Montana : Safety by City
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I thought long and hard about writing this article about Whitefish, Montana, from Whitefish.
But, with views as you get here, there’s no way I would’ve gotten this far into the details.
It truly looks like the landscape was Photoshopped.
It’s just stunning.
Whitefish is a small town of 8,000 people (and growing quickly) 30 minutes north of Kalispell.
It’s the final city before you get to Glacier National Park.
It’s the kingpin of outdoor-loving adventure towns and is rated as one of the best places to live in Montana.
With Whitefish Mountain Resort just a few miles away, visitors can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, and even zip-lining.
Whitefish also has a vibrant downtown area, which features unique shops, galleries, and restaurants.
The town has a thriving arts and culture scene, with events such as the Whitefish Winter Carnival and the Huckleberry Days Arts Festival.
Thirdly, Whitefish has a rich history, which is evident in the town’s architecture and landmarks.
Visitors can take a stroll through the historic downtown area or visit the Whitefish Depot Museum to learn more about the town’s past.
The town and attractions are very dog-friendly too, which was another reason I was tempted to take a road trip with my two golden retrievers.
To give an idea of how fast this area is growing, the population increased by nearly 10% from the 2020 census to July 1, 2022.
Tourism numbers are up, too.
Let’s explore all the safety advice you need for a trip to Whitefish.
Warnings & Dangers in Whitefish
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk as it's one of the best places to live and the safest cities in the state. That, mixed with the abundance of things to do in four seasons, staves off any boredom that could lead to trouble.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
The Mountain Climber is the public bus system through Whitefish, Kalispell, and Columbia Falls. Taxis and rideshares are available, albeit not as robust as in bigger cities. If you plan on renting a car, do so as early as possible. The rentals sell out quickly. Calling is preferred over booking through a website because of the high demand. There are seasonal buses that shuttle people to and from the ski resort.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
It always amazes me how popular ski towns generally have low theft rates, considering how much expensive gear there is to steal. Whitefish follows that trend. Of the 900 thefts in the past five years, not a single one was a pickpocket or purse snatching.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
This is a doozy, and treat it with a medium risk, simply to get yourself educated about Montana's northern wilderness. There are avalanche, wildfire, flooding, severe storm, ice storm, and earthquake risks. Visit the Disaster Preparedness section of the city's website to learn more.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Another low risk here, with no robberies reported in 2021. As far as I can tell looking at several crime data sources, there hasn't been a robbery since 2013.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
This is a low risk, as the region is so remote and vast that an attack of a large magnitude wouldn't cause much human carnage. There was an incident in May 2022 where a man was arrested, and police said afterward they were increasingly concerned he was planning a mass shooting. You can sign up for Terrorism Advisory Bulletins from Homeland Security to see the overall challenges in America before you visit.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Search the name Matthew Marshall to learn about a high-profile scam here, where a man posing as a covert CIA operative managed to bilk a billionaire before Marshall was arrested. For the average tourist, the biggest concern is rental scams, but that can be easily avoided by refusing to wire money for a rental or using legitimate rental agencies for lodging.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Assuming women know weather and wilderness survival, the risk is low. This isn't a great place to visit alone, more because of the bear risks in nature than the human element of crime.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. You should still check with the city's social media sites during your visit, as water quality issues caused by frozen pipes or flooding wouldn't be mentioned in the report.
Safest Places to Visit in Whitefish
Explore Whitefish is the official tourism website of the Whitefish Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.
You can email specific questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-877-862-3548.
Glacier National Park’s website is under the official nps.gov domain, and any other website might have good information, but it’s not guaranteed to be updated and won’t be backed by the park service.
Ski Whitefish is the website just for the mountain resort, which is a four-season destination.
There are so many more things to do than versions of skiing and hiking here.
Ziplines, alpine slides, an aerial adventure park, and a nature center.
Ski, bike, and other rental equipment are available on-site.
There are specially designed areas for kids, like Spider Monkey Mountain.
Downtown Whitefish is a mix of unique shops and restaurants with an Old West meet Modern Mountain Town vibe.
The Whitefish River runs through the western edge of town, and Whitefish Lake is just north of the town, complete with a city beach.
Circle around the western edge of the lake to reach Whitefish Lake State Park.
Here you have all amenities of a state park with the trains that run along the perimeter.
Reservations are required, even for day use.
Guided tours are a great way for first-timers to experience the state as safely as possible, with an expert leading the way.
Tours here are on the water, in hot air balloons, by plane, on horseback, tethered to a giant rockface, on a boat, with sled dogs pulling you, and by foot.
If you’re looking for a dude ranch experience, The Bar W is second to none, with new cabins open in 2023.
Ride a horse around the bend or to the Canadian border.
Sing by the campfire or take line dancing lessons at night.
You can even learn to rope a calf and throw an ax.
You can also take a walking tour of Whitefish and learn many fun facts, like why the city was first named Stumptown.
Montana Coffee Traders also offers tours of the headquarters, where you can sample the most popular flavors and newest brews.
If you’re on the way to Glacier, consider stopping at the Montana Vortex & House of Mystery in Columbia Falls, where the laws of gravity and perception seem to be negotiable.
As one traveler called it, it’s like “Sedona on steroids.”
Places to Avoid in Whitefish
Whitefish doesn’t have bad neighborhoods or dangerous parts of town, which is especially beneficial since the town is so small.
The town might seem small and remote, but the population and tourists are growing in number by the day.
It’s important to avoid a last-minute trip here, as you’ll likely not find rooms, rental cars, or affordable flights.
You should also avoid the assumption that any body of water here is warm in the summer.
Even on hot days, the lakes and rivers are filled with snow runoff, which can be cold and cause hypothermia.
I made a similar mistake on a 95°(F) day in Lake Tahoe once.
One important possible confusion point is that there is a Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, that shows up in search results when researching this topic.
As many “Whitefish” names as there are in Montana, there isn’t a Whitefish Bay.
Another great way to tell is by looking for the 406 Montana area code.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Whitefish
- Whitefish does have its own police department, but they aren’t on social media. That’s odd to me, but you can follow the City of Whitefish and Whitefish Parks & Rec to get updated information. The Whitefish Fire Department is on social media as well.
- Sign up for alerts through the city’s website under the Notify Me section. You can choose which categories are important to you, but we definitely recommend everything under the Alert Center.
- Parking in downtown Whitefish is free but does come with time limits of up to three hours. No overnight parking is allowed between 2:30 am and 6:00 am. If you park longer than the time limit, you could get a $20 ticket. Spaces are available on the street or in parking garages.
- Whitefish has an interactive city amenities map, which is helpful for finding parks, bus routes, ski resort shuttles, and more.
- Please follow @FlatheadBearAware, which is the local organization dedicated to helping humans and bears safely share a space. No visitor in Whitefish should be without bear spray. Everything you do, down to how you toss out trash, could impact bear activity.
- Never feed wildlife under any circumstance. Not only does it make animals too comfortable with humans, which could be dangerous or deadly, but it can also make them sick or reliant on people for food. If
- Trail running is discouraged in Bear Country since that can startle an otherwise calm bear. There are several trails within Whitefish that are better suited for running.
- While hiking is usually a quiet activity, here, you want to make a lot of noise. Clap your hands and sing songs as you scream “Hey Bear!” every now and again to alert any wildlife to your presence. You want to signal that you are there, you aren’t a threat, and you respect their home.
- If you’re visiting Glacier National Park, you’ll need a reservation. Two apps will help you. First, you need the Recreation.gov app to make reservations. The NPS app will also give you maps that work with GPS when you’re out of mobile phone range and allow you to get park alerts. Different routes require reservations at different times of the year, so review the options ahead of time, as the park can “sell out” on any given day.
- Use Inciweb to track wildfire activity, whether it’s a fire burning nearby, a controlled burn, or air quality concerns for distant fires. Keep in mind any thunderstorm activity can suddenly spark wildfires. You should also know the wind speed on any given day because burned treetop can be carried by the wind to another area, or winds can shiftily suddenly send a fire that was burning away from you right toward you.
So... How Safe Is Whitefish Really?
Whitefish is generally considered one of the safest cities in the state, with fewer than 25 violent crimes a year outside a spike to 37 in 2019.
There hasn’t been a homicide in Whitefish since 2013 until 2023.
During the five-year span from 2017-2021, 21% of violent crimes happened against strangers, making the risk even lower for your trip.
23% of thefts are related to car break-ins or accessory thefts, so even with the low larceny rates, it’s still important to keep your car locked and all valuables out of sight or stored safely in your hotel room.
Not understanding outdoor, winter, and wildlife safety is the biggest risk by and large.
With anywhere from six to 25 feet of snowfall each year, the snow itself brings hazards, while the melting snow creates flooding risks.
People who don’t heed wildlife or weather warnings could find the region to be very dangerous.
This is definitely a beautiful region where you completely control how safe it will be, but there’s a lot to learn.
How Does Whitefish Compare?
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- Visas - Entry requirements to the U.S. are the same whether you're crossing at the Canadian border or flying into the state. Get a passport or check yours to make sure it's not within six months of expiring. Then, you'll need either a travel-designated visa, such as for tourism, work, or education, OR a Visa Waiver for those living in eligible countries. For Americans visiting Canada after a trip to Whitefish, check the requirements on the Canadian Border Services Agency website.
- Currency - Only the U.S. Dollar is used here, and those entering from Canada can exchange it at the border. You can also take care of that before your trip to get the lowest fees and best rates.
- Weather - Pack warm clothing year-round, but overpack in winter. You'll want hiking and/or snow boots, plus SPF fabrics to keep out the sun's rays. Learn how to layer your clothing for maximum warmth and keep water from getting through to your skin. Even on warm summer days, some of the higher elevations can still be cold. Grab some of those leftover COVID masks in case of poor air quality or wildfire smoke.
- Airports - Glacier Park International Airport is the closest commercial option, just 12 miles from Whitefish. The next closest airport is Missoula Montana Airport, 2.5 hours south.
- Travel Insurance - Basic travel insurance is important, but adventure insurance should also be considered here, with so many rewards in the wild that also come with risks. In any event, you'll want supplemental health insurance if you aren't covered in the U.S.
Whitefish Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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