The rafters hear it before they see it. The steadily increasing roars emanating from down the river can only mean one thing: whitewater. As their raft rounds a bend, it plunges headfirst into a Class III rapid. Frothy spumes shower the group, but they remain focused, paddle in unison, and conquer nature's natural roller coaster.
Since 1976, Glacier Raft Company has created adrenalin-pumping experiences like these for more than 500,000 customers. Using the Middle Fork and Flathead River as their playground, guides lead rafting adventures that fuse the thrills of fast rapids with natural beauty of areas such as John Stevens Canyon. Though rafting is their focus, the outdoors outfit also leads other activities such as horseback riding and hiking trips. During fishing excursions, anglers cast for rainbow trout and radical bartenders harvest ice cubes from glaciers. The company also welcomes guests for extended stays in one of their classic log cabins.
Gaynor Ranch and Resort is tucked into the Flathead Valley, an expanse of jagged peaks and windswept lowlands carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Within the valley—and fewer than 7 miles from the resort—is the charming alpine village of Whitefish. Restaurants, specialty boutiques, and a microbrewery are dotted along the main drag of Central Avenue, and jutting out of the skyline to the north are the snowcapped peaks of the Northern Rocky Mountains. Though outdoor activities are a major draw, Whitefish also features an independent theater company, art galleries, a historical museum, and a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed building—one of a scant few in Montana.About 30 miles away from the ranch resides the west entrance to Glacier National Park, where the glittering Lake McDonald comes into view as visitors drive down Going-to-the-Sun Road. Although heavy snowfall can close down portions of the park's internal roads, the National Park Service regularly plows the 10-mile stretch of road that runs from the entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge. Rangers can lead expeditions and referee snowball fights on guided snowshoe walks departing from the nearby Apgar Visitors’ Center; several skiing and snowshoeing trails splinter off in the area as well. Depending on snow melt, the warmer spring months mark the opening up of scenic hiking trails such as Logan Pass—the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road and a popular launching point for backpackers.