trails that wind up into the forest and surrounding wilderness. The nearby cherry orchards bring a burst of color in the spring, as the blossom somehow manages to make already impossibly scenic hikes more captivating. Even at just a slightly higher elevation, the vistas over Flathead Lake and the Rocky Mountains are exceptionally beautiful.
But the real highlight for the more adventurous travelers is the easy access to Flathead Lake. It’s a water sports paradise, with facilities for scuba diving, windsurfing, and sailing available. For such a small community, there’s a surprising amount of restaurants to choose from. Woods Bay has some of the best options on Flathead Lake, including the ever-popular lakefront bar & grill, ‘The Raven’.
You can grab some pub food at the Sitting Duck Lounge or sit down for some local, farm-to-table cuisine at the casual fine dining restaurant Schafers. Bonfire and Riley’s Pub combine delicious food with talented live musicians, while Woods Bay Wine offers a traditional fine dining experience. From wine tasting to Thai food, the small community has enough variety to please even the pickiest eaters.
Best Hotels in Woods Bay:
Best Airbnbs in Woods Bay:
($$$) • Stunning Views/Private Trails/Walk to Restaurants! • Restaurants and shops within easy walking distance
($$) • The Summit Suite • A 40-minute drive to the entrance of Glacier National Park
($) • Mini Montana Log Home | Private Lake Access • A short walk to Flathead Lake
A quick roundup of the best hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs in Bigfork:
- Best Budget Hotel in Bigfork – Timbers Motel
- Best Hotel for families in Bigfork – THE INN Bigfork Bay
- Best Airbnb for large groups in Bigfork – Stunning Views/Private Trails/Walk to Restaurants!
- Best Airbnb for couples in Bigfork – Mini Montana Log Home | Private Lake Access