This blog is part of a six part series of hikes in and around the Whitefish area in coordination with Explore Whitefish. Check out their website at https://explorewhitefish.com to find out more ways to explore the area, things to do, places to stay, and how you can recreate responsibly while visiting.
Hikes that start at higher elevation and climb to even higher elevation are some of my favorites. The scenic hike up (or down) the Danny On Memorial Trail (or just the Danny On Trail) starts in the developed area of the Whitefish Mountain Resort and works its way up through alpine trees, ski run meadows and huckleberries on the way to the panoramic views on the summit.
I turned right onto Big Mountain Road and began my ascent from the Flathead Valley Floor. The road up to the Whitefish Mountain Resort winds its way up Big Mountain taking out a lot of the elevation that would have been necessary to gain to get to its summit. I arrived in the village area and parked at the end of the road.
I was here a bit late in the season so all of the amenities weren’t up and running. Construction was happening on a building and upgrades were being made to the ski lifts… not particularly “ideal” for a wilderness experience.
The funny thing is, that after a couple hundred yards, I drop into the forest and it’s magical. Forest birds are chirping, fall colors are turning, and the flowers have turned into berries. A creek trickles through some alder as I climb up.
A few switchbacks and I pop out of the forest and traverse across a ski run. I know this to be a run called Big Ravine, but it feels an awful lot like a regular avalanche chute that I’d traverse anywhere else. Beargrass bunches are the dominate grass here, but a variety of other plant life runs up and down the slope. Of course the views looking south into the Flathead Valley are beautiful and increase throughout the day.
I hop back and forth between forests to ski runs with their views as I work my way east along the mountain. Of course, it’s not simply “forest” and “open meadows”. Some of the forests have massive trees while others are smaller trees. Some are densely packed together while others are “parked out” with ample space underneath. There’s a lot of variety in the vegetation depending upon aspect, slope, and some selective logging.
After a bit of elevation, the trail turns north up into a canyon. Russ’s Street, a service road, runs up the canyon at the bottom. A wooded ridge across the way blocks any views out, but it feels more intimate. The trail works its way below cliff formations and through lush vegetation that is turning all sorts of oranges, yellows, purples, and reds.
The valley floor catches up with the trail as I traverse near a ski lift and up another run. Late season juvenile White-crowned Sparrows chit at me as I climb through their temporary living spaces. After crossing Russ’s Street, I come to the T-bar lift where the trail forks. To the right, the trail works its way up to the top via Flower Point. I’ll come down this way, but for now, I stay left and wind my way up under the lift.
The colors here are jaw-dropping. Huckleberries are famous for their fantastic sweet and tart flavors, but their leaves turn magical colors and I’m hitting it when they are at peak magic. The magenta is stunning. I come across a Pileated Woodpecker on an old stump leaning out to snag a huck or two. Everyone loves good berry!
I climb up along the service road where views start to pop again. I pass the top of the Flower Point Trail and continue up through a forest largely dominated by subalpine fir with a technicolor understory of deciduous shrubs.
A loop breaks out to the left that explores the East Rim. I save that for the way down as well and turn to the summit. As I traverse below the summit and the summit house, I am once again greeted by views lookout out to the Flathead Valley. A wonderful addition, however, is the views looking north into the Whitefish Range and out to the craggy peaks of Glacier National Park.
I am almost at the summit where I walk up a road where a few mule deer are grazing. At the summit is the top of Chair 1 with chairs and gondolas stacked up. The summit house sits dark and locked up. Had I been here a week earlier, I could have taken a ride either up or down (or both) and enjoyed a beverage on the deck lookout south. Instead, I enjoy some views looking out before heading back down.
On the way down, I swing out on the East Rim Loop giving me some more views looking south. I also take the trail out to Flower Point. This gives me views looking into the Canyon Creek drainage. Danny On gets a few people hiking on it, but the Flower Point trail gets a bit quieter. As I descended back towards the T-bar lift to join up with the Danny On Trail, I passed through glades of huckleberries where I stopped too many times to partake of the sweet fruit, then dropped back down to my car.
The Danny On Trail is a great hike in and of itself. What makes it special is that there are so many things to do in addition to the hiking. If you can catch it before it shuts down for the season, you can ride the lift up and hike down or save your knees and work your lungs by hiking up and coasting down. There are numerous downhill mountain biking trails that you can bomb down. There are alpine slides, zip lines, and aerial adventures of moving through the trees. Oh and a few shops to browse as well.
If you miss all of that, however, you’ll find a quieter mountain that’s less busy with some leftover huckleberries and tons of views.