Flathead Lake and Surrounding Areas

Learn more about the largest freshwater lake in the West, Montana's pristine Flathead Lake. Western Ranch Brokers highlights the things to see and do in this scenic area of Northwest Montana.

Flathead Lake and Surrounding Areas

Known for its natural beauty and plethora of outdoor adventures, Northwest Montana is home to many stunning wilderness areas such as the famous Glacier National Park. Another must-see destination in this scenic corner of Montana is Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.

Located just 7 miles south of Kalispell, and 30 miles from Glacier National Park, the naturally-formed Flathead Lake covers 197 square miles and is world-renowned for its clean and clear waters. Reaching depths of over 350 feet in some places, the pristine body of water is fed by both the Flathead River and Swan River. Picture perfect with its crystal clear waters and views of the nearby Mission, Salish, and Swan Mountains, the lake is also a major recreation area—popular for boating, fishing, hiking, swimming and camping.

Boat crossing Flathead Lake in Montana
Photo courtesy of Glacier Country Tourism.

Spanning approximately 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, Flathead Lake has plenty of shoreline to explore. 13 public access points on the lake are maintained by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP), many offering boat launches, fishing access, camping facilities, beaches, picnic areas and restrooms. The lake is easily accessed from one of the scenic highways running alongside it, U.S. Highway 93 to the west and Route 35 to the east. Plan on several hours to navigate the drive around the lake so you can enjoy the views and charming small towns along the way. Be sure to stop at one of the farms along the eastern shores to try the locally grown Flathead Lake Cherries. 

Another popular way to explore the shores of Flathead Lake is by boat. The area has plenty of boat rentals, both motorized and human powered. Paddlers can explore the Flathead Lake Marine Trail, a “mapped trail” of suggested routes between lake access points and features (with options for all experience levels) taking paddlers along the lake’s waterways and most scenic sites. It is also commonplace to see a number of sailboats on Flathead Lake—thanks to the frequently windy conditions and memorable views. The lake features several islands that are only accessible by boat, including the largest of the islands, Wildhorse Island. The 2,000+ acre state park is abundant with wildlife including bighorn sheep and, of course, a few of its namesake wild horses.

Flathead Lake marine trail map
Map courtesy of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

Flathead Lake has several deep water areas known for solid trout fishing, notably near the lakeside towns of Big Fork and Somers. Native trout species include westslope cutthroat and bull trout. The lake’s native fish species have been threatened by the growing population of lake trout that were first introduced to the area in the early 1900s. The annual Mack Days lake trout fishing contest encourages participants to catch the invasive Mackinaw lake trout (weighing as much as 20 lbs) as they try to preserve the lake’s natural ecosystem. Other fish that can be found in Flathead Lake include pike, whitefish, bass, salmon and perch. Anglers fishing the southern half of Flathead Lake will need to purchase a tribal fishing permit in addition to a state fishing license, as the location is within the Flathead Reservation.

Weslope cutthroat trout.
Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

For even more fly fishing opportunities, the nearby Flathead River (which drains into the lake) offers anglers a good chance at catching Montana’s state fish, the westslope cutthroat trout. For more remote and low pressure fishing, anglers should explore the North, Middle and South Forks of the river.

Whether it’s your ultimate destination, or you’re just passing through on a road trip to Glacier National Park, the breathtaking natural beauty of Flathead Lake is not soon to be forgotten. For more Northwest Montana outdoor adventures, Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest are within a few hours drive of Flathead Lake. Visitors can also explore the amenities of nearby towns such as Kalispell, Bigfork, and Polson. A few of Western Ranch Brokers favorites things to do in the area are highlighted below:




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The information contained herein was obtained from sources deemed to be reliable. Western Ranch Brokers makes no warranties or guarantees as to the completeness or accuracy thereof.
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