Flathead Lake is located in Northwest Montana. Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake east of the Great Lakes. The lake is almost thirty miles long and fifteen miles wide at it’s widest point.
Flathead Lake Facts
One of the neat things about Flathead Lake is the backdrop of the Mission and Swan Mountain Ranges. These Rocky Mountain ranges, particularly the Mission range extend almost right out of the water to 8 or 9,000 feet.
Flathead Lake elevation is roughly 3,000 feet above sea level, so the mountains extend a good 6,000 feet (over a mile) above the water on the east side of the lake. Much of the year, the Mission mountain ranges are covered in snow which reflects off the surface of Flathead Lake.
Flathead Lake Marinas
There are few marinas on Flathead Lake although there are many public boat launching facilities around the lake. One of the most popular boat launch ramps is at Somers and secondly at Polson Montana. Flathead Lake is notorious for big waves from windy conditions. There are endless stories of experienced boater who are found caught out in severe weather and waves with little notice.
One particular boat remembers 10′ swells developing on the lake in a matter of minutes and was jus barely able to get his boat to a protected bay. So be careful and make sure your boat is big enough for Flathead Lake. Also always make sure you have adequate flotation devices, a radio, cell phone, etc.
Flathead Lake Living
Living on Flathead Lake has quickly become only possible for the wealthy. As of 2007, average lakefront property on Flathead Lake is $10,000 per lineal feet. That means if you want a 100′ of frontage on a half acre lot or so, you’ll need $1,000,000. That is cheap by Hawaii or California coast prices, but that is just for the land. Let us say that you’d like a fairly gently sloping lot with a nice sandy beach, assuming you can find one, that’ll run you an easy $20,000 per lineal foot of lakefront. The west side of Flathead Lake is best for sunsets and day photography as the angle of the sun generally reduces glare from the lake.
The dam on the south end of the lake regulates Flathead Lake water level. Kerr Dam is just south of Polson Montana. The dam regulates the lake level by 10 feet. There are a number of good spots close on the east bank for spectacular photos in the late spring when the all the floodgates are open.
Glacial Lake Missoula
Turing various ice ages, an ice dam would occur in Idaho or close to the Montana border and the entire Missoula, Mission and Flathead valleys would fill with water forming Glacial Lake Missoula. It is believed that the ice dam collapsed and much of the lake would spill out into Oregon and then flow to the Pacific Ocean. Today, Flathead Lake is only a fraction of the original size during the ice ages.
Flathead Lake Islands
Flathead Lake has a number of islands, including Wild Horse Island. Wild Horse Island is so large that a herd of wild Bighorn Sheep lives on the island with a number of wild horses. There are over 25 miles of island shorelines in Flathead Lake and over 160 miles of shoreline total.
Fishing Flathead Lake
Fishing on Flathead Lake is just excellent. Lake trout and whitefish are really easy to catch. There are twenty five species of fish in Flathead Lake. There are a few guided tour operators that offer both fishing and sight seeing via boat. Expect to pay $350+ for an afternoon of fishing on Flathead Lake.
Westslope Cutthroat Trout
Getting to Flathead Lake
There are two roads around Flathead Lake. The west shore is highway 93 and the east shore is highway 35. The west shore route was complete in the mid 1940’s and was primary constructed with convict labor. Before the roads were completed, steamboats and later diesel barges hauled goods and people from Polson to Somers or Bigfork.
Best Views for Pictures
There are great views in Polson and there is a highway lookout on the top of the hill on highway 93 before you come down into Polson. Another great Flathead Lake photo opportunity is off of highway 28 coming from Hot Springs.
Did you know?…Flathead Lake is over 370 feet deep.