Pooch Picks: Whitefish, MT

Guys, northwest Montana is such an amazing place! I was a little uneasy when I first arrived. I had watched as my mom and dad packed up all my things in North Carolina, and then I spent four days road-tripping across the country. We made some cool stops, but it was a LOT of car time. And really… what’s a dog to do shoved in the backseat with the luggage? When I got to Whitefish, I wasn’t really sure what was happening, but it didn’t take too long to settle in.

If you’re an outdoor-loving dog like me, you’ve GOT to tell your people to take you to Montana! There are tons of hikes, refreshing glacial streams, crystal-clear lakes, and more rodents than you could chase in a lifetime! It’s got to be one of the happiest places on Earth. Here are some of my ulti-mutt Whitefish favorites:


Best hikes

One of the best things about Montana is all the paw-some hiking! While dogs aren’t allowed in Glacier National Park (I disapprove of this rule), we pups are permitted in all the surrounding national forest areas. Because of this, my people picked mostly hikes in the nearby Flathead National Forest. During my three months in Montana, I hiked 196 miles and 54,705 vertical feet of trail in the Flathead.

After all that exploring, I’d say my top two hikes were definitely Warrior and Nasukoin Mountains. They by far had the greatest abundance of ground squirrels… especially the Alpine #7 portion of Warrior. The burrow-ridden ground was like Swiss cheese (which is also delicious)! I pretty much lost my mind on both hikes. I can’t help it; I’m a Thai street dog with an insatiable prey drive. In fact, my motto in life is this: when you find joy, chase it – no matter how fast it tries to scurry away.

If you want to read more about the hikes, check out my mom’s posts. She may have written about how I had to be picked up and carried, but that really wasn’t necessary. And frankly, she should have let me write the hike reports, because her attention to detail on the squirrels was severely lacking. However, if your people need to read about all the scenic shit to convince them to take you to the two trails, they can find that here:

Warrior Mountain

Nasukoin Mountain

 

Best swimming spot

Let me start by saying that swimming is not my favorite outdoor activity. I basically just humor my mom and dad because they give me treats for retrieving sticks. Overall, I just don’t get the appeal. Something I do love to do in the water, though, is chase rocks along the shoreline. My mom and dad search for the perfect size rocks – not too big, not too small – and then throw them into the water at just the right depth – not so deep that I get my chest wet, but not so shallow that I miss that satisfying splash and ker-plunk sound! Once the rock disappears below the surface, I dig and dig for it while whining and barking wildly. Sometimes, I’ll even add some wind sprints into the game. My people don’t seem to get it, but I could play for hours (and occasionally do).

Whether you’re a swimmer or a rock-chaser, you’ve got to check out Murray Lake. It’s amazing! I was so lucky to have this lake pretty much in my backyard. During the hottest weeks of summer, we’d go a few times each week. The water was so blue and clear and clean – not anything like the gross lakes and rivers in NC that earned me a stern scolding every time I tried to take a drink. Also, this was one of the very few places my parents ever allowed me to be off leash. I could run and splash completely at will – it was so cool.

 

Best pet store

When we left NC, I was most sad to be leaving my neighborhood pet shop behind. Unleashed was my most favorite place ever, and I used to walk over there about once a week… sometimes more if I really put on a spectacle at the end of the driveway. I didn’t know what to think when we left. Did other cities have pet stores? Would I ever be able to shop for a gullet or freeze-dried hamburger again?!

Luckily, one of the first things we did in Whitefish was make a special trip into town to go to Tailwaggers, a small, independently-owned pet shop on Central Ave. Although it was quite a bit smaller than the store I was used to, they still had an enticing selection of natural chew treats. I was so relieved to learn that pet stores existed outside of Cary.

 

Best foods

Some of my favorite Whitefish memories were having cookouts with my dad. He’d run to the market or local butcher, bring home the most delicious selection of meats I’d ever smelled, and fire up the gas grill we had on our small porch. Every time he ripped that grill cover off, I’d wag with excitement, knowing something amazing was about to happen.

My dad and I got to try some new meats together while we were in Montana. My mom found us this cool little butcher shop in Columbia Falls called Perfect Cuts. They had an awesome selection of pretty much everything. One night, my dad made us some bison burgers. Another night, he made elk burgers! He told me an elk is kind of like a deer, but bigger. All I know is that it’s a delicious animal!

For dessert, my favorite was anything made with huckleberries (more about those heavenly berries later). I had huckleberry buns, huckleberry pie, huckleberry cake, huckleberry bostock, huckleberry bear claws, huckleberry crisp, and even huckleberry pancakes (made by dad). Aside from my mom’s homemade, vegan huckleberry cake, my favorite sweet was a huckleberry cream cheese brioche from Fleur Bake Shop. It was to die for! My mom told me that the owner was classically trained in French pastry. Apparently that means they use a lot of butter along with the huckleberries… true genius if you ask me!

 

Best ice cream

If you’re looking for good ice cream in Whitefish, you’ve got to stop by Sweet Peaks. They churn their own ice cream using Montana dairy products and local ingredients. I got to try a couple bites of my dad’s huckleberry ice cream one afternoon, which was really good, but I pretty much just stuck to my standard vanilla.

 

Best activity

Okay, everyone… I have saved the very BEST of Montana for last! For all you pups who have never tasted a huckleberry before, I implore you to tell your families that a huckleberry hunt is something you absolutely need to check off your bucket list.

Apparently huckleberries grow in the northwestern U.S., and they only grow in the wild. They can’t yet be cultivated. This means there’s only a tiny window each summer to go out and search for the fastidious berries. In Montana, they usually grow at higher elevations, between 4,000 to 8,000 feet. The locals call them ‘hucks,’ and people are super secretive about their picking locations since they aren’t always easy to find. The small, dark-colored fruits look like a blueberry, but they taste so much better!

One day when we were out for a hike, my mom and dad spotted the first huckleberry bush any of us had ever seen. I plucked a single berry off the bush with my mouth and was instantly hooked. For the rest of the walk, I scoured every inch of trail for more berries, but only found a few. My parents told me it was a little early in the season, and assured me we’d return for some real picking in a couple weeks.

Two weeks later, as promised, we did indeed return to that same area. By this time, the bushes were overflowing with handfuls of ripe berries. As my mom and dad gathered berries in a gallon bag, I foraged wildly for my own, pouncing from bush to bush to find the sweetest tasting berries. Not to toot my own horn, but from my first time picking hucks, I had a knack for sniffing out the sweetest fruit, keenly bypassing any underripe or bitter tasting berries. Humans seem to think that picking the highly sought-after berries is a laborious task because of how they grow, but I beg to differ. I learned almost immediately how to strip the best berries off a bush in a matter of minutes!

For the rest of huck season, my mom and dad took me picking a couple times a week. I think we gathered close to three gallons this summer, not counting the many cups I ate along the way. While I’m never allowed to be an off-leash dog, I walked off-leash every time we went picking in our most special spot. My family was shocked at how well-behaved I was. I know this is hard to believe, especially for all my Thai friends, but I’ll take huckleberries over a squirrel any day! They are the most unbelievably wonderful thing I have ever tasted, and I have never been as completely filled with joy as when I was picking hucks. My mom and dad kept saying they didn’t understand what I was so obsessed with. Were we not all eating the same berries?!

Nothing I’ve ever done in life up to this point has ever made me that happy – not chasing rabbits, eating meat, or even hiking. Luckily, my mom and dad promised that one day when the hucks return, we’ll go picking again. They even tagged the GPS coordinates of the three best caches we found. And in true Montanan fashion, I regrettably cannot disclose such top-secret information. I can’t wait to go back for another huck hunt!

 

Wrap-pup

I truly found my happy place in Whitefish. Everything about the area was amazing, and I hope I get to go back and visit someday. For all you pups looking for some outdoor adventure, head to Whitefish. Don’t let those national park rules get you down – there’s so much to explore around the surrounding summits. And whatever you do, don’t forget to try those huckleberries!

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