- Flathead Lake State Park is only an hour north of Missoula.
- Located between Polson and Kalispell on Hwy 93
- Catch a trophy sized tout or whitefish in Flathead Lake.
- View wild horses in their natural habitat.
- Services available May 1st to September 30th
The highlight of Flathead Lake State Park is its namesake Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the western United States. Only an hour north of Missoula, this state park will leave you wanting to come back again and again.
Over 200 square miles of water it's no wonder that water sports dominate this area, but for a bit of variety don't miss the hiking and wildlife viewing that is also available. Not only will the activities amaze you so will the views. Look south and the snow-capped peaks of the Mission Mountains should be on the horizon.
Flathead Lake State Park, in northwestern Montana, is about an hour north of Missoula. Flathead Lake and the corresponding Flathead Lake State Park is located between Kalispell and Polson on Hwy 93, on the western shore, and Hwy 35, on the eastern.
The park is basically six different units or sections merged together in 1992 to form Flathead Lake State Park. These sections include Big Arm, West Shore, Wayfarers, Yellow Bay, Finley Point, and Wild Horse Island.
There is no actual visitor's center, so for more information, contact the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks
Flathead Lake State Park
490 North Meridian Road
Kalispell, MT 59901
Open May 1st to September 30th
Flathead Lake State Park is a grouping of smaller state parks that merged in 1992. Each a bit different, each interesting in their own right, pick which area to explore or choose them all. Either way you are guaranteed a fabulous time in Flathead Lake State Park. Day use permits cost non-residents $5.00.
- Big Arm
Located in the southwestern part of the lake, it is the most common point of access for Wild Horse Island. Big Arm Bay boasts a long pebble beach and a popular campsite with its thick stands of ponderosa pine and juniper. Also, a popular boat launch site.
- West Shore
Offering one of the most scenic views on and off the lake, West Shore has glacially carved rock formations that rise majestically from the water and to the east you have a striking view of the Swan and Mission Mountains. Looking for an escape from all the crowds, West Shore has one of the most secluded beaches on the lake. A bit rocky, but it is still great for swimming, boating or even camping.
This popular spot because of its proximity to Bigfork is a great place to launch your boat or have a picnic. When the wildflowers are in bloom, spring through late fall, the trails are painted with color. Look out for the Townsend's solitaire, a bird that is particularly fond of this location.
- Yellow Bay
Spring is the time to be at Yellow Bay, as the cherry tree blossoms bloom decorating the hillside with amazing colors. This is the deepest part of the lake at 369 feet and the smallest of the different areas within Flathead Lake State Park. Yellow Bay with its warm sandy beaches and tent camping are hugely popular with those that have discovered this little, isolated parcel.
- Finley Point
Near the south end of the lake, 11 miles north of Polson, Finley point is tucked away behind mature stands of pine. It is a hub of activity with 16 campsites, boat slips, boat pump-out station, and running water.
- Wild Horse Island
One of the largest islands in the US at 2,163 acres, Wild Horse Island was once a hiding spot for the horses of the Salish and Pend O'reille tribes. Wild horses were again introduced to the island in 1977. Only accessible by boat and for day use only, the island has tons of hikes, wildlife and is a birders dream.
Flathead Lake State Park is brimming with activities, you just have to choose which ones you have time for.
Pick you preference, motorized or non, it doesn't matter because all are welcome here. Sea kayaking and canoeing are very popular as folks gently glide around the lake. Or on windy days, try a bit of sailing. A convenient launch spot for boats of all types is at Big Arm Bay.
Out west the trout are king but in Flathead Lake they find a bit of competition from the whitefish. Both the whitefish and lake trout love the cool deep waters of the lake. You'll find the best fishing along Woods Bay and Mackinaw Alley. Don't forget your fishing license or the only thing you will hook is a big fine. The southern tip of the lake is on tribal land so you will have to get a dual tribal/state permit to fish, found at the local fly or gear shop or with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
From a boat or from a beach, which ever you prefer, Flathead Lake State Park has swimming options for you. Instead of sand you will find pebbles at West Shore, but the isolated feel of this beach may be worth the swap. If you aren't convinced, you will find a nice sandy beach waiting for you at Yellow Bay.
- Snorkeling/Scuba Diving
Reaching to depths of 369 feet, Flathead Lake is the land locked divers escape. Though the clarity of Flathead Lake is sometimes a bit suspect, this glacier carved lake has impressive underwater cliffs and rock formations. In addition to the natural wonders, there are plenty of ship wrecks to explore. For snorkeling, check out the southern tip of Cedar Island, where just off-shore you'll find great snorkeling and Yellow Bay for a bit of scuba diving.
There is hiking all around the lake but the place to be is the 2,163 acre Wild Horse Island. You can spend all day wondering the trails as you explore this historic island and its numerous inhabitants. Stick to the trail to preserve this delicate ecosystem.
Camping is available at all units but Wild Horse Island, so the options are open. Most campsites are nicely shaded under pine and juniper stands. Just decide what environment and location suits you and pay up. Camping cost $15/night.
- Wildlife Viewing
For wildlife viewing, Wild Horse Island cannot be beat. Typical big game like bighorn sheep and black bear call the island home, but the highlight is definitely the four resident wild horses. If you are quiet enough, you can watch them as they graze on larkspur and yarrow. Don't forget about all the birds and waterfowl including the bald eagles, falcons, and numerous osprey. In an effort to protect the wildlife and their habitats, Wild Horse Island is open for day use only. You will also find excellent birding at Wayfarers.
Civilization is just around the corner from Flathead Lake State Park. The towns of Kalispell, Big Fork, and Polson offer you a bit of relaxation and dining after a long day of play.