Bigfork is located in the northwestern part of Montana, on the eastern shore of Flathead Lake. It’s about 20 minutes from Kalispell. While Bigfork and Kalispell share the same amazing scenery, they are both very different areas. The following information is provided for those of you considering a move here. Here’s why Bigfork is one of the most incredible spots on earth.
Bigfork is located on the eastern shore of Flathead Lake, a 30 mile long and nearly 15 mile wide lake. It is the largest lake in the western United States. The lake boasts 160 miles of shoreline, 200 square miles of water, and 300 feet of depth in some places. The Flathead River and Swan River feed the lake all year long.
Flathead Lake is a great spot for boating, fishing, sunbathing, picnicking and special events. For example, the Dragon Boat Festival has been an annual Flathead area event. This race recently moved to the Bigfork area, so in addition to attending the festival, attendees can also explore the town of Bigfork. I personally attended this event in 2019. It was a wonderful event, and additional information can be found here.
Another Flathead Lake attraction is Wild Horse Island, which is a 2,000 acre state park accessible by boat. History indicates the Salish-Kootenai Indians used the island to pasture their horses and keep them from being stolen by other tribes. The park is used by hikers, swimmers and photographers and only day-use is allowed. The park has bighorn sheep, birds, waterfowl, mule deer, falcons, bald eagles and of course wild horses.
There are also parks located around the lake for swimming, picnicking and camping. They include the Wayfarer’s State Park, West Shore State Park, Big Arm State Park, Boettcher Park, Flathead Lake State Park, and Yellow Bay State Park.
The park that is located in Bigfork is Wayfarer’s State Park. Its 67 acres provide nature walks, campsites, tent pads, a boat launch, playground, grills and swimming, to name a few options. The beach front is a bit rocky, so if you are planning to get some sun, you may wish to bring a chair or mat to lay on. Trust me on this!
For information on the other parks listed above, see this site’s Kalispell Montana community page.
Enjoying the Outdoors
Whenever someone mentions Montana, the first thing most people think of is the great outdoors. Montana is a treasure trove of outside activities including hiking, downhill skiing, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, skating, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, events, and more. Here are a few highlights:
There is no way to share information about every single possibility for hiking in the Bigfork area. The Salish Mountains to the west of Kalispell and the Swan Range to the north and east of Bigfork both provide almost-countless opportunities for hiking. Here are just a few highlights:
In the Swan Range, the Jewel Basin is a popular site for hikers. This area is just outside of Bigfork. The Jewel Basin includes over 15,000 acres, 35 miles of trails and 27 lakes. Motorized vehicles and horses are not allowed in the area. I can personally attest that the hiking in this area is amazing. Some of the trails get very little traffic and are somewhat overgrown. You could walk miles on a weekday and not see another person. Other times, you may run into some hikers or bikers and can trade some thoughts about the trails. And the views! The above photo was taken during a hike to the Twin Lakes area of Jewel Basin. This year I had the pleasure to try a different Jewel Basin hike, this time to Birch Lake. Details of the road into the hiking area, and information regarding the Birch Lake hike can be found here. And a map of the Jewel Basin can be found here. This is a great place to explore!
Also in the Swan Range is Alpine Trail #7. This is a 54 mile-long trail that starts at Columbia Mountain, which is east of Columbia Falls. It passes through the Jewel Basin, and ends at Inspiration Point, a 7,552 summit which is located near the southern end of Flathead Lake.
In the Salish Mountains, there are more than 4,000 square miles of forests, hills and mountains. The mountains in this range are not as high as those found elsewhere. For example, the highest peak is found on McGuire Mountain, which is 6,991 feet above sea level. If you are interested in climbing, the Stone Hill Rock Climbing Area provides over 300 climbing routes. In terms of hiking, there are multiple hiking trails in the Salish Mountain Range. Trailheads are located at Ashley Peak, Lupine, Blacktail, Wild Bill, Elk Mountain and more. The best way to find trails in the Salish area is to purchase a Kootenai and East Half Kaniksu National Forests map.
An important note on hiking in the Montana area. Bear spray is a “must,” and water. Even when it’s cool, the air is dry and you need to hydrate often.
Hiking can be done almost year round, but winter’s special activity is skiing. The area includes opportunities for both downhill and cross-country skiing. The two ski areas closest to Bigfork are Whitefish and Blacktail Mountain. Whitefish Mountain Resort is about an hour drive from Bigfork, and the Blacktail Mountain Ski area is also about an hour away.
Whitefish has 105 marked ski trails, bowl and tree skiing, and covers 3,000 acres. On average, the Whitefish area gets about 333 inches of snow. There are 11 chairlifts and several T-Bars. In the summer, the area provides mountain biking trails. The Glacier Nordic Club provides cross-country skiing opportunities in Whitefish.
Blacktail Mountain provides views of Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park and several mountain ranges. The 1,000 acre area gets about 250 inches of snow per year. Blacktail Mountain also offers cross-country trails. The trailhead and parking area for cross-country are located approximately 8 miles up from route 93. The trails are groomed between December 1st and March 31st seven days a week. If using the trails between those dates, you must use cross-country skis. No snowshoes, snow bikes or vehicles are allowed.
Thoughts of Montana aren’t complete without thinking of riding a horse through the countryside. There are several options for horseback riding in the Bigfork area. An Internet search will provide other ideas. Here is one suggestion.
If you are interested in an all-inclusive vacation at a dude ranch, you can try the Flathead Lake Lodge which is located at 150 Flathead Lodge Road in Bigfork. The property has nearly 2,000 acres of land, running from Flathead Lake to the peaks of the Mission Mountains. Horseback riding, biking and hiking are all possible. You can also get private horseback riding lessons at Flathead Lake lodge. And they have children’s programs and various specialty rides.
Fishing and Hunting
I am definitely not an expert in the areas of hunting and fishing personally, but know plenty of people who are! Here is what I can share.
Regardless of whether you prefer lake fishing or stream fishing, you can find it near Bigfork.
Some of the options for lake fishing include Bull Lake, the Chain Lakes, Jewel Basin lakes, Koocanusa Reservoir, Lake Koocanusa, Lion Lake, Lupine Lake, the North End Lakes, Noxon Rapids Reservoir, Sylvia Lake, Tally Lake and the Wilderness Lakes. The type of fish in each varies. You can find westslope cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon, bass, perch, bull trout, rainbow trout, lake trout and pike, to name a few. If stream fishing is more your style, the Kootenai River and the North, South and Middle forks of the Flathead River can provide days of fishing fun. More details on all these options can be found at the Go-Montana website.
Because fishing is such a popular Kalispell area activity, there are plenty of Outfitters and Fishing Guide companies in the area that can help you get out on the water. Whether you envision floating down a river in a drift boat with pole in hand on a sunny afternoon, wading into a stream with your freshly made or purchased fly fishing lures, or heading into the lake on a fishing charter boat, there are choices for you! A quick online search will provide many options.
While the exact dates can change from year to year, sometime in early September archery season for big game starts. General hunting for black bears and wolves follows in mid-September, and the general season for deer and elk in mid to later October. The general season usually goes to late November, and there can also be some youth-only days prior to the start of general season.
In Montana, many species can be hunted with proper approval. Hunting for white trail deer, mule deer, black bear, elk, wolves, mountain lions and game birds are all possible. Also antelope, big horn sheep, bison, moose, mountain goat and turkey.
Hunting in Montana, as with many other states, requires that hunters are licensed and have the proper tags. If a black bear tag is requested, hunters must also pass a bear identification test that proves they know the difference between black bear and grizzlies, since the latter cannot be hunted. Also, resident and non-resident license costs can vary dramatically (for example, $125 for a resident versus $1250 for a non-resident).
The other things to keep in mind in Montana is hunting requires vigilance for bears. Hunt with a buddy and keep an eye out when finding carcasses. Also, hunting on private land is only doable if the landowner provides consent. For more information on hunting in Montana, see the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website.
Bigfork MT Places to Live
One of the most interesting things about Montana is the variety of choices for homes. If you want an off-the-grid cabin in a remote forest location, you can have that. If you are interested in living in a brand new ranch home on a golf course or a five bedroom two-story home in the valley, you can do that as well. There are condominiums, rental homes, ranches, log homes, and even vacant land for new construction projects. You can also live in a specific community if you desire.
This section will be updated shortly to include various communities in the area. See the bottom of this page for currently available Bigfork homes.
Living in Bigfork MT
Once you’ve purchased your new home in Bigfork MT, there are so many additional things to know such as how to dispose of garbage, where to get your news, where to grocery shop and the like. Following are answers to some of those questions.
How do I dispose of garbage/recycling materials in Kalispell MT?
Valley Recycling is one option, located at 1410 Highway 2 West in Kalispell. They are open Monday-Friday only from 7:30am to 4:30pm. They have several drop off sites, which can be found on their website. They accept non-waxy cardboard, newspaper, office paper, magazines, shredded paper, aluminum cans, aluminum foil and aluminum pie dishes.
The Flathead County Landfill site is located at 4098 Highway 93 North in Kalispell. You can bring items such as construction debris, appliances, refuse, used motor oil, brush and yard waste to this site. They will also retrieve junked vehicles as well. Household Hazardous waste can also be delivered to the landfill site, but only on every third Saturday and registration is required. Also, four passenger vehicle tires per year can be delivered at no charge, and more can be dropped off with a small fee.
Household garbage can be delivered to various drop off sites as indicated in the Flathead County Solid Waste link provided here. Latex paint can be included in regular garbage as long as it is hardened. If it isn’t, it will be accepted once cat litter or sand or sawdust is added to absorb the moisture. For the Bigfork area, a drop-off location is 133 Highway 83, Bigfork.
Where can I get my news?
There are several local newspapers which are online and can help you get acquainted with the area before you move here. Once you are here, you can arrange for delivery of the actual paper if you so desire. The first is the Flathead Beacon which is published in Kalispell and covers news from Northwest Montana. In addition to their reporting of news, events, outdoors and arts and entertainment, the publication includes a sometimes humorous view of the police blotter.
Another source of information about the area is the Daily Inter Lake, which is also published in Kalispell. In addition to local news, sports and classifieds, this paper also includes a section called “The Best of the Flathead” which highlights restaurants, places to stay, local businesses and more.
If you want to know more about the most important part of Montana, the outdoors, you can also subscribe to a magazine called Montana Outdoors. It provides amazing photos of wildlife and nature and is stock full of information about the local environments. their website can be found here for more information.
Where can I buy groceries?
There are several options in the Kalispell area for grocery shopping, which is only about 20 minutes away. The choices include Albertson’s, Rosauers, Smith’s, Walmarts, and two Super 1’s. All have a full array of produce, goods and beer and wine. See the Kalispell page for more information.
In the Bigfork area, there is also a grocery store which has a good selection of merchandise. Bigfork Harvest Foods is located at 8111 Highway 35, just minutes from the center of town. Harvest Foods offers online shopping and curbside pickup. They have online coupons, weekly specials and everything else you might expect from a grocery store.
If you like organic, Max’s Market might be the place for you. The store is located at 125 Village Lane, and they provide local, fresh and organic foods.
What other activities might I find to do in Bigfork?
Culture is alive and well in Bigfork. The Bigfork Summer Playhouse is located at 526 Electric Avenue in town. They host shows from May through September. More information can be found on their website.
Bigfork is also home to the Center of the Performing Arts. The center is open year round. The 435 seat theater is home to musical theatre, plays, live music, concerts as well as movies.
You might also like shopping and perusing art galleries. In the main part of Bigfork, there are quite a few art galleries on Electric Avenue. In addition there are various shops and restaurants in town. If antiques are your thing, there is also an antique store located at 100 Hill Road outside of town. The store is housed in a large barn which includes all sorts of antique furniture, collectibles and other items. If you like shopping, you must check this out!
If you have any Bigfork MT questions that were not answered here, feel free to reach out to me directly. I can be reached at 406-270-3667 (cell) or via email at email@example.com.