This tiny town offers great recreational and eating opportunities 

STORY & PHOTOS by JUSTIN FRANZ

If  Whitefish is the Flathead Valley’s party girl, than Lakeside is the wallflower at the ball. But just because the music may be a bit softer and the party a bit slower doesn’t mean you should overlook this community on Flathead Lake.

Another misconception is that you should only visit in summer and that once the snow flies, Lakeside rolls up the red carpet and stores it until spring. In fact, thanks to the nearby ski area, Lakeside comes alive during winter. Unfortunately for me and some of my coworkers, ski season was still a few weeks away when we visited on a cool fall evening.

Located on Flathead Lake’s northwest shore, Lakeside and the neighboring community of Somers occupy about 12 miles of coastline. Before the 1900s, the town was known as Stoner, named after John Stoner, a local hotel builder and the first postmaster in town. Later it was called Chanutauqua, then Lacon and lastly Lakeside. About 2,600 people call the town home, nearly double the amount who lived there in 2000, showing the Flathead’s rapid growth in recent years.

But one trip to Lakeside and you’ll see why people are drawn to it. Recreational opportunities abound in the surrounding area, much of them tied to the 197-square-mile Flathead Lake. However, the outdoor highlight of Lakeside in winter is Blacktail Mountain Ski Area’s 1,000 acres of skiing just west of town. The chairlifts usually start running in early December, depending on when the snow arrives, and keep turning until April. The average annual snowfall is 250 inches.

After a long day or quick afternoon on the slopes, Tamarack Brewing Company is an obvious first stop, conveniently located at the turnoff for the mountain from U.S. Highway 93. Known as “The Rack” to locals, the brewery makes more than a dozen beers and some of the highlights are the Hat Trick Hop IPA and the Switchback Stout if you’re into darker beers (and I am). Because of that preference, the Movember Baltic Porter that was on tap in November was by far my new favorite brew when we stopped by for dinner and trivia on a Tuesday night. Of course, there’s more to Tamarack than beer. There is also an extensive menu and it may be one of the best among Northwest Montana’s breweries. While the menu includes your regular bar favorites, including some spectacular beer fries, there are some other options, too. Highlights include the verde pork burrito, the spinach artichoke dip and fresh pizza made to order.

After trivia (where we took second place) and a celebratory beer, we headed down the street to Spinnaker Casino Bar & Grill for another drink and a game of darts. On a Tuesday night it’s a quiet spot, but a great place to kick back and relax with the locals. If you didn’t get your fill at the Spinnaker (which also serves as the local laundromat), there’s the Homestead Cafe Bar and Casino just next door.

One of the best weekends to head to Lakeside is in January during the annual Winterfest, sponsored by the Lakeside/Somers Chamber of Commerce and Blacktail Mountain. The event traditionally includes everything from a pancake breakfast to sleigh rides and ski and snowboard races up on the hill.

With endless outdoor opportunities and a few places to grab a good meal and a drink, it’s clear that an evening in Lakeside is an evening well spent.