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Traveling The Flathead Lake Marine Trail (from fwp.mt.gov)
I’m often asked, “What’s this marine trail “thing” about?” Is the trail marked and are there maps so a person can follow it? How long will it take to travel it and what can I expect to find along the way?
These common questions often humorously conjure up images of buoys strung across the lake marking various routes. In all fairness, a marine trail is a totally different animal than its land-based counterpart, and it is often difficult to imagine for those unfamiliar with the idea. But here in the Flathead Valley, there is a “thing” called a marine trail, and the 120,000 surface acres of Flathead Lake provides an ideal setting for it.
The Flathead marine trail is a network of access points and stopover areas for those who use human powered watercraft. There are enough sites to allow the small boater to travel from one site to another in a single day. Maps and brochures specify where access points are located and the distances between notable features, along with other important information.
Paddlers can plan trips from a few hours to several days long. The trail is marked only in one’s mind. There are no worn paths to follow or sign posts ahead. This feature of a marine trail creates an added element of adventure.
Because the Flathead Lake marine trail is conceptual, there is an almost infinite number of routes, making it suitable for novices and experts alike. Paddling and navigation skills define the choices. Experts may yearn for long stretches of sometimes treacherous open water to test their mettle, while beginners can paddle more securely along forested, rocky shorelines.
To compliment the marine trail, Flathead Lake State Park offers shoreline campsites that are set aside specifically for off-water users at the Wayfarers, Big Arm, Yellow Bay, Finley Point and West Shore units. This assures those who travel the “marine trail” a convenient place to camp, especially important during the hectic summer season.
Additionally, FWP fishing access sites and county public accesses afford ample put-ins and take-outs for the day-tripper.
For an unusual camping treat, schedule a stay at the yurt at Big Arm on Flathead Lake. The yurt sleeps up to six people and comes equipped with beds, tables, a framed lockable door, window screens and flaps. Of course there are other, more lavish, options located along the lake’s shoreline, such as picturesque bed and breakfasts and commercial motels.
What can you experience when you travel the Flathead Lake marine trail? How about lake-eye views of shimmering crystal-clear, glacial waters, encircled by the glittering peaks and ridges of the Swan, Mission and Salish Mountains? Or explore primitive, history-rich islands such as Wild Horse, Cedar and Bird.
Wildlife viewing abounds, especially on Wild Horse Island where you can catch sight of mountain sheep, mule deer and signs of the occasional bear—as well as see the proverbial wild horse or two. Don’t forget the spectacular angling opportunities available in the largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi, followed by a fresh fish fry at sundown.
It’s all in a days paddle, along the Flathead Lake marine trail. Happy trails!
For further information and marine trail maps, contact the Parks Division in Kalispell at 406-752-5501