Swimming & Boating

“Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.”
- Brooks Atkinson, N.Y. Times Theater Critic 1894-1984

Lakes and rivers that offer boating are plentiful throughout the Flathead Watershed. Sailboats, canoes, kayaks, rafts, paddleboats, rowboats, pontoon boats, wind surfers, and motorboats all have a place in the watershed. Some of the quieter lakes are perfect for hand powered watercrafts, while the larger lakes have facilities for motorized watercrafts. West Glacier is considered the state of Montana’s whitewater rafting capital, with 219 miles (352 km) of river including stretches where the movie “The River Wild” was filmed. Businesses throughout the area offer watercraft rentals and guided expeditions. From relaxing cruises on Flathead Lake and Whitefish Lake, to paddling class III-IV rapids on the Flathead River, there is summer fun in the water for everyone. Important boating laws and regulations for Flathead Watershed waterways are available from Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Figure 4.21: Swimmer on Cedar Lake. Source: Walt Curtis

There are several swimming holes in the Flathead Watershed including Sprague Creek in Glacier National Park; Whitefish Lake State Park, City Beach, and Les Mason Park on Whitefish Lake; Foys Lake; and Swan Lake. Flathead Lake State Park maintains six parks around Flathead Lake, some of which have excellent swimming in summer.

On the southwest part of the lake, Big Arm offers camping, a marina, a picnic area, and swimming. Near the south end of the lake, Finley Point is tucked into a conifer forest with camping, boat docks, and swimming. Wayfarers, near the city of Bigfork, has a long rocky beach, camping, a picnic area, a boat launch, and great access to trails. Yellow Bay—where the lake is the deepest—has a picnic area, camping, swimming, and boat launches. It is a popular water-ski area and home of the Cherry Blossom Festival. West Shore is located in a mature fir, pine, and larch forest with picnic areas, fire rings, and interpretive displays.

(click to enlarge) 

Wildhorse Island is one of the largest islands in North America at 2163 acres (875 hectares). Home to many species of wildlife, the island is preserved as a primitive state park. Access is by boat only and for day use only. Numerous smaller lakes are frequented by folks looking for a place to cool off in the summer.

Figure 4.22: Flathead Lake Marine Trail. Source: Montana State Parks

“The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.”
- Woodrow T. Wilson

Practice responsible boating! Before and after every trip, wash your gear, watercraft and support vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species. Remove all plant material from watercraft, motor, trailer and other gear and dispose of it on dry land in a garbage container. Drain livewells, bilge water, and transom wells at the boat launch prior to leaving.

For information on boating, floating, and kayaking in the Flathead Watershed:
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes
Fish, Wildlife, Recreation, and Conservation Division

For boating regulations: http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/regulations/boating/boatRules.html
For personal watercraft information: http://fwpiis.mt.gov/content/getItem.aspx?id=33074

For boating resources, visit the Flathead Lakers:

Tread Lightly! Tips for Motorized Boating: http://www.treadlightly.org/page.php/responsible-waterrec

For more information, send email to info@flatheadwatershed.org or info@flatheadcore.org.
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