Rowan Yerxa zings through some fine alpine Whitefish singletrack.
Words and photos by Ben Gavelda
Have you ever dreamt of a bike basecamp in the woods? One with trails stemming off left and right, with everything you need to keep your two wheels moving and more back at base. Just outside of Whitefish, Montana sits such a place. It’s called the Whitefish Bike Retreat. Started in June of 2013, the Retreat is a hostel campground oasis catering to cyclists of all sorts. And the spread of property sits two hundred yards from the middle of the famed Whitefish Trail—a rolly flowy, swoopy, twenty-some mile ribbon of singletrack.
The concept is unique; a quiet place nestled along wilderness and trails where you can ride to and from, whether it’s just a quick day ride, a long bike tour or a stop off on a road trip. Founder and owner Cricket Butler’s attention to detail and the bike amenities offered are what make it really pop. She converted an old barn to house six bedrooms, large bathrooms, a group kitchen, lounge and eating area, laundry facilities, patio, firepit; bike storage, tuning and washing. It’s clean, modern and nice with a bit of rustic edge. Trail maps grace the wall for ride planning. Wifi is there to keep you connected. A large lounge, TV zone and group dinner table is there to entertain. Old bike parts and creative furniture are used throughout the entire building, from handlebars as door handles to mirrors made from rims, the place is beautifully crafted. The separate office has snacks, maps and other useful bike accessories along with the knowledge and know-how of ripping riders and partners Tom Danley and Adam Johnson. Both Tom an Adam were awesome help. Tom guided and shuttled us around, something you can also add into your stay and singletrack search. The campground spaces are tucked into the woods and still give you the use of all the amenities above.
When it comes to a two-wheeled escape, the Whitefish Bike Retreat is our newfound favorite. The trail offerings in the area and the lift-access laps at Whitefish Mountain Resort are nothing short of amazing. Freehub recently visited this Shangri-La and you can read more about the place and the riding in our A Trail Runs Through It feature in Freehub 4.1. For a deeper look at what makes the Retreat turn here’s what Cricket has to say.
How did you come up with the concept for this retreat?
It just kind of came together once I found the property. I wanted to start a small hostel in town to give cyclists an affordable place to rest when passing through since three American Cycling Association routes converge around Whitefish. But when I saw this property and its location to the Whitefish Trail, I saw more potential, I saw a retreat set back on this remote wilderness piece of land. So, I built it with all the things I would want if I would be coming here to bike, things to make it easy to do what you came here to do, ride! The big bonus was the location of this property to the Whitefish Trail. We are centrally located on the trail and you can hear riders coming down the ridge we’re that close!
Did you seek out this location by on the trail, or was it coincidence?
This property found me. I was looking for a place in town to open the hostel but came out here to look at this place for my residence. When I saw it, it had everything I needed to turn it into something special and I would also have a place to live. So now I live here and manage it. I cannot think of a better place to live.
What kind of services does the retreat offer?
Our bike-specific amenities include secured bike storage with a workbench, tools and lube, a bike wash station with everything you need to clean your bike after a ride, immediate access to the Whitefish Trail. Even the tent sites have bike racks so you don’t have to leave them on the ground or up against your car, every bike has a place here. We demo BikePacking bags, so before making an expensive investment on a bag you can try them out here. We also do shuttles for our guests, to and from the airport and train station as well as custom shuttles to trailheads or other destinations where people might want to start a trip and ride back to the retreat or vice versa. We also have long-term parking available for our guests, so if you come here to go ride you have a safe spot to leave your car while you are out touring.
Every morning, our guests are treated with our own custom blend of coffee from Montana Coffee Traders and a scone or muffin from a local baker, just a breakfast snack but get you ready for the day. We have a hound hostel so you can come and ride and leave your pup with us, they will be safe and happy on those hot, dry summer days. My two sons, Marshall and Grayson started this little business. They invested their money to buy a couple of kennels and they take care of the pups.
If you are not a guest, you can still drop-in off the Whitefish Trail for water, bathroom or have a picnic. We also have a toolbox and some bike parts for repairs. Our small camp store has cold drinks and a few snacks for sale and there are always free Otter Pops for the kids.
How long have you been open?
We opened in June 2013.
I’ve loved Whitefish since the first day I visited it about seventeen years ago. I moved here for personal reasons, I wanted to raise my two sons here so I moved here a little over a year ago. Then I needed a job and wanted my life to continue to have cycling in it and the hostel was the plan. Also after riding my bike through here for four years in a row touring and racing, and then seeing how the community of Whitefish was embracing mountain biking, I just saw a need for a place to help cyclists find their way around the great trails in the area. I really just wanted to create this place that was a surprise to people passing through, a treat in a way, and help them.
How did all the bike décor come about?
I knew I wanted to use bike parts around the retreat, give new life to the discarded parts. It was during the construction phase that I started collecting all the parts from Glacier Cyclery and handed them off to the carpenters. We would look at the parts together and handle them and talk about how to use them. I had lots of ideas but I did not have the talent to pull the ideas off—that was all the amazing carpenters that built this place! If I dreamt something up they made it real and that was the really exciting part when this place was being built, coming in everyday and seeing something that was just a thought the previous day be a reality today!
What do you plan to do for the winter months?
We will be open all year. Even though we’re a bike retreat you do not need to bike to stay here. There is so much to explore in this area, hiking, paddling, skiing. We plan on having snowbikes for rent here all winter. The Beaver Lake Recreation Area is a prime location for snowbiking. There is also the Stillwater Nordic Trails across the street from the Retreat for miles and miles of groomed cross country trails. Downhill skiing at the Whitefish Mountain Resort is twenty-five minutes away and dog sledding and snowmobiling are only a few miles away. There is something here for every member of the family!
What are your future plans and dreams for the place? For the Whitefish bike community?
I hope for Whitefish to become a destination known for mountain biking not just skiing. This area has such a diversity of trails and this friendly community is really developing more and more terrain for riding. I want the Retreat to grow with the community and I want the Retreat to be a resource visitors can use to make the most of the visit here.
Tell us a little about your biking background.
Well, lets see, I tend to take things to the extreme. I did a lot of hiking in my past but my knees were shot after about 10,000 miles in three years. So, then I found biking about seven years back to help give me that same through-hiker experience but it was easier on my knees. Well, until I took it a little too far as well. I started riding a mountain bike that I borrowed from a friend, it was a Schwinn Moab and too big for me. I rode it a few times on singletrack and decided to sign up for this race, La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica. I mean it was the toughest race on the planet and I was intrigued. I had one year to figure out this biking thing. So I started riding everyday, and my first race was a twelve-hour solo event. I finished and was not last so I figured there was hope. But I learned lots of valuable lessons like why bike fit is important and why the use of Chamois Butt’r was important! Anyway, I raced quite a lot in preparation for the La Ruta race, twelve and twenty-four hour races as well as the NUE (National Ultra Endurance) series and cross country events as well as adventure racing.
I finished La Ruta that first year and I was hooked. I went back a few years later and did much better, still a damn tough race! I found the Great Divide route about five years ago and wanted to ride the whole thing in celebration of my fortieth birthday, so my best friend and I packed up the bikes and headed south out of Banff for the Mexican border twenty-eight hundred miles. During that trip, I found out about the Tour Divide Race along this route and of course became intrigued with how fast could I do this route if I was not touring. So the next year I raced it, and the year after that and the year after that. See I have issues… Anyway, I had to pull out the last year I raced because of knee injuries and then I’ve had two knee surgeries. I have still been racing a little here and there but mostly riding to enjoy the riding and where it can take me.
I do have hopes to return to Tour Divide and single speed it, it never leaves my mind. But for now I am so happy that I get to wake up every morning and help all these people get energized to ride. I get to know all my guests and I have to say that our guests are all amazing.