Flathead National Forest
Colorful horizons, jaw-dropping vistas and unforgettable adventures
Colorful horizons, jaw-dropping vistas and unforgettable adventures are not confined to just one spot, and the smart traveler can escape the busiest days at Glacier National Park to find their zen right here in Kalispell inside the 2.4 million acres of the Flathead National Forest.
SAME VIEWS, SMALLER CROWDS
The epic wilderness areas of the Flathead National Forest show off the Rocky Mountains in all their wondrous glory, with mountain peaks rising through the clouds and a seemingly infinite skyline stretching as far as you can see. And the Flathead National Forest is so vast that it’s almost never overwhelmed with traffic jams, runs out of parking spots or gets backed up on the trail. Plus, it has a little something for every outdoor adventurer, from beginner hikes to mountain ascents, and opportunities for boating, biking, skiing, fishing and more. The rivers of the Flathead National Forest are great for rafting, too, and plenty of skilled outfitters can guide you where you want to go. And if your journey will be lasting through the night, the forest service offers 15 cabins ranging from primitive, remote options to easy-to-access ones with electricity.
Need a tip on where to start in the Flathead National Forest? The Jewel Basin’s a lovely, easy-to-access spot just south of Kalispell that includes popular hikes to Birch Lake, Mt. Aeneas and Strawberry Lake, or visit the Tally Lake Ranger Station in Kalispell and ask a friendly ranger to help design your perfect day.
NATURE COMES ALIVE
The more spaced-out landscape in the Flathead National Forest gives visitors a better opportunity to get a glimpse of some of the majestic wildlife that calls Northwest Montana home. The forest is home to grizzly bears, moose, lynx, bull trout, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and a whole lot more. One of the forest’s more popular hikes, to the peak of Mt. Aeneas, is a great spot to catch a mountain goat sunning and grazing right along the trail. As beautiful as the forest is, however, encounters with wildlife can be dangerous, so be sure to carry bear spray with you at all times and keep a safe amount of distance between yourself and our four-legged residents.
Local’s suggestions for adventure in the forest
Hike Mount Aeneas
6 miles round trip, June – October 1, Jewel Basin Hiking Area, Bigfork
Dogs on leash, wildflowers, fishing, wildlife, views, swimming
Moderate in difficulty, the hike to the top of Mount Aeneas yields incredible views of the Flathead Valley to the west and Hungry Horse Reservoir and the Great Bear Wilderness to the east. During the summer, wildflowers abound and you may encounter mountain goats along the trail. The trail to the 7,500 foot summit begins at the Camp Misery parking lot which is reached by following Montana Highway 83 to Echo Lake Road. Flathead National Forest, Hungry Horse Ranger District.
Bike along Hungry Horse Reservoir
Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir are located 20 miles northeast of Kalispell. At 564 feet high, the dam is one of the largest concrete arch dams in the U.S. and its morning-glory spillway is the highest in the world. The reservoir is 34 miles long and surrounded by towering mountain peaks. A recommended bike excursion is a ride along the west side of the reservoir, which is paved for the first 11 miles. Stop for a break at the Lost Johnny Point Campground approximately 6 miles from the dam - allow time for a hike, fish or swim. The Hungry Horse Dam Visitor Center is open daily May – September and offers free guided tours of the dam.
Hike the North Fork
Visit one of the active fire lookouts in the Flathead National Forest. The 2.8 mile hike to Cyclone Lookout offers gentle switchbacks passing through a lodgepole forest. At the top you’ll have views of the North Fork Valley into Glacier National Park. Time it right and you can load up on wild huckleberries along the way. Stop by the Polebridge Mercantile after for a home-made treat and a cold drink.
Float the River
Whether your mode of transportation is a kayak, canoe, SUP, or inner-tube, spending the day on a river is a great way to relax, soak up the sun, and cool off in crystal clear Montana waters. A favorite local spot is the Middle Fork Flathead River – put in at West Glacier river access, take out at Blankenship Bridge. The type and speed of the water varies depending on time of year and preferred length of trip. For white water thrills, look to the upper Middle Fork of the Flathead River that follows the southern border of Glacier National Park. Half-day, full-day or multi-day rafting trips are offered by Glacier Guides, Great Northern Rafting, White Water Adventures and Montana Raft Company.