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Wild Horse Island

8 Activities and Adventure in Flathead Lake That One Must Experience (2023)

Flathead Lake is an enormous water body in the Northwest of Montana. Encompassing in an area of 510.2 km², it is the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) in the west of America (besides Alaska). Flathead Lake is well-known throughout Montana and even in the other part of the United States. Though regardless of the popularity, it has that secretive quality that every next time to visit Flathead, it appears new, unique, and refreshing. From its south to north and east to west, it has adventure awaiting in every single direction.

Montana’s Northwest is a blessing when it comes to outdoor recreation and nature exploration. It has Glacier National Park towering high and Flathead Lake providing it with a mirror base. Due to its clean and clear water, some best weather days will grant you the most amazing pictures of nature. Though even when the weather doesn’t support it, or it is the winter season, the beauty and opportunities here know no end. Hence for keeping your next vacation occupied with the best, here are some popular things to do near Flathead Lake.

8 Activities and Adventure in Flathead Lake That One Must Experience

Have a look at our choicest picks.

1. Visit the Wild Horse Island

Wild Horse Island is a pristine destination for anyone visiting Flathead to add to their list. It is the largest island on Flathead Lake and is famous for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities around. Back in time, it was used for protecting horses by Salish and Kootenai tribes, and you can still find its glimpse. You can spot horses, sheep, bald eagles, mule deer, coyotes, bears, and even osprey upon your visit here. Reaching Wild Horse Island is only possible via boats, canoes, and kayaks. You can either launch your own from Big Arm or reach the Dayton Yacht Harbor for more specific access. However, because the journey to the island is windy, be mindful. The island is also famous for fishing, boating, swimming, nature walking, and bird watching.

2. Go Boating in Flathead Lake

Even when you have several unique reasons to visit Flathead Lake, boating will always stay primary and famous. Flathead Lake is popular for all types of watercraft, including sail-boating, kayaking, canoeing, motor-boating, power-boating, jet skiing, paddle-boating, and more. Through its shoreline, there are several public access sites and rental service/ tour services that provide easy access to float in the water. You can reach Polson, Somers, Bigfork, and other tourist hubs close by for rental. Flathead Lake has trails for everyone from beginners to experts, ensuring fun and safety for both. There are trails/ areas for expert kayakers where one can experience challenging routes and adventures. Thus, no matter what your interests are, do go boating in Flathead once.

3. Go Hike the Swan Mountains

If you are into hiking and nature walking, you will appreciate the abundant trail paths across Flathead Lake. From novice hikers to experienced ones, hikers can access the Pablo National Wildlife Refuge (Polson) or Jewel Basin Hiking Area (Bigfork). Or, for extended mountain hiking options, head towards the Swan Mountains nearby. Its centerpiece and highlight includes the Jewel Basin Loop. The options extend further to the:

  • Bond and Trinkaus Lake trails
  • Birch Lake trails
  • The high-elevation Inspiration Point trail.
  • The upper Holland Lake loop
  • The Camp Misery Trailhead

All of these trails are popular for hiking, backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, etc.

4. Camp Near the Shores of Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake expanse over 160 miles of shoreline of which most serve for lakeside camping. Travelers interested in the same can access the Flathead State Park that operates five camping units. The most popular among them are Big Arm and West Shore, which supports tenting and RVing. These are on the lake’s western side and have over 70 sites with electric hook-ups (a few). While a few of them are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, others are reservable six months in advance. Besides these, on the eastern shore lies Finley Point, Wayfarers, and Yellow Bay shoreline camping units. There are a few tent-only sites, RVing spaces, and some boat-in sites. Camping on the eastern side also opens up nature walking and hiking opportunities.

5. Attend the Flathead Cherry Festival

Flathead Lake’s size and environmental effects provide great fertility to the nearby soil. This, as a result, makes the region great for peach, plum, and other fruit production. Even besides that, the area blooms in cherry in abundance, so much that it has its own festival. From the 20 of July to the 10 of August, you will see fresh cherry fruits all across. (NOTE: Cherries begin to blossom from May, and each peak season can be different).

For experiencing it the best way, visit the Flathead Cherry Festival in Polson. It is basically a two-day event that spans through the main street of Polson during the end of July. The festival features cherry and several fresh cherries made goods, especially the cherry pie is to die for. You can also find several local artisans selling handmade, eatable, and craft products. If not the festival, you can also find roadside cherry stands on the east side of the lake. They even have the most extensive collection of Orchards which is worth observing.

6. Spend a Day In The Small Town Of Polson

On the southern tip of Flathead Lake, Polson is an access point for most of the lake and its surrounding visits. Polson is an excellent region for Montana day trips where one can enjoy both nature and city vibes together. When in the town, begin with shopping and walking on Main Street. Further, visit the Miracle of America Museum and the Polson Flathead Lake Museum. You can also head towards Salish Point Park and Sacajawea Park to spend summer afternoons. The area of Polson near the lakefront is also famous for its selection of local eateries. Some popular of them include Scoops Ice Cream Shack, Cherries BBQ Pit, Fiesta En Jalisco, Finley Point Grill, and Betty’s Diner.

You can also visit the massive Kerr Dam seven miles south of Polson. Choose the spring season for your visit here when snowmelt releases extra water flow from all 14 spillways. There are different observation areas from where you can observe the dam’s beauty with an excellent overlook.

7. Do Not Dare To Miss Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is on the north of Flathead Lake, just an hour’s drive away. What draws travelers towards Flathead and its nearby communities is primarily Glacier, the Crown of the Continent. Closet to the Flathead Lake is the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park’s western entrance. Slowly as you will move forward, you will come across Lake McDonald. It, by far, is one of the most beautiful, scenic, and clear lakes in Montana. From the same Going-to-the-Sun Road, travelers can also access the Logan Pass, a hiker’s hub. It is Glacier’s highest motorable point and a must-visit for you if you are a driving enthusiast. And now, when you are already way inside the park, make sure you do not miss observing the ‘real’ Glaciers before they go extinct. Glacier National Park is also a popular place for hiking and overnight camping. No matter which time of the year you plan for Glacier, you won’t go back disappointed. Though because snowfall here can block several routes, do check before the accessibility of various regions.

8. Drive Towards The Town Of Kalispell

Kalispell is the largest city in the region, 10 miles from the northern shoreline of Flathead Lake. It is the prime location for anyone who wants to visit Flathead or the Glacier Park region. Stroll in its Main Street, the downtown region when in the town. Through the street, you will come across several colorful facades dating from the late 1800s. Even though today it has more of a modern settlement, several old buildings are still to be found. Throughout the summer season, you can find walking crowds all over the downtown. Travelers visit for boutique shopping, street shopping, gallery hopping, and local dining here. Some of the famous restaurants here include, Desota Grill, Hops Downtown Grill, Sykes Diner, Knead Café, and Sweet Peaks.

Other popular tourist places in Kalispell include:

  • The Conrad Mansion Museum (One of Montana’s most famous museums).
  • The Lone Pine State Park (On the southwest edge of the city, five miles from the downtown).
  • The Northwest Montana History Museum (It is famous for information about the indigenous culture).
  • The Crown of the Continent Glacier National Park Gallery (All about Glacier National Park).
  • The Hockaday Museum of Art (A family-friendly art museum exhibiting work of local, national, and international artists).

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