Montana: Lakes and Trails

We found Glacier National Park just too crowded for comfort, and began to look around our area for alternative hikes and places to explore where we are not likely to meet a lot of other people. I was happily surprised to find that northwest Montana is freckled with lakes. Lakes of all sizes, too. Flathead Lake is huge, so is Koocanusa Lake, just beyond Eureka, with far fewer visitors. Trails lead from the roadside to interior lakes, trails circle the occasional lake, or follow creeks leading to lakes. We’ve had some excellent walks going to and from bodies of water.

Koocanusa Lake

Lakes may be like our pond, tiny pools. Another narrow lake became a bed of reeds this month, no visible water at all. Other lakes are fed and drained by rushing streams.

Some lakes are overgrown ponds, with reeds at one end and open water at the other. Many have gorgeous clear water, no matter what the size.

Big lakes can be isolated and largely empty, like Big Therriault Lake, at the end of a long road. Yet even when we visited lakes thinking to find visitors, sometimes there still weren’t any. We visited Tetrault Lake on a hot Saturday morning in August, and there was only one group fishing on the lake, despite the shore lined with houses, docks, piles of kayaks, beach chairs, and inflatable water toys.

Lakes surrounded by houses often have extremely limited access, or no access. We’ve had good luck finding a spot to look out over a lake by finding the local boat launch site. Glen Lake was the exception, where the entire shore was either swampy reeds or private land, with no boat launch, and lots of Keep out/No trespassing signs. We couldn’t get near enough to take a picture. We moved on.

A walking trail rarely circles a lake unless it is wholly within a National Forest like Big Therriault Lake, or in a recreation area like Swisher Lake. We took the short hike to Swisher Lake and found it completely deserted because the campground is closed this year. I took a swim to celebrate having the entire lake to myself. I did the same in the pond by our house in Fortine, but the pond was so cold I thought I’d get frostbite from the water!

We’ve walked along trails of all kinds. Our hikes aren’t very long and don’t go very far. When we’re birding, we may spend an hour going a few hundred feet. Without birds, we may cover a lot more ground in the same time. It has been wonderful to be able to walk on these paths.

We drove to the end of Burma Road, outside Eureka, MT, and ended up standing on the border with Canada. A wide swath cut through the forest marks the border, straight along the 49th parallel for as far as we could see.

NOTE: In these days of drones and motion-activated cameras, we opted NOT to cross the border, even as a humorous moment in our visit. The closest we got to Canada was the Canada side of the sign above. When we read about the cleared area along the border after our visit we found “the border space is 20-30 feet wide and is maintained/recut every few decades.”


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

4 thoughts on “Montana: Lakes and Trails

  1. Funny to think that the border between our two countries is simply a line cut in vegetation! They don’t call it the longest undefended border in the world for nothing… Nice post. (Suzanne)


  2. Hi Wink, it’s Powys. Interesting observation about the lakes being relatively empty. The Columbia River through Wenatchee is usually buzzing with motor boats but not this year. Parks and campgrounds adjacent to the river are open but designated swim areas are empty. Maybe folks think that Covid is in the water or decided to put off getting a permit this year? It’s weird but great for us kayakers. Safe travels!


    1. Hi Powys! You could be right. It’s been hot enough for swimming. We don’t hike the long trails that other people do (7-10 miles is typical in the guidebook we have). Maybe there are people out on the trail.


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