Water play for the little ones in Kalispell, Montana

The waterslides at Woodland Water Park in Kalispell, MT Sometimes when you’re on vacation with family it’s hard to balance out everyone’s needs: your family’s need to see you and spend time with you (after all, you love one another, right?), your need to decompress and actually have a vacation (novel thought), and the assembled kids’ needs to be entertained and diverted and cared for at every turn.

Kalispell, Montana, isn’t exactly a tourist destination, but it’s close enough to Whitefish (home of a big fat lake as well as a ski resort that does lots of summer hiking) and Glacier National Park as makes no difference. It also happens to be where my father’s house is, so that’s where we land when coming to my home stomping ground.

Luckily, it’s also a fantastically functional family-friendly city. Half of our family was recovering from jet-lag on Monday, and half recovering from nasty debilitating colds. Too tired and ill, collectively, to take an all-day hike in Glacier, or wishing to shiver at the lake, we still needed something active to do with the kids — which was how we ended up spending over two hours here, at the Woodland Water Park right in town and an easy walking distance from our house.

The kiddie pool at Woodland Water Park in Kalispell, MontanaThe waterslides and “lazy river” were great additions to the full-sized swimming pool and pulled in plenty of adults, older kids, and teenagers. With my 5-year-old niece and 2-year-old son, though, the biggest attraction was the full-sized kiddie pool, open only to kids up to 7 (non-swimmers must be accompanied by an adult). I loved the idea: a pool that goes from about 0 inches to 2 feet, where my niece could show off the fruits of her dedicated swimming lessons, and my son could fall absolutely in love with being in the water (“Out, John?” after 30 minutes — “NO!” Glad we got that straight).

The water park is actually contained in Woodland Park, a huge open city space with trees and plenty of quiet areas, birds, a river, and playground. Next to the water park itself is a large skateboarding park, making it an all-round family fun spot.

Great lesson to me that day: when traveling with kids, sometimes it’s a good idea to research the towns neighboring the area you’re traveling to. They might not have the best attractions for adults, but that’s what cars are for, and you might find yourself in a place overflowing with lazy between-times entertainment for the little ones.

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