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How to Host an Event or Meeting in Western Montana

Yes, we know you love Yellowstone, but might we suggest a different part of the state? Here, meeting amenities and outdoor recreation abound.

A must-do for groups in Glacier National Park: scenic tours on the park's historic (and iconic) red buses.
A must-do for groups in Glacier National Park: scenic tours on the park's historic (and iconic) red buses.
Photo: Courtesy of Western Montana's Glacier Country

Talk of Montana might lead you to thoughts of Yellowstone—both the national park and the critically acclaimed TV series starring Kevin Costner. But a different region of the state is particularly poised for meetings and events. Western Montana, where anchor cities include Missoula, Kalispell, and Whitefish, is uniquely primed to host groups, and it's only seen a rise in interest since the COVID-19 pandemic, when Montana's wide-open spaces became especially appealing.

“Between our inspirational landscapes, unique lodging and venue options, and easy access to outdoor recreation and activities, Western Montana’s Glacier Country is an ideal location for groups looking for something a little different but still easily accessible,” says Debbie Picard, director of sales for Western Montana's Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission. “The appeal of wide-open spaces and fresh mountain air, especially in a post-pandemic climate, adds to the reasons people are looking at Western Montana for their meeting needs. And, we’re often told an unexpected surprise is the fantastic culinary scene we have here—from farm-to-table and locally raised beef to Flathead cherries and morel mushrooms, our culinary options are impressive.”

Although this part of the state has plenty of meetings infrastructure for a sweet-spot group size of about 200 to 300, a major draw for planners is undoubtedly the nature-filled setting, which includes Glacier National Park. Western Montana's Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission promotes the idea of recreating responsibly, meaning visitors should of course enjoy all the outdoor wonder this region has to offer, but they should have the outlook to do it safely, responsibly, and with environmental impact in mind. 

Another bonus for Western Montana is its ease of access. Missoula Montana Airport (MSO) offers 15 direct-flight markets and seven air carriers and is just a quick 10-minute drive from downtown Missoula. Meanwhile, Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) has 16 direct-flight markets and seven air carriers and is a short drive from downtown Whitefish.

Below, we break down group offerings in Western Montana's three major hubs, based on a recent visit courtesy of Western Montana's Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission.

Paws Up, where activities and views along the Blackfoot River are a must, is especially friendly to groups and corporate retreats.Paws Up, where activities and views along the Blackfoot River are a must, is especially friendly to groups and corporate retreats.Photo: Noah Couser

Missoula

Montana's second-largest city, home to the University of Montana, has much to offer planners. A growing downtown is home to major hotel brands, including Residence Inn Missoula Downtown (opened in 2019) and the adjacent AC Hotel Missoula Downtown (opened in 2021). A nearby Holiday Inn offers the largest amount of meeting space, and by the end of the year, it will transform into a voco hotel, one of IHG's fastest-growing brands (mainly seen in Europe). 

A unique event space in the area is the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, which opened in September 2023 and is located on the university campus. The venue features an eclectic collection, from Western artists to Rembrandt and Picasso, and can provide a beautiful setting for an event. The museum's director, university professor Rafael ChacĂłn, was a highlight of our visit (we could listen to him thoughtfully discuss the museum's contents for hours).

Although Missoula boasts ample hotel rooms and space to get business done, getting outdoors is still easy here. Just a few blocks from the Residence Inn and the AC Hotel, visitors will find the Clark Fork River, which is surrounded by walking and biking paths and even offers a human-made wave known as Brennan's Wave. So on a nice summer day, you might find hordes of surfers—yes, surfers!—in the city. Kayakers and paddleboarders can be easy to spot too. 

For something more immersive outdoors, we suggest a day or two spent at The Resort at Paws Up, which spans 37,000 acres just 40 minutes outside of Missoula in Greenough. This ranch resort, a working cattle ranch, boasts 27 luxury homes and 36 glamping tents, and offers more than 70 activities—including horseback riding, ATV tours, hiking, and rafting through rapids on the Blackfoot River—to get groups acquainted with the outdoors. "We have endless space, but we use it wisely and respectfully," says Holly Beary Cahoon, marketing manager for Paws Up.

A standout event space at Paws Up is The Bull Barn, an authentic cattle barn that's been renovated into a conference space and special event venue.A standout event space at Paws Up is The Bull Barn, an authentic cattle barn that's been renovated into a conference space and special event venue.Photo: Pieter de Liagre Bohl

Paws Up is also home to the green o, its adults-only resort concept that opened in 2021. It offers 12 beautifully designed homes (including a perpetually sought-after treehouse) and a gathering hub for guests known as The Social Haus. Here, 2024 James Beard Award finalist and executive chef Brandon Cunningham serves up eight-course meals every night. 

When it comes to event space, Paws Up has a number of unique venues. One standout is The Bull Barn, an authentic cattle barn that's been renovated into a conference space and special event venue. A banquet space on the second floor can accommodate 150 for a reception. Another notable space: The Saddle Club, the largest private equestrian center in Montana. It features a 35,000-square-foot arena for rodeos, equestrian shows, and equestrian training. The Skybox is a lounge space that overlooks the arena and can accommodate 30 for a meeting or 60 standing.

Conrad Mansion was built in 1895 as the home of Charles E. Conrad, the founder of the city of Kalispell.Conrad Mansion was built in 1895 as the home of Charles E. Conrad, the founder of the city of Kalispell.Photo: Courtesy of Western Montana's Glacier Country

Kalispell

Old West charm abounds in Kalispell, located about two hours north of Missoula. Known for its proximity to Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, Kalispell features a historic downtown chock full of local shops, where you'll find everything from handmade soaps at Sage & Cedar to antiques and vintage wares in the basement of the Western Outdoor Store. 

Here, the Conrad Mansion stands out as a special event venue. Built in 1895, the mansion is the former home of Charles E. Conrad, the founder of the city of Kalispell. Attendees can tour the house and be immersed in luxurious pioneer living—it's fully furnished and contains more than 90% of its original contents, after all. Afterward, enjoy a reception on the front lawn, featuring manicured gardens and landscaping, or on the expansive wraparound porch. All proceeds from private events go toward the upkeep of the Conrad Mansion and its collection.

Downtown Whitefish is chock full of charm with a bevy of local shops, bars, and restaurants.Downtown Whitefish is chock full of charm with a bevy of local shops, bars, and restaurants.Photo: Courtesy of Western Montana's Glacier Country

Whitefish

Mountain towns don't get better than this. You won't find many chain stores or restaurants in downtown Whitefish, a popular home base for those spending a significant amount of time in nearby Glacier National Park or skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Instead, expect a plethora of local businesses packed with charm and eccentricity, from watering holes like The Great Northern to top-tier eateries like Tupelo Grille and homey shops like Mum's Flowers. 

When it comes to accommodations, look to The Firebrand Hotel or The Lodge at Whitefish Lake. The former is located just a block from the main drag of downtown and boasts 86 rooms and a rooftop patio. The Lodge, meanwhile, sits right on the shores of Whitefish Lake and offers everything from classic hotel rooms to luxury home rentals. Gathering spaces here include a 6,000-square-foot ballroom, a variety of boardrooms, and its lakeside pavilion, which features prime alfresco views of the lake and can accommodate 120 attendees. 

Historic boat tour, anyone? This is another must-do activity for groups in Glacier National Park.Historic boat tour, anyone? This is another must-do activity for groups in Glacier National Park.Photo: Courtesy of Western Montana's Glacier Country

Glacier National Park

Any trip to Western Montana isn't complete without a visit to Glacier National Park. There are endless ways to explore the park, known for its jagged peaks, cascading waterfalls, and wildlife watching (make sure you've got bear spray!). When it comes to group excursions, planners can look to outfitters like Glacier Guides for hiking and biking tours, as well as whitewater rafting, scenic floating, and fishing. 

Another group must: a ride along the Going-to-the-Sun Road—dubbed an engineering marvel and National Historic Landmark—in one of the park's historic red buses. This fleet of vehicles was built by the White Motor Company between 1936 and 1939, and it's become synonymous with Glacier National Park. The open-air buses drive up the mountains for scenic tours of wildlife, landscapes, and beautiful vistas. 

Groups can also take in the park from the water. Planners can book a historic boat ride with Glacier Park Boat Company and hop aboard the DeSmet, one of four vessels in its fleet that holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Vessels. Scenic tours are an hour long on Lake McDonald, the park's largest lake. 

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