Montana’s Whitefish Bike Retreat

Words: Myles Trainer
Photos: Jessica Normandeau 
& Myles Trainer

Lime green Tamaracks flashed by, almost changing in color as we passed through Montana’s fall landscape. A break in the trees revealed a rogue trail that had emerged under the radar. A lip, sculpted from a bank using logs to hold its figure, would propel riders into the air to a large step down landing. As we drove to the Whitefish Bike Retreat, that view reminded me of all the trails I created as a kid without permission. The responsibility free days of being a kid, were they over? Not at a place like the Bike Retreat.

Enjoying some company at the Retreat’s lodge during an end of the year party.

Arriving at the Retreat, I realized the place had been erected by bikers for bikers. One sign pointed to the pump track, one to the Whitefish Trail, another to the camp sites, and finally, driving to the top of the property, we stopped at the Lodge. It is a place where riders of all ages can kick back mid-ride or post-ride, for a beer, shower, quick bike tune-up, or general camaraderie from other visiting riders. With the property sitting on some of the area’s best winding single track, the logistics are taken care of like those sleep overs that were arranged for you as a kid.

The variety of riding in Whitefish competes with some of the most diverse networks in the country. Upon arrival we were given a map of the trails that was detailed with parking and inserts of the various riding areas. The land surrounding Whitefish Lake has multiple trail networks that are all interconnected. In a long weekend you could visit Whitefish and ride a different style of trail each day. It felt natural warming up on the cross-country style Whitefish Trail, the next day we rode at Spencer Mountain to increase the adrenaline flow. While peak season allows for a quick chair lift ride to the summit of Whitefish Mountain, we opted for the earn-your-turns method by pedaling to ride Kashmir, their flow oriented trail. The summit ride was a good way to finish the weekend because it provided views of the Whitefish valley that lays adjacent to Glacier National Park.

Like most kids I have a short attention span, this doesn’t help when riding new locations. But in Whitefish it seemed like there was always something different to ride. Whitefish would exceed the desires of someone with or without the bicycle quiver. Full day adventures are accessible from the heart of town on the surrounding cross-country trails. And with a short drive, free ride style trails at Spencer is another option. Or if you are looking to stack up your gravity miles the bike park is where you will want to be. 

The ride “home”. The connector trail from the Retreat to the trail system.

“A lot of people took care of me when I needed it, and I have always wanted to return that,” said Cricket Butler, owner and organizer at the Bike Retreat. With four excursions across the Continental Divide trail via bicycle, three of which she raced, Cricket is a veteran of two wheeled adventure. Cricket’s traveling experiences made her realize she wanted to create a place that would ease the stresses brought on by going to new places. Somewhere were people could come to feel at home without worries.

Biker bits. A nice looking “flower” box at the Bike Retreat.

Cricket’s intention is providing local kids a canvas to grow as individuals while working on trails and other projects they are passionate about on the Retreat’s property. “It was built illegally and it is the kids doing it. I’m not saying it’s the kids working here that are doing it, but the kids here are focused now, they are talented.” Cricket said reflecting on trail closures due to illegally built trails. Now with three years of operation at the Bike Retreat, Cricket hires a handful of kids to manage the pump track. “I’d rather have them doing this than getting in trouble.”

Looking east towards Glacier National Park.

As Cricket constructed the Retreat, there was always a space that kids could tinker and be surrounded by a cycling community that they could grow with. “I envisioned this as a community style hostel, but it morphed into something more. And then every day it morphs into something different,” Cricket continued as her eyes widened. Her vision for the Bike Retreat evolved from the comfort that had been extended to her.

Whether you are a big or little kid, Whitefish’s Bike Retreat is a place where the spirit of being young persists. Visiting the Bike Retreat gave me a feeling of home and a community that I could associate with in an honest way. That feeling of home and trails that I didn’t get tired of made Whitefish a place I hope to return. For more information about the Retreat click here. Our trip was jumpstarted at Great Northern Cycles with some espresso and a trail map. 

The fruit of our climbing labor.