Thousands of years ago, the glaciers that carved the stunning landscapes of Glacier National Park pushed their way down into the modern-day Flathead Valley and sculpted the terrain that includes Flathead Lake. The largest natural freshwater lake in the West, Flathead Lake sits in northwest Montana and is a sprawling blue jewel at the base of the Swan and Mission mountain ranges. Encompassing nearly 200 square miles, the lake has 185 miles of shoreline and reached a depth of 370 feet.

Day Trips to Flathead Lake

From Kalispell, it’s easy to get to Flathead Lake for a day trip or an afternoon adventure. A 10-minute drive south will take you to the northern end of Flathead Lake and the start of a round-the-lake day trip. Begin by traveling south along the west side of the lake on U.S. Highway 93 and once you get to Polson, return north along the east side of the lake on Montana Highway 35 for a full loop tour.

The scenic drive will take you to breathtaking views and through charming small towns that sit along the lake. When planning your day trip, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to check out restaurants, museums, galleries and watering holes (like craft breweries, distilleries and wineries), as well as several Montana state parks that provide access to water recreation, camping, boating and more. As you continue your road trip, be sure to keep an eye out for lakeside orchards that grow a variety of fruits, including Flathead cherries. In May, the cherry trees are in full bloom, while July and August bring roadside stands around the lake where you can purchase locally grown cherries and fruit. When cruising around the lake, consider visiting a u-pick orchard to pick your own fruit or enjoying lunch on the dock at The Sitting Duck.

Things You Need to Know

The southern end of Flathead Lake is on the Flathead Indian Reservation, the home of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. When recreating on the southern half of the lake, be sure to purchase a tribal recreation permit.

When recreating on public lands off the reservation, be sure to purchase a conservation license from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. New for this year: everyone 12 years old and older needs a Montana Conservation License to access most state lands (includes hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and boating). More information is available here.

Flathead Lake is also home to Montana folklore (like the Flathead Lake monster), beautiful islands, epic fishing and various places to access the water. While you’re here, be sure to visit Wild Horse Island. The largest island on the lake, it’s a day-use state park that can be accessed by boat or kayak and is home to wild horses and other wildlife. 

Guided recreation on the lake is available through Howe’s Fishing and Boat Charters and Sea Me Paddle, which offers kayaking and stand-up paddle board excursions on Flathead Lake. Boat tours are also available on board the Far West, which docks in Lakeside.

When recreating in Montana, help protect our waters by following these aquatic invasive species laws. The three steps of Clean, Drain, Dry greatly minimizes the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species into new locations. All watercraft (motorized and non-motorized) must stop at open inspection stations and nonresidents must be inspected and purchase a Vessel AIS prevention pass.


Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Flathead Lake

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Fishing Regulations

Flathead Indian Reservation

Flathead Lake Biological Station

Clean, Drain, Dry