Thousands of years ago the very glaciers that carved the knife ridges and sharp craggy peaks in the Park pushed their way down the Flathead Valley. And when they retreated, they left behind quite a gift. Flathead Lake is a sprawling blue jewel at the base of the Swan and Mission ranges. It covers nearly 200 square miles, has more than 160 miles of shoreline and reaches a depth of 370 feet. But numbers alone can’t begin to describe its beauty or describe the childlike wonder you’ll feel when you first dip your toes into its cool, clear water.
DAY-VENTURING ON FLATHEAD
ACTIVITIES YOU’LL LOVE
Beach Time — The entire shoreline is dotted with accessible beaches — pebble, sand and rock. Perfect for swimming, stone skipping and rambling.
Sunset Picnic — We like Yellow Bay on the east shore for a romantic picnic. Just you, someone you love, a bottle of wine and a giant expanse of lake under a fuchsia sky.
Wild Horse Island — Rent a craft at Dayton Harbor and motor across to this state park for fabulous hikes and wildlife viewing. Hit it in mid-May and just try to avoid stepping on the profusion of arrowleaf balsamroot. (Hint: you won’t be able to).
Sailing and Boating — The consistent breeze and sheltered bays on Flathead make it a sailor’s paradise. Or, if speed is more your speed, rent a powerboat and pair of skis. You can find charters and rentals at marinas around the lake.
Catch Dinner — Flathead Lake is a hot spot for lake trout. Local charters can take you out and provide all the gear you’ll need. We suggest you keep a few trout. Grilling them up lakeside might just be the best meal you have on your Montana vacation. Or any vacation, for that matter.
Cherry Picking — Yes, cherry stands dot the roadside come late July, but if you ask us, there’s nothing like plucking them directly from the tree. A family of four can pick a pile of cherries in an hour. Afterward, head to the lake to crown the family cherry-seed-spitting king (or queen).
Fourth of July — If you’re trip brings you to Montana for Independence Day, you’ll definitely want to cruise around the lake. Many of the towns have parades and celebrations and Lakeside puts on one of the best fireworks displays in the state. For a special treat, rent a boat and see them from the water.
THINGS YOU’LL NEED
If you decide to head out on the lake, make sure you’ve checked the weather, mind wind warnings and dress appropriately. Weather out on the lake can go from bikini to fleece pretty quickly. During mid summer, we suggest having bug spray handy. For gear, be sure to take a camera, binoculars, lake map and identification guides for plants and animals. And don’t forget that picnic basket and cooler!
SEASONS YOU’LL ENJOY
Summer is the high season, with July and August being the best for swimming and other watersports with temperatures in the low to mid 80s. Late July is typically the peak for the cherry harvest, but it does vary from year to year. Fall is a great time for sailing and boating and it generally stays warm through about mid October. Fall and spring can both bring spectacular fishing. Naturally, winter is a quieter time on the lake itself, but in the surrounding towns you’ll still find great shopping, dining and fun events.
ROUTE YOU’LL TAKE
From downtown Kalispell, you’ll head south on Highway 93. Just before you get to Somers, you’ll have the option to head east on Highway 82 along the east shore of the lake or continue on 93 along the west shore. Both routes eventually connect again on the south end of the lake at Polson and both offer ample access. The east side is the fastest route to Bigfork. The west route is the fastest way to Lakeside and Polson.