Flathead Lake is 28 miles long and up to 15 miles wide with 128 miles of shoreline. It’s big (the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi). It’s beautiful. And there’s a lot to see and do both on the water and along the shore.
The Swan River enters the lake at Bigfork where the whitewater attracts some of the nation’s best kayakers during the May’s Whitewater Festival. Now, thanks to a weekly water release every Wednesday, kayakers can continue to enjoy the challenge of the river’s class IV Wild Mile throughout the summer.
Paddlers who prefer a quieter venue can follow the Flathead Lake marine trail. The “trail” is simply a network of access and stopover points for paddlers and sailors. While you can traverse the lake in a day via kayak, canoe or sailboat, most choose to take several days to enjoy all that the lake has to offer. Because this is a watery trail, you won’t find markers or signs, but you can pick up a map from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.
Depending on their skill level, paddlers stay close to the shore or venture out over the open water. Five of the six units of the Flathead Lake State Park provide overnight camping facilities and there are additional put-in and take-out sites along the way. Wayfarers State Park just south of the bridge is a favorite starting point for Bigfork locals. In addition to camping, Wayfarers also features a great swimming beach, picnic sites and hiking.Swimming just below the lake’s surface are trophy-size trout, yellow perch and whitefish. Visitors can try their luck by renting a boat or chartering the services of one of the lake’s fishing guides.
The lake and its islands are home to hundreds of species of birds and wildlife. Legend says the natives hid their horses on Wild Horse Island to keep them safe during raids by other tribes. Several horses still live there, sharing the island with deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mink and black bear. At least 75 different species of bird fly overhead, including hawks, geese, bald eagle and osprey.You can spot nesting bald eagles and osprey all around the lake, but the north shore of Flathead Lake near Bigfork is a bird watcher’s special delight. The marshes and lakeshore are home to numerous species of ducks and geese as well as the smaller songbirds.
If you don’t own a boat or personal watercraft, rent one! The list of options is a long one — from sailboats and kayaks to power and pontoon. Visit the Bigfork Chamber website for a full list of vendors.