Don’t overlook the ‘Gateway to Glacier’

FOOD&DRINK EVENING OUT BY JUSTIN FRANZ

When most people think of an evening out, Columbia Falls may not be the first destination that comes to mind.

For some, Whitefish may top the list with its numerous restaurants and bars. Kalispell might come in next for its centralized location. And Bigfork may round out the list for its proximity to the lake. But Columbia Falls should not be overlooked as my girlfriend, Ashley, and I recently discovered.

They call this town of nearly 4,800 the “Gateway to Glacier” for a reason. To the east, U.S. Highway 2 takes travelers to West Glacier and the park’s popular west entrance. To the north, the North Fork Road takes visitors to exotic destinations like Bowman Lake and Polebridge. Because of its location, Columbia Falls is the perfect spot to unwind following a trek into Glacier National Park. There are other outdoor opportunities nearby. Columbia Mountain is a fun hike and a perfect way to ring in the spring. And the area around the Hungry Horse Reservoir offers endless chances to enjoy the outdoors.

On this evening, however, Ashley and I were just looking for a way to wrap up a long week so we decided to check out Three Forks Grille. Three Forks bills itself as a restaurant serving “Rocky Mountain Fare with Italian Flair,” and that’s exactly what I found when I ordered the Sage Creek Chicken Risotto, with leeks, pancetta, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts leaves, parmesan and lemon. Ashley decided to order her usual, the Grilled Rainbow Trout and it was, as always, fantastic.

However, there are other great spots to grab a bite in Columbia Falls. Tien’s Place has cemented its place as one of the best Asian food spots in the Flathead Valley. If you’re looking for more traditional fare, The Nite Owl and The Back Room Restaurant is an institution and its helpings are equally famous. Truby’s at Meadow Lake has become a popular spot for the locals. And the Tea Kettle Café is a great spot for a quiet dinner out.

For an after-dinner drink, there is no shortage of watering holes in the area. The Bandit Saloon is right downtown, as is the Columbia Bar. East of town, in Hungry Horse and Coram, there are plenty of fun places to pull up a stool, including the Stonefly Lounge and Packers Roost. If you’re looking for even more entertainment, the Blue Moon Nite Club, just west of Columbia Falls, is a great spot to drink and dance the night away.

There are also some fun events during the warmer months, including the Columbia Falls Farmers’ Market on Thursday evenings. And a little later in the season, Columbia Falls gears up for its annual Heritage Days celebration in late July.