A hidden jewel among Montana’s state parks, wild horse island flathead lake is an incredible wilderness destination. The largest island on Flathead Lake, this primitive 2,200-acre state park is the perfect place to see bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl, and bald eagles. It is only accessible by boat and, as such, a day visit is the best way to explore the wildlife sanctuary. It is for day use only and camping is not allowed. It is also important to remember that the park’s perimeter contains private property, so visitors are asked to respect that when entering the area.
Located northwest of the town of Polson, the island has four miles of hiking trails, which lead to views of glacier-carved valleys, alpine meadows, and wildflowers. It is also home to a Palouse Prairie ecosystem, one of only three in the state.
In addition to the hiking trails, Wild Horse Island has a handful of old homestead cabins that are worth visiting. One of the more interesting is a house built by the Johnson family in December 1910, which remains along one of the trails. It is a reminder of the struggles of early homesteaders on Flathead Lake, whose lives were often cut short by the harsh elements and the competition for resources.
The island’s name comes from the herds of wild horses that were pastured there by the Salish-Kootenai Indians to keep them safe from other tribes. Although the herd has long disappeared, a few wild horses still live on the island and are free to roam. For the sake of their health and safety, it is not permitted to feed, touch, or chase them. It’s a good idea to keep a distance from the herd, as they are wild and unpredictable.
Flathead Lake’s pristine waters are also a draw for anglers, with plenty of opportunities to catch lake trout, bass, and kokanee salmon. It’s important to note that fishing on Flathead Lake requires a Montana state license and a tribal fish permit, which can be purchased in person at local tackle shops.
Aside from the amazing wildlife, the lake is a great place for swimming and snorkeling. The lake’s clear blue waters are teeming with fish, and many of the surrounding islands are known for their sandy beaches. It is also possible to find agates and fossils on the shorelines. wild horse island flathead lake