Paddling Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake

You have to WANT to get to Montana.  It’s not typically a stop when traveling across country, and there are spots in the state where your iPhone will not work. However, what Montana lacks in big-city amenities, it makes up for in simply stunning beauty, friendly folks and some experiences and places that cannot be replicated.

Northwestern Montana holds many of the state’s awe-inspiring places and experiences; and the services hub of the region, Kalispell, is making it easier to get there with increasing direct flights offered through Glacier Park International Airport. Centering a paddling vacation around Kalispell allows visitors to experience the entire region from Glacier National Park to the pristine waters of Flathead Lake.

Prime paddling can be found on the string lakes of Glacier National Park, namely Bowman, Quartz and Kintla.  These rarely seen azure wonders are spectacularly scenic and filled with unpolluted glacial run off. Paddling these lakes is an incredible experience. Combine the paddle with a quick peak bag or backpack trip into the inner wilds of the park for an experience you will never forget.

Bowman Lake holds the most services of the string lakes, with its campground and numerous trails extending from its vehicle-accessible southwestern end.  Rainbow Peak at the head of Bowman Lake is climbable after a 6-mile paddle across the inviting waters.  Stash your canoe, kayak or boat and head up the scree field to the summit.

Kintla Lake was a sacred place to the Blackfeet, and many tribal members still do not venture out onto its waters.  However, if you are lucky enough to row or paddle across its inky-blue surface, stash your boat at the campground located at the head of the lake and hike the 4-5 miles up to Upper Kintla Lake and take in the alpine wonder.

South of Kalispell lies Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater body of water in the lower 48 states west of the Mississippi River. The lake offers paddlers a unique experience in its sheer vastness and crystal-blue waters bordered by the Mission and Salish Mountains. You can put in your sea kayak, canoe or paddleboard at any of the six state parks along the lake. And if you have a large group of paddle-happy friends, gather a team for the annual Montana Dragon Boat Festival held each September on the east shore of the lake at the Flathead Lake Lodge. The only festival of its kind in the Inland Northwest, the dragon boat racing competition allows experienced and novice paddlers the opportunity to work in unison and paddle the sleek, striking 46-foot boats in one of the most scenic settings in America.

After your lake forays you can rest your arms at any number of comfortable lodging options in Kalispell. The area also offers several well-maintained campgrounds with varying services. Check out the full listing of overnight possibilities at

Getting there: Flights are offered from Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell with these major airlines: Horizon Air/Alaska Air, Delta/Skywest, United and Allegiant.

The vibrant city of Kalispell is the gateway to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Whitefish and all of the recreation, art, shopping and adventure that northwestern Montana has to offer. Plopped in the center of the Flathead Valley, it’s an easy drive to the park entrance, the art galleries of Bigfork or the water sports mecca of Flathead Lake — and well-equipped with affordable, comfortable lodging, great dining and a range of shopping from one-off boutiques to price-conscious large-format retailers. For more information, visit 


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Back to stories list >