A jewel among Montana’s state parks, wild horse island flathead lake is the largest island in Flathead Lake and lies within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. This beautiful island is home to a stunningly preserved short-grass prairie ecosystem, old-growth ponderosa pine forest and four miles of hiking trails that offer visitors an opportunity to view bighorn sheep, mule deer, waterfowl and bald eagles. It’s also a haven for hikers, photographers and hunters.
Unlike neighboring Flathead Lake islands with mega-mansions and no-trespassing signs, Wild Horse Island is a public treasure. The 2,164 acre island is a primitive State Park open for day use only and maintained by the state of Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department.
Legend has it that the Salish-Kootenai used the island to pasture their horses in order to protect them from thievery by other tribes like the Blackfeet. Eventually the area became part of the Flathead Indian Reservation, and in the early 1900s it was opened to homesteading. Over the years, developers platted sites and sold off parcels for summer homes before the State of Montana gained ownership of Wild Horse Island in 1987. A few well-maintained vacation homes are scattered around the perimeter of the island, but this pristine state park is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and enjoy the untouched beauty of Flathead Lake.
Hiking on the island, exploring off-trail and viewing wildlife are the most popular activities at Wild Horse Island. The hiking trails are wide and open, allowing for views of wild grasses and flowers including arrowleaf balsamroot in late spring. The island is also a great spot for bird watching and hunting, as it is known for its population of bighorn sheep, mule deer and bald eagles.
If you’re looking to get a little exercise while visiting the island, try renting a kayak or paddleboard from the marina at the boat landing near Eagle Cove. Or, take a scenic boat cruise to the north end of the island near Rocky Bar and enjoy a swim in the calm waters of the lake. If you have your own boat, be sure to bring a fishing license as anglers are allowed to catch lake trout and pike in the areas surrounding the island.
While the Wild Horse Island State Park is only open for day use, visitors can also spend a night or two at one of Flathead Lake’s five other state parks including Finley Point, Yellow Bay and Wayfarers. For those who want a little more luxury, several resorts and hotels can be found around the lake as well. The picturesque lakeside town of Polson is the perfect base for your Wild Horse Island adventures as it offers opportunities to swim, shop, visit museums and attend the annual Flathead Cherry Festival. The town is also the perfect place to stock up on supplies before heading out to the island. wild horse island flathead lake