Originally called Flathead Forest Reserve, Flathead National Forest was officially established in 1897 by President Cleveland. The park was merged with Blackfeet Forest Reserve in 1904 and renamed Flathead National Forest. During the early 1900s, the park rangers blazed several miles of trails, most of which are still intact today. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, backed by President Roosevelt’s New Deal, constructed several offices, buildings, bathrooms, and other structures in this Montana park that are still being used today. One major appeal to Flathead National Forest is the park is virtually untouched. What visitors see today is nearly identical to what people saw 150 years ago (although trees have grown in the interim).
The closest town is Kalispell, about 30 miles west of the western entrance to Flathead National Forest. Kalispell is a bustling town of around 130,000 residents. It serves as a community hub and is a popular stop for skiers on their way to one of the two nearby ski resorts.
While preparing for an RV camping trip of a lifetime in wild Montana, don’t forget to book an RV in Flathead County, MT, and go make memories with family and friends.
Encompassing an astounding 2.4 million acres, the opportunities for recreational fun are endless. There are over 2,200 miles of established hiking trails, and if hikers are comfortable striking out on their own, it’s accepted though not recommended due to the rugged terrain. If accidents happen, it’s often challenging to find help in a remote corner of Flathead National Forest. A large portion of these 2,200 miles of trails is shared with horseback riders, ATVs, and bicycles. Fishing is especially good. Fishermen can expect to catch a wide variety of fish, which is largely reliant on the type of waterway they cast a fly into. Rainbow and west slope cutthroat trout are common, as are kokanee, bull trout, northern pike, and yellow perch.
In springtime, the Three Forks section of Flathead Wild and Scenic River transforms into a raging torrent of whitewater rapids. Bold adventurers hop onto flimsy rubber rafts and attempt to shoot the rapids without tumbling into the icy water. As the summer rolls around, taming the river, it turns into a lazy river that people love tubing down. There are a few large lakes at which motorboats are allowed. The Hungry Horse Reservoir is one of the larger ones, stretching over 34 miles. Zip up and down the coast in spontaneous races to an invisible finish line or duck into a cover for a quiet day of sunbathing.
When winter descends upon the region, blanketing the woods in deep, soft snow, the fun doesn’t stop. Adventurers hit the trails on cross-country skis, snowmobiles, snowshoes, and nordic skis. Around 45 miles are kept groomed, while the remainder is not.
In several wetland regions, there are berry brambles. Visitors are allowed to pick up to 10 gallons of berries without needing to obtain a permit. Any more is considered a commercial enterprise.
Camping at Flathead National Forest
It’s almost a requirement to rent a travel trailer to visit Flathead National Forest. Commuting from a hotel would otherwise require a very early start. Not to mention, there’s nothing better than stepping out an Airstream rental on an early misty morning to see deer sipping from a nearby creek.
Flathead National Forest operates 31 campgrounds, all of the different sizes. Most are primitive, though a few have vault toilets for visitors to use. A handful has a few modern amenities like flush toilets, WiFi, and paved roads (these are typically found near the entrances to the park). Most campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Alternatively, for more amenities without sacrificing easy access to nature, consider one of the dozens of campgrounds around Kalispell. RV camping at the KOA near Whitefish may be a good option to consider. In addition to partial hookups, the KOA boasts features like an adult-only hot tub, shuttle service, WiFi, and a convenience store.
Exploring the Area
As alluring as the sheer wilderness is, don’t overlook the charms of small towns nestled in the Flathead Valley. Few and far apart, renting a motorhome makes traveling from each a painless experience. Columbia Falls, MT, is an old-fashioned ski town. Curl up by a roaring fire in the dining room at one of the dozen distilleries that line the main street or browse the wares of various artists and crafters’ shops. Search for the perfect souvenir to remind you of this idyllic motorhome camping trip.
Whitefish, MT, regularly holds festivals throughout the year. It is in particular known for the Under the Big Sky Festival, an event that hosts major headliners like Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell. It’s a fun way to find little-known artists and sample unusual food. Kalispell boasts a few museums, all with a different slant. Hockaday Museum of Art features Montana artists, while Conrad Mansion provides a glimpse into the history of the town’s founding, and Northwest Montana History Museum focuses on the regional history, including Native American tribes.
Embark on a memorable Airstream camping trip of a lifetime in wild Montana today and enjoy spending time with your loved ones outdoors.