Tucked between the tourist hotspots of Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, Flathead National Forest is one of Montana's best-kept secrets. The remarkable landscape offers 2.4 million acres of the state's legendary rugged peaks, deep forests, and cool mountain lakes. Here, you can hike high into the Rocky Mountains, spend long mornings fishing in icy blue streams, or raft down a set of wild rapids — all without the crowds and tour buses. The forest is easiest to visit in the summer and fall; if you can brave the winter snows, you'll have access to exceptional skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
One of the most beautiful hikes in the Flathead National Forest, the Birch Lake Trail takes you across mountain slopes and through spectacular fields of wildflowers. For the majority of the hike, you can see spectacular panoramic views of the Flathead Valley. This section of the trail stops at Birch Lake where you can cool off with a swim. If you're up for a longer hike, keep going for three miles until you reach the beautiful Crater Lake.
Length: 6 miles round-trip
If you're interested in bagging a peak during your trip to Montana, head straight to the Mt. Aeneas Trail. After you get through a long series of switchbacks, you'll pop out on top of a ridge. Break out your camera to capture the awe-inspiring views over the Glacier National Park, Jewel Basin, and Flathead National Forest. The trail continues along the ridge and all the way to the summit. Summer and fall are the best times to hike this trail.
Length: 4.3 miles one way
The Flathead Lake Interpretive Trail is short, but it offers some of the best views of Flathead Lake. Pick up one of the interpretive pamphlets at the start to learn about the different cultures, animals, and plants that have made their home in the area. This is a great hike for families with older kids.
Length: 0.4 mile round-trip
Check out a fire lookout tower at the end of the Cyclone Lookout Trail. From the trailhead, it travels through the forest on multiple switchbacks. Most are long and easy, so you'll barely notice the elevation gain. From the top, there are fantastic 360-degree views of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains. If you're a beginner, or if you want a gentle hike with a big scenic payoff, this is an excellent choice.
Length: 2.8 miles one way
Hike along the beautiful Middle Fork of the Flathead River on the Big River Trail. The entire trail is over 40 miles long, but you can create a day hike or a backpacking trip to suit your style and time availability. The easiest access point is located on US-2 at the Bear Creek boat launch. From there, the trail follows the river and travels through the forest in the Great Bear Wilderness. Bring your fishing gear; you'll find plenty of spots to fish or relax by the water along the route. This path is popular for horseback campers, so you may see a rider or two.
Length: 43.7 miles
Intensity: Moderate to Difficult
If you're searching for a hike that feels like a backcountry adventure, the Baptiste Lookout Trail is an easily accessible option. The narrow dirt path passes through dense forests and along steep mountain slopes, climbing steadily as it goes. Start early in the morning, as the constant uphill trek can take longer than you expect. Close to the end, the trail starts to offer panoramic views of the nearby peaks. A fire lookout is perched at the top, and you can climb to the deck for exceptional views in every direction. On a sunny day, visibility extends for miles. Given its long, strenuous climb, this trail is best for experienced and fit hikers.
Length: 5.8 miles
Intensity: Moderate to Difficult
Hike up to the picturesque Upper Holland Lake on the Holland Gordon Trail. The route starts near the Owl Creek Packer Camp Trailhead, just a few minutes from the popular Holland Lake. The first section is flat and easy, eventually giving way to a gentle climb. As you hike, you'll cross a stream and pass a variety of side trails; most end up right back on the main trail, so feel free to explore. After just under 6 miles, you'll come to the lovely Upper Holland Lake. Make sure to plan ample time to hang out on the shore and enjoy the views of the mountains. If you have time, keep hiking for a challenging trek to Gordon Pass. The Holland Gordon Trail is often busy in the summer months, so it's a great option for beginning hikers. Allow more time than you think you need to accommodate the occasional bottleneck or pack animal.
Length: 5.7 miles one way
Great fishing spots include Red Meadow Lake, Hungry Horse Reservoir, and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The forest is home to 22 species of fish, including bull trout.
You'll find a Green Gate cache at Flathead National Forest. It's in the Hungry Horse Ranger District. Davis Mountain Lookout provides another opportunity for finding geocaches in the forest.
Discover why Montana is referred to as Big Sky Country when you stargaze while in the forest. Prime stargazing spots can be found at backcountry and developed campsites.
Address: 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901
Fee: Entry fee $0
The Flathead National Forest offers some of the most pristine and uncrowded wilderness in the Flathead Lake region. Explore the awe-inspiring mountains on foot, or spend your days hiking, biking, or driving through the forest. Whether you come in the height of summer or the cool days of spring and fall, an RV is a great way to stay comfortable and immerse yourself in the beauty of the national forest.