The West Shore unit of Flathead Lake State Park sits on a stunning piece of shoreline. Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the western United States, is the gorgeous result of the retreat of massive, ice-age glaciers thousands of years ago. The lake’s waters are some of the purest in the country; on its shores, visitors can see straight through its glassy surface to the graveled bottom, and around its deeper reaches, its waters take on a brilliant azure hue. The surrounding country, comprised of broad, green valleys, sky-piercing mountains and towering coniferous forests, is equally marvelous.
Visitors to West Shore will find a quiet campground with sites offering spectacular views. A small trail network includes paths which traverse the shore and climbs to nearby overlooks. For those keen on paddling, fishing, motorboating and more, the park’s boat launch offers easy access to the Flathead’s pristine waters. Three national forests and Glacier National Park provide millions of rugged acres to explore just outside West Shore’s bounds.
At West Shore, RV campers can escape some of the larger crowds which flock to the region; there are only 24 RV campsites here. The flip side of that coin, though, is that spots can and do fill up fast. Visitors trying to plan ahead should certainly make reservations - most of the sites are reservable.
The West Shore unit of Flathead Lake is just off of US-93. As soon as you make the turn off 93, onto West Shore Park Road, you’ll be within the bounds of the park. US-93 is a major road which sticks mostly to valley-bottoms and does not do much in the way of mountain climbing, so you don’t have to worry about hairpin turns or terribly steep inclines.
Many small towns are located on the shores of Flathead Lake; the closest town with amenities is Lakeside, just a few minute’s drive north. Kalispell, a large, full-service town, is less than a half hour to the north of the park.
Once you’re in the park, just follow the main road east, towards the lake, for about a quarter mile. You’ll find yourself in the park’s campground, which is divided into two small loops. The western A loop has all primitive sites, while the eastern B loop has electric. Most sites are back-in and are relatively short; however, as long as you’ve checked the length restrictions on your specific site (they vary) parking should be a cinch. A spur road off of the park road, Loop B road, will take you up to another parking area and the trailhead for the Linderman Lookout Connector Trail (the main trail starts at the A Loop).
Campers at West Shore will find themselves under the shade of impressive firs, pines and larches. All sites have great views of the nearby lake and shore, and the impressive Mission and Swan mountain ranges can be seen on the bounds of the Flathead the valley. The park’s small campground has 24 RV-suitable sites divided between two loops, with another seven sites are available for tent-camping. 12 of these RV sites (in Loop B) have 50-amp electric hookups, while the rest (in Loop A) are fully primitive. A picnic area is located by the B-loop. Potable water is available from spigots throughout the campground, and there are several vault toilets as well. There are no modern restrooms and no dumping station, however - you’ll need to head to one of the many nearby towns for those.
The campground is closed from October through April. All RV sites are reservable, and reservations can be made up to nine months in advance.
Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi in the contiguous U.S.; its waters span over 125,000 acres. So, whether you’re out sailing, motorboating, kayaking or canoeing, you should never find yourself wanting for space. Paddle across limpid shallows teaming with minnows or motor out towards the lake’s cerulean depths. Wherever you go, you’ll find spectacular views of tree-lined shores, open water and distant, imposing peaks. If you’re not traveling with watercraft, don’t fret; the park’s concessionaire rents out paddle boats, kayaks and paddle boards during peak season.
You will not see vibrant coral, darting clown fish or hulking reef sharks in Flathead Lake. However, the lake’s pristine, exceptionally clear waters create great conditions for scuba-diving. And though it may not have tropical diversity, Flathead is anything but lifeless. Cutthroat trout, slimy sculpin, redside shiners and longnose suckers are a few of the many native fish species which thrive in Lake Flathead’s aquatic ecosystem. Divers can also explore some of the many fascinating rock formations, shipwrecks and massive, sunken trees.
Flathead Lake hosts a suit of both native and introduced fish species, including bull trout, cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon, yellow perch, small and largemouth bass, rainbow trout and brown trout. This is a big lake that is home to big fish - older fish in Flathead Lake can reach enormous, record-breaking sizes. Anglers can try their luck from the shore or head out onto the water using the boat ramp, which is conveniently located in between the two camping loops.
Though West Shore is relatively small, visitors will find a web of small trails, totaling about two and a half miles, spread across the park. Hike underneath the dense crowns of towering Douglas firs and the bottle-green needles of stately lodgepole pines. There are several vistas and overlooks, some at high-points and some at the water’s edge. Of course, hikers are not limited to the trails of the park. Nearby are some of the largest stretches of scenic, rugged, federally managed land in the country. Flathead National Forest is to the east, Lolo National Forest is to the south, Kootenai National Forest is to the West and Glacier National Park is a mere hour to the north. Each of these forests and parks offers extensive trail networks stretching into some of the most gorgeous, wild backcountry in the U.S.
The sweeping vistas and quiet forests of West Shore offer a dream setting for amateur and professional photographers alike. Mountains, forests and sparkling azure water comprise the views from high points at the park. Goose Island, a forested outcropping sitting just about a half mile off shore that sits surrounded by the vastness of Flathead Lake, is a picturesque gem that can be captured from the shore or the water. The scenery of the surrounding country is equally, if not even more, compelling.
Flathead Lake and its surrounds are home to a great many bird and mammal species. Ospreys, Bald Eagles and other birds of prey can be seen diving into the lake’s clear water in search of their next fishy meal. Timber wolves, moose, cougar, black and grizzly bear, porcupines, mountain goat, lynx and more are native to the area. Birdwatchers can try to spot some of the over 100 avian species which inhabit the Flathead Valley. Red crossbills, pileated woodpeckers and common mergansers are among the year-round inhabitants, while seasonal visitors include willow flycatchers, spotted sandpiper and green-winged teals.