Scenic Drives & Rides
Sights that will take your breath away
Whether your preferred mode of transportation is bicycle, motorcycle or car, a ‘scenic ride’ takes on a whole new meaning in Northwest Montana. Everywhere you look there are mountains soaring to the sky, the clearest of water in the lakes and rivers, and pastoral farm land in the valley between. Plan for stops along the way to enjoy a river or lake-side beach, a state park, take a walk on a trail, or take home a bit of Montana from a local gallery or shop. There are plenty of options for refreshments along the route at local restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and distilleries.
The Swan, as it’s referred to by locals, is a scenic corridor along Highway 83 southeast of Kalispell. Within this narrow heavily forested valley are numerous lakes, abundant recreation, and majestic views of the Mission Mountains and the Swan Range. Grab a picnic lunch at Montana Coffee Traders in Kalispell and head for Swan Lake, approximately a 40 minute drive. The Swan Lake day use area offers picnic tables, restrooms, a great beach with shallow lake entrance for swimming, and pets are welcome on a leash.
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.
A ride around Flathead Lake offers breathtaking views, tasty brews, and colorful culture. It’s recommended to start the ride around the lake on the west side, for reasons that will become vividly apparently around sunset. Plan the day and take in some of the memorable stops which include great restaurants, museums, galleries, breweries, distillery and winery, and several state parks for swimming and rock skipping. The southern half of the lake is part of the Salish Kootenai Indian Reservation. Summer events include the Standing Arrow Powwow in Elmo. For many, Flathead isn’t just a lake, it’s also a cherry. In early May the cherry orchards that rim the lake are in full bloom. July-August is harvest time when numerous roadside stands are open to feast on the juicy goodness. After Polson at the south end of the lake, head north towards Bigfork and Kalispell on the east side highway. With higher peaks and steeper shoreline the east side offers a dramatic experience as you roll past orchards, agricultural land, and views of sailboats gliding across the lake. Grab dinner and take in the sunset in Bigfork and West Shore State Park before the short ride back to your lodging in Kalispell.