The Monster-ous Lake


For decades, locals have reported sightings of a mysterious creature that emerges from the deep of Flathead Lake. They say it resembles a giant eel, 20 to 40 feet long, dark in color. Biologists suggest maybe it’s an exceptionally large sturgeon, perhaps made bigger by the eyes of beholders — who, unfortunately, have yet to capture a photograph of the Flathead Lake Monster.

Lately, the monster has been joined by a much more colorful and well-documented school of creatures. These long, thin dragons with snarling faces and curling tails appear during the summer months near the north end of Flathead Lake, skimming across the surface at remarkable speed, propelled by the paddles of 20 humans and urged on by the booming beat of a drum.


Flathead DragonFlies Open House
June 9, Foys Lake public boat launch area
Your chance to try dragon boating! The Flathead DragonFlies dragon boat club invites anyone interested in learning about dragon boating to attend an open house at the Foy’s Lake public boat launch on Saturday, June 9, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. No prior experience or gear is necessary. The open house is free, but if you’d like to make a donation to the Flathead DragonFlies they would be most thankful. For more info call 406-579-6654 or email the team.

Dragon boat team practices
Tuesdays and Thursdays from June 5 – end of August, Somers boat launch, Flathead Lake
Click here for more information or call 406-579-6654 or email the Flathead DragonFlies.

These are the Flathead DragonFlies, a local club team of paddlers preparing for the upcoming Montana Dragon Boat Festival. Scheduled for the weekend of September 8–9, 2018, the festival typically attracts more than 2,000 participants and thousands of spectators from across the U.S. and Canada. With beginner and competitive races, in just a few years it has become one of Montana’s most anticipated events. The colorful festival is based in the quaint community of Lakeside, on the northwestern shore of Flathead Lake.

The DragonFlies’ summer practice sessions are a fun and colorful spectacle to watch for a spell. (The team practices on Tuesday and Thursday evenings out of Somers, at the north tip of Flathead Lake, just south of Kalispell on Highway 93.) As competition dates get closer, look to see the Flies’ boat and maybe some others on the water more often, adding yet more color to one of the most vibrant places in the Rocky Mountains. You can follow the Flies on Facebook or drop them an email.

So whenever friends visit from out of state I make sure that their itineraries include a circuit around Flathead Lake. Even by car, the 97-mile trip can easily fill a day, with nary a dull moment.

I prefer to start the day on the west side of the lake, for reasons that will become vividly plain around sunset. From Kalispell, Highway 93 runs south straight to the town of Somers. The road then wraps around the northwest corner of the lake to my first favorite stop: the Flathead Lake Salmon Hatchery.

This state-run facility, which recently celebrated its centennial, offers a chance to get intimate with millions of young native game fish — including kokanee salmon, westslope cutthroat and rare arctic grayling — while also learning about the history of Flathead Lake’s fishery.

Next stop is the small town of Lakeside, home of the Tamarack Brewing Company Alehouse and Grill — a great place for a hearty early lunch and (for your passengers, at least) samples of fine microbrews.

Just a few minutes south, West Shore State Park is a beautiful place for an easy hike through a wooded area along the rocky shoreline, and for great views of the Mission and Swan mountains across the lake.

Wherever you decide to stop along the way, you’ll eventually reach Polson, Flathead Lake’s largest shoreside town. With its quaint downtown of old brick buildings and its lakeside parks, Polson is a fine place to grab a snack and stretch your legs before looping back northward along Highway 35 — better known locally as the East Side Highway.

With its higher peaks and generally steeper shoreline, the east side of Flathead Lake offers an even more dramatic experience of this singular landscape. The highway rolls and twists past scenic overlook after scenic overlook, with plenty of places to pause and gawk along the way.

The lake is hardly the only attraction here in summertime. After all, to many people outside this region Flathead isn’t a lake but a cherry. All along the highway — and especially on the east side of the lake — you’ll find roadside stands where you can buy freshly picked cherries starting in mid- to late-July and into August.

You’ll certainly want to pause in Woods Bay for a visit to Flathead Lake Brewery, whose 369’ Stout and Painted Rock Porter have both won World Beer Cup awards — or stop in at its newest location, known as the Pubhouse, up the road in Bigfork for a bite and microbrew.

Once you arrive in Bigfork on the lake’s northeast shore, take time to stroll along pedestrian-friendly Electric Avenue, home to art galleries, fine restaurants, the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center and other attractions. Make sure to visit the tasting room at Whistling Andy Distillery, whose deliciously summery Cucumber Gin won a silver medal at the 2016 Micro Liquor Spirit Awards.

If you’re in the mood for entertainment, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse is renowned for its fine professional productions, which this summer posts “The Totally Radical 80’s Revue,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Singin’ In The Rain,” “All Shook Up” and “Into The Woods.” Just up the road to the north of Kalispell resides the Alpine Theatre Project of Whitefish, known for its professional productions. Alpine’s summer 2018 lineup includes “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” “Fully Committed,” “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical,” “Shifting Gears: ATP Distilled” and “Broadway Training Camp: Singin’ in the Rain Jr.”

By the time you finish your tour of Bigfork, the light should be getting long across the lake. Stick around. After all, you’re only a short drive away from home base in Kalispell; and there are few more remarkable moments than sunset across Flathead Lake. And there’s no better vantage than Wayfarers State Park, on the south edge of Bigfork.

You won’t want to forget your camera. But even if you do, you won’t forget the views at the end of this extraordinary day.

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