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Flathead Lake in Western Montana


Flathead Lake A Glacier Country Recreation Hot Spot
Andy Austin

A Glacier Country Recreation Hot Spot

Note: As of July 1, 2023, Conservation Licenses are required for everyone age 12 and older to access most state lands, including wildlife management areas, fishing access sites and wildlife habitat protection areas. This requirement does not include state parks. Please recreate responsibly. Learn more here.

Flathead Lake isn't just the largest natural body of freshwater in the West, it's one of Western Montana's biggest playgrounds. Located in the glacial-carved Flathead and Mission valleys and surrounded by the Mission, Salish, Swan and Whitefish mountains, it's a 30-mile-long, nearly 15-mile-wide, 300-foot-deep recreation hot spot.

Water Adventures

From swimming to fishing to whatever kind of boating or floating you're into—motorboating, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking or sailing—the exquisite waters reflecting snowcapped peaks, forested slopes and our wild blue sky are nothing short of stunning year-round. Just make sure when recreating on Montana waters you stop at mandatory watercraft inspection stations and follow Clean.Drain.Dry. principles to help prevent the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). You might also consider taking a tour of the lake with Far West Boat Tours, based out of Lakeside.


There are numerous camping, recreation and fishing access sites along the lake's 185 miles of shoreline and multiple state park units within Flathead Lake State Park including Big Arm State Park, West Shore State Park, Wayfarers State Park, Yellow Bay State Park, Finley Point State Park and the lake's largest island, Wild Horse Island State Park, a day-use state park that is home to wild horses (hence the name), bighorn sheep, coyotes, deer and a variety of birds.

Please note: The southern half of the lake is located on the Flathead Indian Reservation, home of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. When recreating or fishing on these waters, be sure to obtain a tribal permit (available at most area sporting goods stores).

Winter Adventures

Winter on and around the lake is a wonderland of adventure. For downhill ski enthusiasts, Blacktail Mountain Ski Area (just west of Lakeside) offers a family-friendly mountain experience with excellent lake views. Nordic skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers enjoy numerous groomed and backcountry trails throughout the region. And even though the lake doesn't completely freeze over due to its size, ice fishing fun can be enjoyed on the bays that do freeze over. For a truly unique winter activity, try dog sledding.

Annual Events + Family Fun

Flathead Lake is a perfect place for families. Plan a stay around one of Western Montana's annual events like the Bigfork Whitewater Festival, the 4th of July Fireworks over the lake, or the Flathead Cherry Festival—for some of those cherries you keep hearing about. Speaking of Flathead cherries, you can pick your own mid-July to mid-August. The lake's east side is lined with orchards and fruit stands.

Small-town Charm

The communities that surround Flathead Lake—Polson, Bigfork, Big Arm , Elmo, Rollins, Lakeside , Dayton and Somers—all offer something unique, with the storybook village of Bigfork really laying on the charm—especially during the holiday season when the community transforms into Montana's largest Christmas Village. Use the Flathead Scenic Travel Corridor as a base camp for exploring the lake and some of these small towns. You'll enjoy highlights like fine and fun dining, breweries and distilleries serving authentic Montana craft beverages, captivating museums, live theater, a regional symphony orchestra, and local shopping for Montana-made products.

Fortunes, Legends and Ghosts. The Rest Is History.

Southwest Montana’s ghost towns and historic places tell tales of lingering souls. Whether you are a thrill seeker, ghost hunter or history buff, you’ll love these spooky sites and tours.

Recreate Responsibly Plan Ahead, Play it Safe, and Leave No Trace.
News from Glacier National Park Currently, 50 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open for travel.

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