Enjoying the golden reflection over Flathead Lake, Montana in Springtime.
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Skip Tahoe For Flathead Lake, Montana's Big-Lake Playground


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Do you know the feeling of a road trip right before you arrive at your destination? You're exhausted from driving and sitting in the same position for hours. Coffee isn't keeping you energized anymore, and you've overplayed the songs that get your blood flowing.

Suddenly, behind the next turn in the road, you see a sliver, a reflection of the sun bouncing off the body of water you have been looking at pictures of for weeks. All of that hidden energy finds its way back into your body as you gaze upon your long-awaited destination: Flathead Lake.

A golden dusk illuminates pine trees and birch trees that line a meandering Swan River that feeds into Flathead Lake near Big Fork, Montana as autumn color envelops the birch trees.

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Just 30 miles south of the indescribably beautiful Glacier National Park lies Flathead Lake, one of the clearest, cleanest, and largest freshwater lakes this side of the Mississippi. Scaling up to a massive 197 square miles, the Swan, Salish, Whitefish, and Mission Mountain ranges surround Flathead.

A nature-lovers paradise, this lake has 180 miles of shoreline and a mind-blowing maximum depth of almost 400 feet. The whole area is stunning regardless of which part of the lake you visit. However, you should check out as much as possible to fully experience the good ol' small-town charm alive and well in the lakeshore communities.

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The best time to visit the lake is in the summer months, as the weather warms up and the run of farmers' markets begins. I have always loved stopping at farmers' markets on my travels to purchase some baked goods and ask the locals where I can find the "secret spots" that aren't on maps or blogs.

When planning your trip, one thing to keep in mind is that while the northern portion of the lake is managed by the National Park Service, the land around the southern half of the lake is home to the confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. This area requires a Tribal Conservation Permit for recreational activities on their land, including fishing and camping, so check in with a Reservation Permit Vendor and respect all guidelines. Below are some of my personal favorites at Flathead.

Wild Horse Island State Park

A trail that runs through pine trees on Wild Horse Island, Montana.

Aneil Lutchman, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Accessible only by boat, Wild Horse Island is the largest island within Flathead Lake at over 2,000 acres. The island initially served the Salish-Kootenai tribe as a place to pasture horses to keep them from being stolen from other tribes. The park service does not offer rides to the island, so you must bring your boat, kayak, or paddleboard to see the beautiful island, home to bald eagles, wild horses and mountain goats.

Please note that camping on the island is prohibited to protect the natural resources the island provides.

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RELATED: Wild Horses Roam Maryland's Beautiful Assateague State Park

Flathead Fishing

From the shallow bays to the lake's deep waters, anglers of all skill sets will appreciate the abundance of pike, rainbow trout, whitefish, yellow perch, bass, and the massive lake trout that can weigh up to 20 pounds. For rentals or one of the best fishing guides with over 40 years of experience, visit Flathead Lake Charters and chat with Jeff Rach.

Diving at Flathead Lake

Woman diving into a beautiful, cold mountain lake in summer. Snow topped mountains in the back ground.

AshleyWiley via Getty Images

The pristine clear waters and varying depths of Flathead Lake make the area a landlocked scuba diver's dream. Companies like Dive Montana out of Bigfork offer lessons and trips for both beginner and advanced divers. West Shore is my personal favorite when diving because you can see large rock formations tower above the water's surface from the lake bed.

Lodging at Flathead Lake Lodge

Since 1945, the Flathead Lake Lodge has been welcoming guests to stay and explore their beautiful lakeside property. A stunning combination of wild outdoors and cozy accommodations make for an extraordinary escape from the average vacation. Technically an all-inclusive resort, all of the activities within the grounds are included at a single, convenient price.

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Wayfarers State Park

Sunset at Wayfarers State Park at flathead lake

Sunset at Wayfarers State Park, Montana. NoemiC via Getty Images

This breathtaking 67-acre state park offers campers 30 sites with showers, restrooms, and even boat launch facilities for those who choose to arrive at the site by boat (always an enjoyable experience). Wayfarer is open year-round, but if you are familiar with the winter months in Montana, summer is your best option unless you love ice fishing and curling.

West Shore State Park

A personal favorite due to the impressive views of Flathead Lake and the surrounding mountain ranges, West Shore offers 38 camping sites across 130 acres. In addition, the park is complete with vault toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, bear-resistant storage locker, trash cans, and fresh drinking water.

No matter how you like to play at the lake, you'll be able to find it in clear waters of Flathead.

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Raised in Butte, Montana, Josh Monthei is a nomadic photographer, skateboarder, and an over-caffeinated writer. He has been traveling North America for over seven years. His travels have spanned over 100,000 miles and include a 3000-mile skateboard trip from Los Angeles to New York City. Instagram: @josh.monthei

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