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Article Listings - Outdoor Recreation

Watchable Wildlife

Everyone expects to see some wildlife during a trip to Montana. Most visitors say they’d love to see a bear, a moose, deer or mountain goat. While we can’t guarantee that everyone will see a bear, we can promise that if you keep a good eye out, you’ll probably spot some our wilder residents.  That’s because Montana has a greater variety of wildlife than any other state in the lower 48. Surrounded by national parks, forests and protected lands, Bigfork is the perfect gateway to a wilderness area equal to the size of the state of Vermont. There’s no better place to watch and learn about the critters that are our neighbors.

Of course, when people think about seeing that bear or mountain goat, they first think of Glacier National Park. The Many Glacier area is known as one of the best places to spot a bear or bighorn sheep.  At Logan Pass, you can often spot mountain goats and sometimes the bighorn sheep. The hoary marmot chatters away while the bald eagle often soars overhead.  On the east side near the park, you might spot antelope on the prairie or a moose in one of the marshes. www.nps.gov/glac.

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Watery Playground

Flathead Lake is 28 miles long and up to 15 miles wide with 128 miles of shoreline.  It’s big (the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi).  It’s beautiful!  And there’s a lot to see and do both on the water and along the shore!

The Swan River enters the lake at Bigfork where the whitewater attracts some of the nation’s best kayakers during the May’s Whitewater Festival.  Now, thanks to a weekly water release every Wednesday, kayakers can continue to enjoy the challenge of the river’s class IV Wild Mile throughout the summer.

Paddlers who prefer a quieter venue can follow the Flathead Lake marine trail. The “trail” is simply a network of access and stopover points for paddlers and sailors.  While you can traverse the lake in a day via kayak, canoe or sailboat, most choose to take several days to enjoy all that the lake has to offer.  Because this is a watery trail, you won’t find markers or signs, but you can pick up a map from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. www.fwp.state.mt.us.

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Swan River Nature Trail

Before it empties into mighty Flathead Lake, the final mile of the Swan River cascades over rocks and boulders, creating what is known as the “Wild Mile”.  Spring snowmelt creates class III and IV rapids for more than 200 kayakers who come to compete in May’s annual Whitewater Festival. And now, with a weekly release of water every Wednesday, whitewater enthusiasts can enjoy the Wild Mile throughout the summer.

But thanks to the Swan River Nature Trail, you don’t have to get soaking wet to enjoy the rushing water. By taking to the trail everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Swan River and its Wild Mile.  The trail begins near Grand Drive in Bigfork and follows an old road last that follows the river for about two miles to the Kearney Rapids Bridge. This is an easy trail enjoyed by hikers, bikers and horseback riders in the summer and on skis or snowshoes in the winter.

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Fishing, Floating and Family Fun

Crystal clear waters surrounded by towering mountains and forests. If they were located anywhere else, these would be destination lakes.  But because they are within just a few miles of our famous Flathead Lake, some smaller jewels are sometimes overlooked. They shouldn’t be.  Because these sparkling clear mountain lakes (and one reservoir) contain promises of pure watery delight.

Just south of Bigfork, Swan Lake is at the northern edge of an area often referred to as “Montana’s Lake Country”. Here the Swan River runs north from the Mission Mountains into the valley creating a delightful finger lake before it moves on, gathering speed before it tumbles into Flathead Lake at Bigfork. The lake created by this river is about 7 miles long and less than a mile wide. The clear waters are home to kokanee, rainbow trout, westslope cutthroat, bull trout, northern pike and yellow perch. In addition, the lake is perfect for boating, especially if you prefer a slow paddle in a canoe or kayaks. Water skiers and those who like the speed of a personal water craft will find that this is an uncrowded lake with plenty of room for any speed of craft.  Swan Lake Village and the Swan Lake Campground and Day Use Area with campsites, picnic tables, boat launch, roped off swimming area and a nature trail are tucked along the southern shore.  www.recreation.gov  www.swanlakemontana.org.

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River Fun Begins in Bigfork

The waters of the Flathead River rush south from Canada and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  The Swan River flows north from the Mission Mountain Wilderness.  Together these icy glacial waters become Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. But before these clear waters transform themselves into one gigantic lake, there are miles of whitewater to raft, countless fish to catch, and wildlife large and to photograph and enjoy.

As the weather warms, the snow melts and finds its way into the rivers. This spring runoff means whitewater.  And nowhere is this more apparent than on the “Wild Mile” of the Swan River where kayakers take up the annual challenge of Class IV rapids during the races of the Whitewater Festival.  But the fun doesn’t stop once the races are over.  There are always challenging rapids on this section of the Swan, due in part to a weekly water release every Wednesday. From Swan Lake to the dam that helps create the Wild Mile, the river follows a slower pace.  Canoes, kayaks and drift boats are popular as the river twists and turns through forests, fields and farms.

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Powerful Recreation

Shaded picnic tables with grills and fire pits.  Huge rocks overlooking the Swan River where hikers can rest and take in the view.  Rushing white water, perfect for kayakers. Gently flowing waters that draw fishermen.  Wildflowers in spring.  Chokecherries in summer. Hiking and walking trails along the river. All these things can be found just outside of Bigfork.  And they all came about because of a dam and a power plant.

Back in 1902, Bigfork’s first hydroelectric plant began operations, powering Bigfork and giving the name Electric Avenue to one of the town’s main streets. And through the years, the Bigfork Hydroelectric Project has done more than produce power. The land along the Swan River adjacent to these facilities provides shelter for wildlife and provides recreational opportunities for the public. And thanks to a 2003 agreement with Pacific Power Corporation, there are 480 acres that adjoin the project that are designated for public use.

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Play a Round at Eagle Bend

According to Golf Digest, Montana’s Flathead Valley is ranked as one of the top 50 golf destinations in the world.  And that same publication has listed Bigfork’s Eagle Bend Golf Club as #1 in Montana for six consecutive years. Add in spectacular views of Flathead Lake and the surrounding mountains and a round of golf just doesn’t get much better than this.

Eagle Bend is a semi-private golf course located on the north shore of Flathead Lake, less than a mile from the heart of Bigfork.  The first 18 holes of this championship golf course were designed by William Hull and Nicklaus Design completed the “Nicklaus Nine” in 1995.  The result is 27 holes of sculpted fairways, excellent greens and magnificent views that continue to  receive accolades from pros and duffers alike.

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Let it Snow!

Winter in Bigfork and Montana’s Flathead Valley is simply gorgeous.  Underneath a cozy blanket of snow, this part of Northwest Montana tends to have mild temperatures relative to the rest of the state. People who like to play in the snow have a myriad of options: downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and ice fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding and of course, relaxing in front of a crackling fire.

For more than 60 years, Whitefish Mountain Resort has offered some of the best downhill skiing in the northwest.  There are 67 runs on 3,000 skiable acres.  The resort is family-friendly with lodging and a wide variety of activities including snowboarding, snowmobiling and snowcat adventures, lessons, restaurants, nature center and even a day spa. www.skiwhitefish.com

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A Hiking Jewel – Jewel Basin Hiking Area

Its proper name is the Jewel Basin Hiking Area, but to Bigfork area hikers, it’s simply “The Jewel”.  This area is a true gem for hikers, fishermen, photographers or anyone looking forward to a day of spectacular views, clear lakes and meadows of wildflowers. With more than 15,000 acres, 27 lakes and 35 miles of trail the Jewel Basin has gained a reputation as one of the foremost hiking areas in Montana.

The Jewel is located just outside of Bigfork in the Flathead National Forest.  The trailhead at Camp Misery has an elevation of 5500 feet, which allows hikers to begin their treks at an elevation more than 2000 feet above the Flathead Valley. Even non-hikers will make the drive to the trailhead just to drink in the view.  This is a hiking area only. Mountain bikes are not permitted and even horses are restricted.  Dogs must be on a leash.

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Where Great Fishing Begins

It is quiet here.  A path winds its way through a grove of trees. At one point it crosses a bubbling creek. In some places, it follows the age-old trail created by generations of deer as they move from field to creek foraging for food and water.  Overhead, the eagles and osprey are a common sight. In the spring, the route is bright with wildflowers.  In the fall, the reds, oranges and yellows take over. Less than a mile from one of the Flathead Valley’s major highways, you’ll find the Creston National Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Center.

Before there was a fish hatchery, there was a mill and a small town surrounded by some of the valley’s prime agricultural land.  Today the area is known as Creston.  In the late 1800’s, it acquired the name of Jessup.  It was Herbert Jessup who built a timber and earthen dam at the site.  This new dam created Jessup Mill Pond, providing a source of power for a sawmill and a grist mill. At its peak, the sawmill produced up to 30,000 board feet of lumber per day, providing wood for homes, barns and other buildings.

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