Kalispell is in the heart of the magnificent Rocky Mountains, poised in the northwest corner of Montana and about an hour south of the Canadian border. As Montana’s seventh largest city and the seat of Flathead County, it’s a progressive, thriving community; the very essence of Big Sky Country – with the best backyard in the country. A half-hour to the east lies the rugged grandeur of Glacier National Park. Fifteen minutes to the south is Flathead Lake – a glacial jewel – the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, and one of the purest anywhere. Encompassing the valley is the Flathead National Forest – 2.3 million acres of federally protected public land, home to abundant wildlife, including grizzly and black bears, moose, deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and wolves. At more than 5,000 square miles Flathead County’s 90,000 residents have plenty of elbow room. About as many people live within the three incorporated towns as outside of them. With a population of 22,000 Kalispell is the largest. It is within a 15-minute drive of the other two, Whitefish and Columbia Falls; and less than 30 minutes from Bigfork and Lakeside, two smaller but vibrant communities nestled on the east and west shores of Flathead Lake. Northwest Montana’s economy is diverse, small-business oriented and growing. And Flathead County has the leading edge as the state’s second-fastest growing county. It was named the most diverse, balanced economy in the Rocky Mountain West in the Colorado College State of the Rockies Report.
Investment in infrastructure will be a key component to the Flathead’s success. Kalispell is at the junction of U.S. 93 (north-south) and U.S. 2 (east-west). The Reserve Connector, the first four-lane leg section of the U.S. 93 alternative truck route around Kalispell linking the new Glacier High School campus with U.S. 93. The southern half of the alternative truck route, a $35 million project, began construction in 2009. Progress and planning on the transportation front coupled with an advanced telecommunications system make the Flathead a place where companies can base their businesses while taking advantage of all the recreational opportunities the area has to offer.
Critical to northern Montana’s economy, train traffic has increased over the last seven years, and Amtrak’s ridership has increased by nearly 40 percent over the last five. BNSF Railway Co. operates a busy rail yard in Whitefish and has invested $54.4 million in capital improvements for Montana along its northern route – the mighty Chicago-to-Seattle Empire Builder makes twice-daily stops in Whitefish on its trans-American route. Delta, Horizon Airlines, Allegiant Air and United Airlines all provide access to major markets from Glacier Park International Airport – which also features outstanding facilities for corporate aircraft.
The Flathead’s climate is akin to Camelot. For its elevation (2,959 feet) and latitude (near the 49th parallel), Kalispell enjoys a relatively mild climate: glorious summers with warm days and cool nights and little humidity; golden autumn days turning crisp by late October; winters made for skiing, snowboarding, snowcatting and ice fishing; and springs with daffodils dusting the valley while fresh snow dusts the surrounding peaks – an extraordinary season when you can ski and golf – in the same day! High mountains to the east and west protect us from harsh extremes. The valley’s many lakes and rivers also tend to moderate temperatures winter and summer. The weather ranges from moderately dry summers with typical daytime Fahrenheit temperatures in the 80s, Indian Summer days in the early fall, and moderately wet winters and spring. Daytime winter temperatures are in the 20s and 30s, with plenty of snow for winter recreating. While the Flathead Valley floor averages about 3,000 feet, the highest mountain peaks rise to more than 10,000 feet above sea level. As the elevation increases, so does precipitation: from 16 inches on the valley floor to 100 inches on the peaks. While ferocious storms can buffet the mountaintops, winds are usually gentle in the valley – although robust afternoon breezes are not uncommon, and occasional sudden gusty winds can blow on Flathead Lake. Microclimates across the valley permit crops here that are not commonly grown elsewhere along the Rocky Mountains. The growing season ranges from 104 to 129 days, depending on location.
Kalispell Regional Medical Center (the Flathead’s largest employer) is the hub for health care in the valley, offering high tech, state-of-the-art diagnostic and surgical capabilities, cancer care and exceptional orthopedic care – facilities that are typically exclusive to larger urban areas. Plum Creek Manufacturing operates a large plywood mill in the adjoining community of Evergreen, and Applied Materials manufactures equipment used in the production of computer chips. Education is given highest priority by the valley’s residents. Thanks to more than $67 million in new K-14 facilities including: the new $34.8 million Glacier High School; $5 million in existing high school, Flathead High and, an $11 million conversion Kalispell Junior High School. Flathead Valley Community College’s $19 million expansion has nearly doubled the size of its campus.
Art is one of the main attractions the valley has to offer. The area attracts and supports more than 2,000 artists and craftspeople, whose work can be seen in studios, galleries and festivals. Theater, dance and live music enjoy enthusiastic audiences. From outdoor symphonies and concerts in the parks to intimate venues and clubs, the variety of entertainment choices is endless. Recreation opportunities are without limit. Two downhill ski areas are within an easy half-hour drive of Kalispell: Whitefish Mountain Resort to the north near Whitefish, and Blacktail to the south near Lakeside. Nine golf courses are scattered within 45 minutes of one another, including Kalispell’s 27-hole Buffalo Hill Golf Club, perched upon a natural local landmark where the town’s founder, Charles E. Conrad, once grazed his herd of buffalo. From fishing, boating and bicycling, to hiking, hunting and huckleberry picking – whatever your heart desires is within easy reach in Kalispell. Kalispell’s infinite vistas with 360 degree views of Glacier National Park, and the Whitefish, Swan and Mission ranges of the Rockies, its thriving economy, and exhilarating, growing community of friendly residents who take great pride in their home, are a few of the many reasons why the quality of life here is exceptional – and why the Flathead’s unparalleled beauty is treasured by all who live here.