Flathead Corridor

Travel Along the Largest Freshwater Lake in the West

Donnie Sexton

Travel Along the Largest Freshwater Lake in the West

Communities: Bigfork, Somers, Lakeside, Rollins, Proctor, Dayton, Elmo, Big Arm, Polson, Pablo, Ronan, Charlo, Moiese, St. Ignatius, Arlee, Evaro

Flathead Lake —the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi—anchors this wildly scenic vacation destination just south of Glacier National Park. Surrounded by the Mission, Salish, Swan and Whitefish mountains, lake views are made up of sparkling glacial water backed by snowcapped peaks.

Life on the lake consists of boat tours, sailing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, camping, and enjoying the famous Flathead cherries. This beloved fruit can be found at orchards and fruit stands, mostly on the east side of the lake.

Located at the southern end of the lake, Polson sits within the Flathead Indian Reservation—home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and one of two reservations in Western Montana. Polson hosts the Main Street Flathead Cherry Festival every July, and arts and culture are alive and well in Polson where the Port Polson Players are known for live theater on Flathead Lake. The eclectic Miracle of America Museum is also a must. Shop at the handMADE Montana store and experience high adrenaline flyboard and banana rides from Riverside Recreation.

Winter on the lake is a wonderland of recreation opportunities, like ice fishing, and downhill skiing at Blacktail Mountain near Lakeside is popular with locals and visitors alike. Don't miss grabbing local craft beer at the Tamarack Brewing Company while you're in this year-round recreation town.

Multiple state parks can be found along the lake's 185 miles of shoreline. Rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards in Somers and paddle in Somers Bay, set sail in Dayton Bay—taking advantage of favorable winds—or paddle to Wild Horse Island, a day-use state park home to plenty of wildlife including, of course, wild horses. The Flathead Valley is so stunning it's also a popular spot for hot air balloon rides, aerial tours and skydiving.

The storybook village of Bigfork is home to an annual whitewater festival, a golf course, local shopping, art galleries and the Bigfork Summer Playhouse staging Broadway-caliber productions. Bigfork is also Western Montana's “North Pole” during the holiday season. Base Camp Bigfork is your go-to for outdoor gear, guides and rentals, in the winter, dog sledding adventures. In Woods Bay, good eats and a good night's rest can be found at The Raven Bar & Grill and The Islander Inn.

Explore American Indian history at museums and heritage centers in the area, including Three Chiefs Cultural Center in St. Ignatius and Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana in Charlo. For a unique look at tribal culture and traditions, plan your trip around Arlee's Esyapqeyni Fourth of July Celebration and pow wow or Elmo's Standing Arrow Pow Wow. If you're overnighting in the region, the Cheff Ranch & Legacy Outfitters offers a true ranch getaway.

Wildlife watching and birding abound at the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge as well as the CSKT Bison Range in Moiese, where you'll find roughly 350 head of bison, plus elk, deer, bear, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope. Take one of two scenic drives on the range. Also not to be missed: the St. Ignatius mission, donuts from Windmill Village Bakery in Ravalli, and the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee.  

Highlights: Flathead cherries; fishing, boating and sailing; golf; Wild Horse Island; skiing at Blacktail Mountain; CSKT Bison Range; St. Ignatius Mission; Far West Boat Tours; historic sites and museums

Length: 131 miles
Travel time: 2 1/2 hours

News from Glacier National Park Currently, 29 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open for travel.