Friday, September 6, 2013

A week of bliss on Flathead Lake

August 31-September 6, 2013
Polson, Montana
Polson Motorcoach Resort

Spending at least a week on Flathead Lake was high on my list this year. I lived in Missoula for several years and used to vacation here in the summer when my boys were young.  Actually, we used to come here from Corvallis, Oregon for vacations and even bought property here in the 1980s with the intention to build a vacation/retirement cottage someday. Someday never came and we sold the lakefront footage as part of the divorce settlement. I could go on and on about my love affair with Montana which dates back to the 70s, but a different path took me to Oregon and the best part is that led me to Victor, my best friend and husband extraordinaire.

Vic has caught a little of my passion for Montana in two other trips we made here together, but this is the first time he has done more than a drive-by of Flathead Lake. We researched all kinds of campground possibilities around the 100 mile circumference of the lake, but I knew I wanted to stay somewhere where we could experience my favorite view of the lake—on the west side with the drama of the Mission Mountains in the background. 

For a park with full hook ups and a view of the lake, we decided our best option was the KOA in Polson, which is actually two parks in one: a  KOA and Motorcoach Resort.  Of course the best views were only available at the Motorcoach part of the resort, but for only a week it was worth the extra expense. Vic has had a starstruck look in his eyes all week, so much so that we went looking at property with the possibility of settling here someday rather than Bend, Oregon. No big decisions are on the horizon, but we did not think anything on Flathead Lake would be affordable anymore. To our surprise, the real estate boom that started here in the late 90s never came to fruition and property values are much less than we expected.

The motorcoach part of the park sells lots which are $$$ because of the awesome views. Many of the privately owned lots have extensive outdoor kitchens and living areas surrounded by gorgeous landscaping.  I don’t think we have ever seen this many Prevosts or custom bus conversions in one place before.  On the positive side, everyone has been extremely friendly and the atmosphere here is quite relaxed and inviting. 

So what have we been doing besides gawking at the view and the high end lots?  We took two different days to drive completely around the lake. I had to go see my old piece of property and am happy to say that it now seems too far off the beaten path for my tastes today.

One day we drove to the charming town of Big Fork on the east side of the lake and enjoyed an afternoon walking around town and checking out other campgrounds and state parks in the area.

The weather has been rather foreboding for much of the week, at least in terms of the forecast, but most days ended up being more pleasant than expected even with storm clouds hovering in the distance. We had hoped to go kayaking on the lake or on the Flathead River, but the dark clouds dissuaded us. On one somewhat smoky day, we took a drive out to Kerr Dam, a local attraction about twenty minutes away. Once you arrive, you descend down about 300 steps on boardwalk to a viewing area. The dam itself is 54 feet higher than Niagara Falls making it quite impressive in the spring when more water is flowing, but the views of the river and the surrounding canyon were stunning.

Another day we took a ride to the National Bison Range, about forty-five minutes south of here. Vic’s national park pass covered the entrance fee to the park which includes viewing a small museum display and a 19-mile self-guided driving tour of the range. The park ranger gave us a map and highlighted what kind of species we should look for in different areas. I can imagine this experience is similar to what it might feel like to go on an African safari. Our eyes were peeled for different wildlife sightings the whole way which took about an hour and a half to drive.

There was a fair amount of smoke in the valley on this day; the ranger said it was coming all the way from the Yosemite fire in California, but there was also a large fire about 80 miles away in the Lolo National Forest.

This big guy was standing right by the road near the beginning of the drive. It was rather thrilling to be this close to a bison. (I barely zoomed in for this photo.)

Aside from bison, we spotted quite a few antelope and deer. I had never seen antelope this close before. It looks like this guy’s antlers are in velvet. They almost looked like gazelles.

Seeing deer is a common experience but a couple of these guys stood out, especially the ones drinking from this picturesque river.

At the end of the trail back near the visitor's center, stood a huge pile of antlers. I am hoping these are ones that were shed and then recovered from the open range.

bison range antlers

Since we didn’t get out on the lake in our kayaks, we decided to chance it with the weather and book an evening cruise on The Shadow, a local tour boat. It turned out to be a perfect evening on the lake and the best part, aside from the views, was the live music by Nathan Eyre that accompanied the ride.  The music was so mesmerizing that I felt compelled to make a short video to share. Nathan brought along five different instruments to play. The one he is playing here, the mandocello, was our favorite.

I like this still photograph of Nathan playing another instrument, his unique handmade cigar box guitar.


There are some very inviting cabins along the lake. By now I thought there might also be McMansions, but I am happy to report that we saw none. Perhaps the Native American reservations have helped to protect this area from overdevelopment.

We could not see the sunset from our park, so I was excited to be able to see it from the middle of the lake. The water kept changing moods as it reflected the changing colors that swirled in the smoke-tinged sky.

Our week here passed too quickly. This is another place where a one month stay would be more satisfying. Tomorrow we head up to Glacier National Park for five days where we plan to get out on the trails and lakes. The weather forecast predicts that the storms which have been plaguing the Northwest will blow over by tomorrow. National Parks here we come.


  1. What a great post! But I am a little afraid to add it to my list for fear I'd never want to leave. But winters in Montana?? Gorgeous sunset. Can't wait to see Glacier and where you decide to camp.

  2. Your entry has me wanting to leave for MT. immediately!

  3. we plan to hit Montana next year and are looking quite forward to it...

  4. We splurged...big time! And did stay a month...enjoyed every second! Your post reminds me of the wonderful time we had there! Awesome sunset pictures on the lake and I enjoyed the short clip you shared of Nathan Eyre. It doesn't matter how many times you ride around the see something different and beautiful every time!

    So sorry the smoke was lingering!

    Glacier...absolutely beautiful! Can't wait to read about your adventures there...

  5. What a gorgeous lake. I can easily see why this is one of your favorite places.

    I love the wildlife. What an exciting week you two had.

  6. Now that is the type resort for us! I love when we can find a nice resort with amazing scenery and huge paved sites:) This place is so in my near future. Glad you shared.

    Each photo is better than the next. What great drives. I love spotting wildlife. I have a real thing for the bison. I have a ton of pictures but always need more.

    Your sunset was so beautiful. Love the way it reflects off the water.

    Can't wait for Glacier photos!! Happy hiking!

    1. Remind me to tease you about your thing for bison.

  7. The beauty of that area is just stunning. I can see why you fell in love with it all over again!

  8. We're in Missoula at the moment. Montana is so beautiful. We have really enjoyed our time here.

  9. The drive through the bison refuge looks wonderful. I hear there is a unique museum near Polson that is worth it for the unique factor. Dave and Sue of "Beluga's Excellent Adventure" went to it a few months ago.


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