When you wake up to -12 degrees, with a high expected of maybe 7 degrees, the last thing you want to do is be outside, right? As it would have it, we live in a beautiful area that lets you explore to your heart’s content during these frigid snaps, all from the comfort of the toasty, heated car seats. Thank goodness!
One of my favorite road trips is the simple loop around Flathead Lake, as it inspires and treats you to gorgeous frosted mountains, glimmering lake views, and a variety of wildlife. You can traverse the loop either east to west, or west to east, and both offer stunning vistas to feast your eyes on. We began from Whitefish this trip, and decided to head down the westside first, in hopes of chasing the beautiful sunny skies all the way around. As luck would have it, fortune shined on us, and we sailed through sunny skies as the storm clouds closed in behind us.
As we rounded the curve in Somers by the boat launch and public park, the full power of Flathead Lake hit us with glistening ice on the bay, the sun adding stunning, crystalline highlights around the yacht club and island. How can that not put a huge smile on your face? As we continued south towards Lakeside, we chatted about great summer days on the lake, afternoons at the Harbor Grille (which sits on the lakeshore and you can drive your boat right up to), as well as patio days on Stoner Creek, devouring great grub and suds at Tamarack Brewing Company. Highway 93 swoops through Lakeside and then into the curvaceous highway towards Polson. Along the way you’re treated to some of the most glorious views across the water around Elmo, and if you want, can take a side trip to Lake Mary Ronan to see how the fishing is going. The same area is home to Mission Mountain Winery, and if you’re lucky enough to pass by when they’re open, swing in for a tasting.
Showcasing itself along the westside of the lake is Wild Horse Island, and we scoured its grassy hillsides in hopes of gaining a glimpse of the elusive wild herd of horses and big horn sheep. In summer months, you can rent a boat or hop on a shuttle to hike Wild Horse Island, and if you choose the morning drop-off, you'll have a great chance of running into the sheep as they come out of the hills to sip the cool water of the bay. Again, stories of warm, lazy days on the lake wound their way into our conversation, and plans for this summer began to materialize. It just can’t be helped, as northwest Montana is an impossibly perfect playground for the outdoorsy at heart, and we take full advantage of every season.
Entering Polson, there’s a great little restaurant before you come to the bridge, called The Shoe, so remember to stop there for some great pub food and a cool drink (or hot toddy!), as the view from their dining room is stunning! Bald eagles regularly patrol the shoreline, in winter, and summer, so you can grab some great pics of them soaring through the blue skies. Wandering south, we decided to take a side trip to Kerr Dam, which lies about 10 miles south of Polson. Kerr dam tames the Flathead River as it leaves the lake, snaking down through the Flathead Reservation. The river and hoodoos on the drive down are amazing to see, and remind me of something from Utah’s high desert, not the plains of Lake County. They’re worth the 30-40 minute round trip detour for sure! Meandering back up the icy road, I couldn’t resist taking a million photos, and my partner in crime recounted tales of rafting down from Kerr, splashy rapids and loads of laughter with friends when navigating towards Ronan.
Skirting the south end of Flathead Lake, then north around Skidoo Bay, the scenery changes from wide open spaces to cozy woods and glistening, golden sun streaks shooting across the lake. Beautiful cherry orchards and old barns dot the landscape, and the iconic waterside bar in Woods Bay, The Raven, invites you to partake in a cocktail or live music, while watching the sun set across the blue waters of the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.
Heading north into Bigfork, we were treated to the sun teasing us with amber rays that peek-a-boo'd from the dark snow clouds that were gathering…a sure sign we’d be continuing the cold trend, for at least another day or two. Meandering through Bigfork, we were reminded what a cool little village it is, with its artsy culture and fabulous restaurants. As the day was winding down, the drive north from Bigfork teased a smile back onto our lips as the Swan Range, that we sometimes take for granted, was bathed in the pink alpenglow we all adore. Rosy-tipped mountaintops tower over grassy fields filled with black cattle and elk herds grazing peacefully along the roadside. The yawns overtook us, and we both commented on how restful it was to make the drive, as the scenery is all so serene and breathtaking. One is reminded to be grateful for all this area gifts to us every day.
If you’re an old timer here, try getting out on these chilly days to remember why you moved here. If you’re a newcomer, you have so many wonders to discover, so don’t be shy. Don your Smartwool and make a trek to the unknown…you never know what wonders you may find!
Touchstone Real Estate, Whitefish, MT