Also known as the Treasure State, Montana is well-known for its natural beauty, vast rolling plains, and mountainous regions. This is one of the most visited US states for outdoor adventures. From Glacier National Park to Logan Pass to breathtaking lakes to other natural attractions, Montana offers endless opportunities to its visitors.
Montana has several artificial reservoirs or glacially carved water bodies, adding to the state’s natural beauty. Combined with a range of recreational activities, all lakes in the state are must-visit attractions if you plan to explore Montana.
Since there are a bunch of beautiful lakes in Montana, this post has listed some of the best ones that can help you unwind and relax. Let’s take a closer look at some of Montana’s lakes.
What We Cover
- Best Lakes in Montana to Visit
- 1. Fort Peck Lake
- 2. Flathead Lake
- 3. Canyon Ferry Lake
- 4. Whitefish Lake
- 5. Swan Lake
- 6. Avalanche Lake
- 7. Holland Lake
- 8. Hebgen Lake
- 9. Lake Mcdonald
- 10. Seeley Lake
- 11. Echo Lake
- 12. Saint Mary Lake
- 13. Quake Lake
- 14. Salmon Lake
- Can you swim in Montana’s Lakes?
- Are there any clear lakes in Montana?
- How many lakes are in Montana?
- Are there any warm lakes in Montana?
Best Lakes in Montana to Visit
1. Fort Peck Lake
Located in the eastern prairie area of Montana, Fort Peck Lake is a man-made reservoir. About 134 miles in length, this lake is Montana’s largest existing water body. This is one of the popular tourist attractions of Montana, created in the 1930s by Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River.
Fort Peck Lake is spread over 245,000 acres, making it the largest lake in Montana by surface area. With over 1,500 miles of shoreline, this lake is famous for several activities, including fishing, swimming, and boating.
The beautiful and expansive Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge also surrounds this lake. Multiple back roads connect this water body to nearby wilds where visitors can enjoy additional recreational opportunities, like hiking, camping, and bird-watching. Rich in natural beauty, a Montana trip to Fort Peck Lake is a must-visit.
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2. Flathead Lake
Spread over 197 square miles of surface area. Flathead Lake is a natural lake in northwest Montana. Situated along the mainline of the Flathead River, this is one of the cleanest lakes in the world for its type and size.
Flathead Lake in Montana is accessible from either Highway 35 or Highway 93. You can swim, camp, bike, and hike around this beautiful lake among mature forests and breathtaking views of the Mission Mountains and the Swan Range. Flathead Lake is also one of the best lakes in Montana for boating and fishing.
Though there are several campgrounds around the lake, Flathead Lake State Park is one of the best camping areas. Also, communities, including Polson and Bigfork, connect the lake to nearby marinas, lodging, and restaurants.
On the whole, Flathead Lake is one of the most stunning Montana lakes. Visit this picturesque lake with your family or friends for a lifetime experience.
3. Canyon Ferry Lake
Canyon Ferry Lake might be the place for great lake fun. Covering 33,500 acres of land, this is one of the large lakes in Montana. This is an artificial lake near Helena and Townsend on the Missouri River.
Situated against the Big Belt Mountains of the gorgeous Rocky Mountains, Canyon Ferry Lake is the third-largest lake in Montana. Built with the Canyon Ferry Dam’s construction, it is around 30 miles long and 5 miles wide.
This outdoor destination offers a handful of opportunities for recreational activities, including boating, ice boating, picnicking, wildlife viewing, camping, and hiking. Cave Ridge Trail and Little Hellgate Gulch Trail are popular hiking trails near the lake.
Stocked with various fish species, including whitefish, trout, bass, yellow perch, burbot, and walleye, Canyon Ferry Lake is also perfect for fishing. Overall, it’s an ideal place for a weekend getaway.
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4. Whitefish Lake
Nestled at the edge of Whitefish town, Whitefish Lake is a natural oligotrophic lake in Flathead County, Montana. Spread over 5.2 square miles of surface area, this freshwater lake is 5.8 miles lengthy, 1.4 miles wide, and 233 feet deep.
Whitefish Lake is famous for various recreational activities, including boating, kayaking, fishing, and water skiing. Nearby Whitefish Lake State Park offers opportunities for swimming and camping with gorgeous mountain views.
Some areas of this scenic lake have sandy beach stretches with popular swimming spots, bordered by picnic tables and pavilions. Whitefish City Beach is the most visited section for swimming in the summer along the south shore of this lake. A trip to this lake and surrounding attractions is a must-visit in Whitefish town.
5. Swan Lake
Swan Lake lies at the northernmost point of the picturesque Swan Valley, close to the east of Flathead Lake. The lake is 1,000 meters above sea level and is encircled by the Flathead National Forest.
The area’s major lure is outdoor recreation. Tourists come here all year round to explore the nearby streams and fishing lakes of Montana, trek the trails, go boating, see some birds or other animals, and, in the winter, perhaps go backcountry skiing in the hilly terrain.
Visit the adjacent Swan River Wildlife Refuge for an exceptional bird-watching experience. You may spot several birds, including cranes, osprey, bald eagles, and ducks, to mention just a few.
Furthermore, the Swan Mountain Range’s snow-covered, sturdy-looking peak and a large portion of the Flathead National Forest surround the lake. The lake is around a mile wide and 8 miles long, making it a perfect spot for water-based activities, and it also has the added benefit of a campground.
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6. Avalanche Lake
You will find Avalanche Lake on the western side of the continental divide, encircled by enormous mountains. The avalanches that tumble down the mountains in the area gave rise to the name of this breathtakingly beautiful lake. These avalanches turn into waterfalls of different sizes, flowing down from the highest summits in the spring and early summer.
The wildlife in the lake’s vicinity is extensive, and it is easy to spot bighorn sheep, mountain goats, grizzly bears, and deer. However, a fairly busy route surrounds Avalanche Lake, so don’t be worried about coming across one of these animals.
Hiking the Trail of the Cedars is one of the best ways to see the lake, and a decent trek to Avalanche Lake takes almost half a day to accomplish. You will also see several flowing waterfalls visible on your way and high cliffs surrounding the lake from three sides.
7. Holland Lake
The Flathead National Forest is home to the visually pleasing alpine water body known as Holland Lake. The lake sits on 400 acres of land, and the Swan Mountains surround it, adding to its scenic beauty.
One of Montana’s top hiking paths, the 3-mile-long surrounding terrain ends close to the lake’s shore. When the hikers head towards the spray of Holland Falls at the ends, they cannot believe their eyes while witnessing this picturesque setting.
Locals searching for adventure or leisure frequently travel to Holland Lake. This scenic lake is popular for boating and other water sports like skiing and kayaking. It’s also a perfect place for fly fishing trout or salmon. Around the lake, you will find many overnight lodging options, including campgrounds and beautiful lodges.
8. Hebgen Lake
A two-hour trip will take you to Bozeman in southwest Montana, close to West Yellowstone and the man-made water body – Hebgen Lake. Despite being affected by a moderately strong earthquake in 1959, this lake has long been a popular resort and vacation spot.
Hebgen Lake is now a well-liked outdoor location for visitors and locals, and it can accommodate several admirers who come for swimming, boating, fishing, and water skiing. You will find boat rentals, marinas, paddleboard, canoe, and kayak rentals on the lake’s shore.
Compared to other lakes in Montana, Hebgen Lake’s shore is not very big, but it offers access to some incredible fishing spots. The regional forestry department also manages a few campgrounds near the lake.
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9. Lake Mcdonald
This classic lake is the largest of all glacier lakes in Montana, situated in Glacier National Park. Anyone passing through the area of Going-to-the-Sun Road, which follows the lake’s southern coast, must definitely stop at this location to take in the breathtaking view.
Lake Mcdonald is 10 miles long, about 500 feet deep, and in an Ice Age glacier basin, giving it the traditional fjord Montana Lake appearance. Apart from the western side, the lake is practically covered by the Continental Divide, which enhances the lake’s picturesqueness and acts as a rain barrier.
The area surrounding Lake Mcdonald also offers some incredible opportunities for animal viewing, making it possible to see elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, as well as the occasional black bear.
You can also book a luxurious Swiss-style chalet near the lake to complete your vacation and enjoy this magical location even more.
10. Seeley Lake
The spectacular mountain ranges of the Seeley-Swan Valley, where Seeley Lake is situated, are only an hour’s drive from Missoula. Located in western Montana, this lake covers around 1,000 acres of land. Apart from being right across from the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the surrounding area of Seeley Lake serves as a gateway to Glacier National Park.
The well-known Rainy Lake, Clearwater Lake, Salmon Lake, and Placid Lake are just a few of the 11 lakes that make up the Seeley Lake chain in the Clearwater River Valley.
Seeley Lake is one of the most picturesque locations and is a favorite spot for fishing, boating, and other water activities. On the lake, you will find several boat rentals and boat ramps. There are also a few excellent accommodations close to the lake.
Furthermore, the forestry service runs three different campsites close to the water. Not just that, you will find a swimming area, a beach, and around 30 camping spaces at the Seeley Lake Campground. However, if you don’t feel like pitching a tent, you can stay in the lodges near the lake.
11. Echo Lake
Are you dreaming of an isolated lake area far from civilization? Echo Lake, a small water body in the Flathead Valley about 5 miles northeast of Bigfork, will be a natural sanctuary for you.
Even though Echo Lake is somewhat more distant and secluded, it is undoubtedly just as magnificent as its neighbor, the gorgeous and enormous Flathead Lake, with its many wildlife areas and state parks. And Echo Lake can be a better option for you and your traveling companions, depending on your social bandwidth and interests.
Beyond picture-perfect vistas, Echo Lake has its advantages despite being close to the Swan Lake mountain range and the breathtaking Jewel Basin hiking region. For instance, thanks to the mountain runoff from the adjacent Echo Creek and groundwater, it is one of the warmest lakes in the Flathead Valley. This further enables you to experience the entire range of summertime excitement or winter calm.
Regarding recreational activities, you can participate in many things like biking, hiking, water sports, and lakeside swimming—this location is full of adventure.
12. Saint Mary Lake
St. Mary Lake is another example of the breathtaking natural splendor of Montana. You will witness some of the most beautiful vistas anywhere around this 10-mile-long lake in Glacier National Park. It is crucial to note that St. Mary Lake ranks second in size in the entire national park area.
Bighorn sheep, elk, and bears, to mention a few, can be found in the pine woods that surround the base of the majestic and dramatic mountain peaks. Furthermore, you will find some of the best campgrounds in Glacier National, close to the shore. And there are also a few good hiking paths around the lake from where you can explore the region.
During the summer, boat tours are offered across St. Mary Lake. Summer is the most picturesque time of year for the lake since the wildflowers are in bloom.
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13. Quake Lake
Southwest Montana is home to Quake Lake, situated 30 miles northwest of West Yellowstone. It is mainly located on US Highway 287, which circles the lake and runs through the Gallatin National Forest. Many people consider it the perfect place to unwind among the aspen and fir trees far from the crowds of Yellowstone National Park.
As you approach the lake via this route, you will be able to observe some lingering effects of the landslide and massive earthquake that struck the region and resulted in the lake’s formation. The impacts of the earthquake are most noticeable as you travel from Ennis to West Yellowstone.
Quake Lake primarily draws tourists for brown and rainbow trout fishing, canoeing, boating, wakeboarding, jet and water skiing, and the Quake Lake Visitors Center. Not just that, there is a tonne of serene, natural beauty in this region of Montana, similar to several other surrounding areas.
14. Salmon Lake
The exquisite Salmon Lake is in the western part of Montana’s state park. In this stretch of Montana along the Clearwater River, there are just a few naturally-formed lakes, including Salmon Lake.
This location is perfect for leisurely water activities like boating, fishing, and swimming. It’s also a great place to encounter some wildlife.
This lake is located within Salmon Lake State Park, a designated state park area, so you will find plenty of things to do. For instance, the area boasts a campground, day-use amenities, and a boat launch immediately adjacent to the lake. The park also provides water, restrooms, picnic shelters, and many other facilities.
In the warmer months of June through early August, you can participate in ranger programs during the week and weekend in the park’s amphitheater.
Salmon Lake State Park is conveniently located on Highway 83, making the area easy to access. If you need the exact location, the lake is between Highways 83 and 200, roughly 7 miles north of the Clearwater Junction.
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Can you swim in Montana’s Lakes?
You can always choose from one of Montana’s many pristine and clean rivers, public lakes, and creeks to swim. Nothing beats cooling down in a lake on a hot day after a walk or hiking trip, and as you can’t always be near a pool, dipping in a natural lake could be your best option.
Are there any clear lakes in Montana?
One of Montana’s largest freshwater and clearest lakes is Flathead Lake, located in the Treasure State’s northwest area. It is not just the clearest lake in Montana but the entire world.
How many lakes are in Montana?
There are over 3,000 named lakes and reservoirs all across Montana. These scenic water bodies make Montana a must-visit destination for family vacations or romantic getaways.
Are there any warm lakes in Montana?
Near the town of Bigfork, in the Flathead Valley, lies Echo Lake. It is one of Montana’s warmest lakes, as it receives most of its water from natural springs.