Flathead Lake

Just north of Missoula is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River – Flathead Lake. Carved by Ice Age glaciers, this jewel is about 30 miles long and 15 miles across at its widest point. The 160-mile shoreline is dotted with woodsy state parks and friendly small towns. The big lake’s clear, glacier-green water is hundreds of feet deep, which means amazing boating and fishing.

The drive is half the fun. This is glacier country at its best. Catch a breathtaking glimpse of Gray Wolf Peak, continue north for a panoramic view of the majestic Mission Range, and stop at the 150-year-old St. Ignatius Mission. Further on, top the Polson hill and ‘thar she blows’: gorgeous Flathead Lake.

The main thing is, get into or onto the water – or at least next to it. Rent a boat or pitch your tent at a wooded campsite, and take in the setting of a true Montana treasure. Go sailing, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, innertubing, wind surfing, island hiking, cliff diving, snorkeling, parasailing, swimming, scuba diving, fishing, floating around, picnicking, and boat touring. This is the Flathead Indian Reservation, and tribal permits are required for some activities. Also, respect the power of this huge lake: dangerous thunderstorms kick up very quickly here.

Drive a loop around the lake and find cherry orchards, art galleries, wine-tasting, shopping, and inspiring vistas of an expansive mountain lake that can change its mood in a heartbeat.

A Wild Horse Island Sunset Cruise on Flathead Lake.

A Wild Horse Island Sunset Cruise on Flathead Lake. Photo by ©Carol Blodgett

Click here to see our spectacular Photo Gallery of Flathead Lake.