Of late, I have not spent much time exploring towns while in Flathead Valley. Whitefish and Kalispell are both very cute but are a little too big for me when I’m flying solo. They would be perfect if I were to return with friends to be a tourist. But since I wasn’t being a tourist, and I had been there twice before, I didn’t linger.
That said, it was time to do something aside from hike and take cover in the air-conditioning, so I started my day in Bigfork, after camping nearby at a trailhead off Jewel Basin Road.
Bigfork’s downtown is charming! Its main street was renamed to Electric Avenue because it was the first street to get electricity in the town. I was swiftly reminded of one of my favorite songs growing up, Electric Avenue. Although it was written about the Brixton Riots on Electric Avenue in London.
There were no riots going on this quiet morning in Bigfork. Visitors were dining in Pockestone Cafe and a line was forming at Lake Baked, a bakery. Since I didn’t want a sit-down breakfast, after strolling the streets with Annie, I visited the bakery and enjoyed a wonderful caramel roll and coffee.
I really liked Bigfork. The artistic and eclectic town with a nightly theatre production was the perfect size for flying solo. I wish I would have spent more time here, but I wanted to get to Polson for some hiking in that area.
Longview Lavender Farm
With my stomach full, I left Bigfork and made a stop at Longview Lavender Farm. While the owners have been in the Flathead Valley for 25 years, they only started planting lavender plants 3 years ago, and this year was the first year it was open to the public.
Visitors may browse the gift shop, check out the oil distillery tent, and wander the fields of lavender. The farm has 8,000 plants of six varieties. I had no idea there were so many varieties of lavender…400! And I didn’t notice the difference of the plants until I saw a short dark one next to a tall lighter one.
While 8,000 plants on five acres isn’t big relative to the farms in France or Australia, in the USA, it is a pretty decent size. Most farms are smaller. Some only have a few hundred plants. So, for a good lavender farm in the USA, stop by Longview Lavender!
The friendly owner also told me there is a “lavender trail” in Washington, so I may have to check out that out sometime. Perhaps it is near the tulips because I want to do that too! Though the tulips bloom in April and the lavender in July.
From the lavender farm, I headed south along the east side of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.
The east side of the lake is loaded with cherry orchards. I don’t know how I never knew this from my previous visits. I love cherries! And I was sold on picking my own at Bigfork Orchards. Bigfork Orchards has a stand right on the side of the road. They sell already picked cherries or let “U-Pick.”
Ready to pick my own cherries, I strapped on my basket and got a quick lesson on cherries and how to pick them. This orchard mostly grew Lambert Cherries, but also had a few Rainier and Montmorency Trees. The Montmorency cherries were sour pie cherries and looked like Maraschino cherries.
I’m glad they taught me the differences, or I wouldn’t have known which cherries were ripe. To pick a cherry I was to grab the stem of the cherry near the branch and pull up. Ok, easy enough, as long as you can reach them.
As I walked down the first row of cherry trees, there was hardly any low hanging fruit. While ladders were scattered around, I wasn’t clambering up one with the giant basket. Not to mention, I was looking for a short and easy cherry-picking experience.
After skipping over a few rows, I found some more accessible cherries. I picked all three kinds, but mostly stuck with lamberts as they have been great in the store. I’m really glad I picked my own cherries, but it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.
Humorously, the orchard owner said, “I had several U-pick customers because for some reason they think it will be fun!” HAHA! Now I know.
Regardless, I couldn’t pass up cherries at only $2/pound!!! The entire batch I picked only cost me $3.50. And after taste testing, I still like the lamberts the best, so I’m glad I filled the basket with those.
Flathead Lake Cheese
From cherry picking, I moved on to cheese tasting. The Flathead Lake Cheese is located in a yellow building on the outskirts of Polson. They specialize in Gouda which is a little too aged for me to be able to eat with a histamine intolerance, but they also sell feta, cheese curds, and mozzarella. At the walk up window I tasted few samples of their funny named cheeses and settled on the feta and the garlic cheese curds. They were superb!!!!
As I was standing outside their tasting window, all I could smell was the BBQ at Cherries BBQ Pit. After buying the cheese, I had to see what the BBQ restaurant had to offer. They have a drive-thru and walk up window with outside seating. A few moments later, I was digging into a pulled pork sandwich, bacon corn, and coleslaw in my hands for lunch. Delicious!
After lunch, I strolled through Polson’s quiet downtown. From eleven years ago when I visited during my year long road trip across the USA in VANilla, I had a picture of main street. For a fun comparison I took another!
The rest of the afternoon, I sort of piddled around, as I was waiting to take a shower at the Wash N Go laundromat that got rave reviews. $5 for 8 minutes and they provide towels, soap, and shampoo! You don’t know what a luxury an 8 minute shower is until you haven’t had one for a few days.
I could have taken a shower earlier, but I didn’t want to waste it by sweating all afternoon in this heat wave! As a result, I ended up staying in the Walmart Parking lot for the night because I didn’t want to drive to the forest at dusk. This was a poor choice on two counts.
First, it had to be the hottest night of my trip, so I sweated anyway! And, second, while the hikes I wanted to tak in Jewel Basin looked close to Polson on the map, I could only access them by going all the way back to Bigfork!
If I had to do it over again, I would have taken my shower and gathered my groceries and returned to Big Fork for dinner and a show at Bigfork Summer Playhouse. The production that evening was Freaky Friday. Then camped at the trailhead off Jewel Basin Road again despite the makeshift shooting range across the road! ETB
Overall I had a great day food tasting and cruising around the Flathead Valley. ETB