A state that literally means “mountain” in Spanish is guaranteed to be among the top hiking destinations in North America.
Montana boasts some of the most popular hiking trails in the United States. Many of these trails can be found in Glacier National Park; home to over 100 named lakes, the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road and beautiful back-country campsites.
Montana is also home to the largest lake in the contiguous United States west of the Mississippi River; a gleaming stretch of water called Flathead Lake.
The remarkable clarity of Flathead Lake is constantly recognized and praised, and the lake’s pristine waters are home to over twenty-five species of fish, including several types of trophy size trout.
Besides fishing, the calm lake is perfectly suited to canoeing, sailing, swimming, or even just relaxing on the tree-lined shores.
There are lots of things to do at Flathead Lake, but the top Flathead Lake activity would definitely be hiking to the highest point on its largest land-mass; Wild horse Island.
The island is named for the captured horses brought there by the Salish Indians who pastured them there so that other tribes will not be able to steal them.
There are now only five horses on the island, so you’re more likely to see one of the many big horn sheep that share a home with the feral horses and a small population of mule deer.
Having to cross a body of water to reach there means that getting to Wild Horse Island is already an adventure. The most popular option is to charter a boat; quite a few companies offer day trips to Wild Horse Island, and there are also many options to rent boats.
There’s also the cheaper choice of a leisurely and scenic kayak ride or a speedy journey via jet-ski.
The most popular trails on the island begin at the designated landing area on Skeeto Bay, but there are five other landing points and some of them offer quicker routes to the top.
The gentle slopes are covered in various species of prairie grass and seasonal flowers, and as the slopes get steeper there is an increase in the amount of towering trees like douglas firs, yellow pines and lowland firs.
The combination of these trees for roosting and clear water for hunting fish means that Wild Horse Island is an important breeding ground for birds of prey like ospreys and bald eagles.
Their nests are easy to spot in the sparse trees, and with a little patience it’s possible to see these majestic raptors swooping down to pick up fish with their sharp talons.
As you scale the steepest rocky cliffs to reach the peaks of the island, the meadows give way to lichen covered rocks and the more recent trees are replaced by old-growth ponderosa pines.
The tallest hills on the island are over 3,745 feet, just a little higher than the surrounding Flathead Lake’s altitude of 2,916 feet. The expansive lake means that there’s a picturesque view in every direction.
Flathead State Park can be seen in the east, the distant peaks of the Glacier National Park and the Mission Mountains to the North are visible if you know what to look for.
Hiking to the peak of Wild Horse Island might pale in comparison to some of the hikes in the Glacier National Park or even in other parts on Montana, but the whole experience of first getting across the lake before climbing to the top is enough reason for this hike to be on your Montana Bucket List.
There’s also absolutely no risk of an encounter with a mountain lion or a bear on Wild Horse Island which makes it much easier to feel relaxed!