We spent the day on Flathead Lake’s clear, cool waters surrounded by majestic mountains on both sides of the lake. This magnificent lake is 15 minutes from our property and an hour south of West Glacier, Glacier National Park. It was a calm day, perfect for kayaks, but we rented a boat, so we could explore more of the lake. Flathead Lake is a remnant of the ancient, massive glacial dammed lake called Lake Missoula. Although it was a natural lake along the Flathead River, it was dammed in 1930 by Kerr Dam at its outlet on Polson Bay. The dam generates electricity, which is owned and operated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes since 2015.
The lake is big – 30 miles long and 16 miles wide, covering 197 square miles. It is bordered on its eastern shore by the Mission Mountains and on the west by the Salish Mountains. The relatively mild climate on the lake shore allows for Cherry Orchards on the east shore and Wine Vineyards on the west shore. There are also apple, pear and plum orchards, as well as vegetables, hay, honey, and wheat production bordering or near the lake.
We rented the boat for the entire day and brought a cooler with drinks, snacks and lunch. You will also want to bring your water sandals, sunglasses, sunscreen and bathing suit. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and we made the most of it! We have visited the Montana State Parks that surround this lake several times over the years, but we have never explored the lake by boat.
We started our day checking out the homes along the western shores of Flathead Lake. Lots and homes along this lake are pretty pricey, including a 348-acre island and compound currently asking $72,000,000! It’s unfinished inside, so it is ready for your personal touch. Many of the homes around the lake have been owned by the same family for generations and are a bit more modest.
There is a rocky shore perfect for beaching a boat, but make sure you tie the boat up to prevent it from bumping into other boats or drifting offshore. We enjoyed our lunch, then set off to explore the island hoping to see the wild horses, bighorn sheep and other wildlife that call this place home. There is a pit toilet just up off the beach, but make sure you bring everything else you need, as there are no other amenities. The island offers gorgeous views of the lake and surrounding mountains, but we didn’t have any luck spotting wildlife. If you plan a trip, consider taking a guided tour, whose guides usually have a better idea where to look for the horses or other critters.
Along the western shore of Flathead Lake, near West Shore State Park, are “Painted Rocks” – rock cliffs with early Native American pictographs (rock paintings) and petrographs (carvings). Like ancient cave paintings, these pictographs and petrographs remind us of life thousands of years ago.
Many people believe that the Salish Indians made these pictographs, which is just partly true. The original paintings are believed to be about 3,000 years old. It is believed that the Salish started adding to the pre-existing pictographs beginning about 700 to 800 years ago. And it is believed that the Salish made their last additions sometime between 1700-1900.
The paintings on the cliffs depict animals, people, objects, and “tally marks” – one of the most common designs in pictographs found in western Montana. Anthropologists perceive that the tally marks may serve an important function, such as identifying the number of objects, or identifying the order of a ritual or task.
- As I mentioned earlier, the lake is pretty big, so after checking out the painted rocks, we headed across to the eastern side of the lake. Several sports and movie celebrities have homes along the Southeastern shores of Flathead Lake.
- Average summer water temperatures in the lake are a cool 65 degrees, but we found a warm spot near East Bay to swim.
- There is abundant wildlife that lives in and around the lake, including native sturgeon, bull and cutthroat trout, as well as non-native lake trout, yellow perch and whitefish. In the air, you will find bald eagles, osprey, tundra swans, and Canadian geese. Along the shores and throughout the surrounding mountains grizzly and black bears, moose, deer, elk, lynx, and mountain lions live among the people who call Montana home.
Planning Your Visit
If you are planning a visit to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake is worth the trip south to visit Wayfarers State Park, which is about an hour south of Glacier NP. You can rent boats on the northern shores of the lake, but we wanted to visit Wildhorse Island, so we chose a company in Polson, Montana. I have also included a link for VRBOs along the northern shores of Flathead Lake.
I will be sharing more of our summer trip to Northwest Montana soon, so be sure to subscribe below to get the latest posts. If you have been to Flathead Lake or have questions about planning your trip, please drop be a note in the comments below.
I hope this video gives you a idea of the size and beauty of Flathead Lake and the surrounding mountains. Enjoy!