Flathead Indian Reservation
The area around Flathead Lake was inhabited long before the first trappers drifted in. That rich tradition and culture continues on the Flathead Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. This stunningly diverse reservation comprises the lower end of Flathead Lake, the steep peaks of the lower Missions and the fertile Jocko Valley (once Glacial Lake Missoula). To get the most from your trip, we recommend heading down to the Reservation after getting a brief history primer at the Museum at Central School in Kalispell.
DAY-VENTURING ON THE FLATHEAD INDIAN RESERVATION
Activities you'll love
Powwow — The Kootenai Tribe welcome all nations and the general public to a powwow weekend of dancing, Indian gambling, and traditional food the third weekend of July. Colorful costumes blurred in dance and drums thundering off the mighty Mission Mountains. You can’t beat that.
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas - Ewam Sang-ngag Ling in Arlee, MT is a center for Tibetan Buddhist studies. Open to the public for self-guided walks through the statues and gardens.
Birding at Ninepipes — Ninepipes is a shallow reservoir and marsh that attracts hundreds of thousands of migratory birds each spring and fall. It also affords spectacular views of the Missions.
Wildlife Watching at the National Bison Range — Created by Teddy Roosevelt, this century old wildlife refuge is home to a large bison herd, elk, mule deer, antelope, big horn sheep and black bear. The long interpretive drive through the park is three of the best hours you’ll spend in Montana.
Kerr Dam at Runoff — Flathead Lake is a natural lake but the Se¿lis¿ Ksanka Ql¿ispe¿ Project (formerly known as Kerr Dam) is a dam at the downstream end of the lake. During runoff it’s a sight that rivals Niagara Falls.
Miracle of America Museum - This museum boasts 250,000 items from harps to helicopters, a 5-acre Pioneer Village and a large collection of Native American artifacts. Located in Polson, the museum is great fun for kids and open year-round.
St. Ignatius Mission — Located in the town of St. Ignatius near the Bison Range, this mission features intricate wall paintings by Brother Joseph Carignano.
People’s Center — Located near the southern end of Flathead Lake, the People’s Center recounts the history of the local tribes and offers interpretive activities seasonally. The People's Center is temporarily closed due to a fire and will reopen in a new location in St. Ignatius.
Paddle the Lower Flathead — Put your canoe in at the Dixon access and float along beneath sandstone colored hills. Be sure to look back upstream occasionally for views of the lower Missions.
Things you'll need
Your itinerary will dictate much of what you need for a day-venture on the Reservation. Still, there are a few musts. For clothing, dress in layers and be sure to have a rain jacket handy. The weather can change quickly in the mountains. We like good, all-around trail shoes or boots. During midsummer, we suggest having bug spray handy. For gear, we carry a camera, binoculars, daypack, water bottle, and identification guides for plants and animals.
Seasons you'll enjoy
Summer is the high season, with July and August offering the most Native American activities such as powwows. Birding opportunities abound in spring and fall. And much of the reservation provides excellent upland and migratory bird hunting from October through December.
How to get there
Drive south on Highway 93 from Kalispell along Flathead Lake. Drive time is about one hour.
LINKS YOU’LL FIND HELPFUL
Se¿lis¿ Ksanka Ql¿ispe¿ Project (formerly known as Kerr Dam)
The People’s Center
National Bison Range
Ninepipes Waterfowl Refuge / Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
Miracle of America Museum