Flathead Lake is unquestionably the crown jewel in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem. Its pristine waters – among the cleanest anywhere on Earth – offer unlimited recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.
At 27 miles long and 15 miles wide it covers nearly 200 square miles. With a maximum depth of 370 feet it’s is the largest natural freshwater lake in the Western United States, carved 12,000 years ago by the glaciers of the Last Ice Age.
The lake is famous for fishing – Experienced anglers troll for trophy Mackinaw lake trout. Novice fishermen will find it easy to snag lake whitefish and yellow perch.
Two highways hug the lake’s 160 miles of tree-lined shore on either side. In May, the shoreline’s cherry orchards burst with creamy white blossoms promising the Flathead’s famed sweet cherries by mid-July and August, ready for snatching up at roadside stands or picking yourself at family orchards.
Five units of Flathead Lake State Park provide plenty of access to the lake for boating, sailing, water-skiing, fishing, camping and swimming. One of the parks, 2,100-acre Wild Horse Island, the lake’s largest island, can only be reached by boat.
For centuries, the Salish-Kootenai tribe pastured their horses on the island to protect them from being stolen. Today it’s home to bighorn sheep, mule deer, waterfowl, bald eagles, and a few wild horses. A day-use only park, the shoreline is a playground for picnickers, hikers, boaters, swimmers and beachcombers. A trail that loops into the backcountry from its head at Skeeko Bay gives hikers a chance to spot bighorn sheep or the wild horses still residing on the island. Ospreys, black bears and coyote and a few mule deer can also be spotted on the rolling Palouse prairie native grassland.
Wayfarers State Park is perched on 67 acres near the town of Bigfork. Nature walks criss-cross over the rocky shoreline and the cliffs offer a picture-perfect view and picnic spot from the east shore of Flathead Lake. There are 30 sites for RV/trailers up to 50 feet in length, and seven tent-only sites. The campground also features a boat ramp and scenic beach.
West Shore State Park rests on 129 glacially carved rocky acres 20 miles south of Kalispell on U.S. 93. Considered the most private of the lake’s parks, it offers spectacular views of the Swan and Mission Mountains amid towering stands of firs, pines and larch. The beach is rocky but you can still swim, boat and camp. RVs up to 30 feet are permitted.
Yellow Bay State Park is tucked into the east shore at the lake’s mid-point in the heart of the lake’s sweet cherry orchards. Tent campers, sunbathers and scuba divers like to sequester themselves in this intimate 15-acre hideaway protected by a mature pine forest. Sixteen campsites and boat slips are available.
Finley Point balances on the end of a peninsula jutting out into the south end of Flathead Lake 11 miles north of Polson. Set in a secluded mature pine forest, the park has 16 campsites on 24 acres. Kokanee salmon, perch and lake trout fishing off the point is often excellent. The southern half of the lake lies within the Flathead Indian Reservation, home of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.
Big Arm Lake State Park’s long pebble beach beckons sunbathers. Located 10 miles north of Polson on U.S. 93, its 55 acres are home to ponderosa and juniper pine stands and features 29 campground sites suitable for RVs up to 30 feet in length, six tent sites and a 20-foot by 10-foot yurt. A joint state/tribal fishing license is needed for fishing at this park. For more information about these parks, contact the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 490 N. Meridian Road, Kalispell, MT 59901; 406-752-5501. Several tour boats offer scenic cruises. Fishing guides and boats of all types, including sailboats, are available for hire along the lake. Launch boats at state parks, public boat ramps or marinas.
For duffers the Flathead’s world-class golf courses are as much a part of the scenery as the mountains, though the grandeur surrounding our nine public courses makes it hard to keep your eye on the ball. The Flathead is one of the most, unspoiled and relaxing places to play golf anywhere in the country. The area’s attractions are so great that Golf Digest listed the Flathead among its top 50 golf destinations, and one of the 10 best golf retirement locations. And all of our nine championship courses are within a 45-minute drive. Golf Magazine wrote, “There’s perhaps no better place in the nation for home-on-the-range hospitality, exceptional value and genuine mountain splendor than Montana’s Flathead Valley.”
Here in town, our municipal course, Buffalo Hill Golf Club, with its impressive log clubhouse, is where a herd of buffalo once grazed. The buffalo are gone, but plenty of challenges remain on the 27-hole, 9,585-yard course, including panoramic views along the Stillwater River, ponds and the large trees that line the fairways.
Besides its Championship 18, the Flathead’s most popular course also features a traditional log clubhouse, full-service proshop, and restaurant.
Consistently on Golf Digest’s top courses and places to play, Buffalo Hill is truly a “must play” course you’ll want to return to again and again.
Also right in town Village Greens Golf Club has one of the valley’s finest bent grass greens. With multiple tee boxes for novice to expert golfers, affordable greens fees, an all grass driving range, full-service golf shop and deli, Village Greens is a perfect place to get away for a day or take in a twilight nine.
Big Mountain Golf Club combines traditional, rolling Scottish links of native grasses on the front nine with the serenity of the back nine weaving amid towering pines along the peaceful Stillwater River. No wonder Golf Digest named it one of the “Best Courses in the State” in 2005-2006.
What all these great courses have in common, in addition to the attractive scenery and the Flathead’s long summer days and comfortable temperatures, is the attractive fees – from about $30 to $75 a round.
Living the Good Life
Even as the Flathead Valley flourishes with burgeoning growth and development, Kalispell remains intrinsically connected to its rich history and cultural heritage. For over 115 years its temperate climate, unparalleled natural beauty, friendly people and casual lifestyle have provided a quality of living unmatched anywhere.
In naming Kalispell “The Best Mountain Town in America” Mountain Sports & Living magazine said, “It’s a great place to work and reap the benefits of mountain life.” To live in Kalispell is to live the good life. Whether you have a passion for outdoor recreating on a freshly powdered winter’s morning or a sun-drenched summer’s afternoon; or want to wrap a blanket of stars around you and curl up in our corner of the country, come to Kalispell, kick back, and savor our seasons. You’re going to love our lifestyle.