Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake
Some place names evoke a clear picture in the mind. Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake is one of these places. Located on northwest Montana’s largest freshwater lake, the island gets its name from its history as a horse pasture for Salish-Kootenai Indians to keep their horses safe from rival tribes. Today, it’s a state park that’s home to bighorn sheep, mule deer and five wild horses. It’s also an excellent spot for hiking with designated trails and world-class fishing. The park is open to day use only and other strict rules ensure that the island retains its wilderness character.
As the park’s name implies, wild horses are a main attraction. However, the park’s other wildlife includes a herd of mule deer and songbirds. Waterfowl, bald eagles and falcons are also regular visitors. Its Palouse Prairie grasslands and forests of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir provide habitat for numerous plant species as well.
The island is easily accessed by boat. Visitors can bring their own boat (remember to stop at the state’s checkpoints upon entering Montana to prevent the spread of hitchhiking invasive mussel species), rent a boat from any number of locations around Flathead Lake, or book a tour that includes a trip to Wild Horse Island. The ferry that runs to the island departs from Driftwood Point near Big Arm and offers several daily trips to the island.
Wild Horse Island State Park is managed by the state of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It lies within both the Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County, and it encompasses 2,164 acres (876 ha).
Despite developers platting sites for summer homes on the island’s shoreline, most of the island remains largely untrammeled. Visitors can camp at two designated campsites, and they can explore the island’s hiking trails. The most popular trail is the Rocky Point Trail, which leads to a view of the island’s western end and provides views of the mountains on the other side of the lake.
Wild Horse Island is also home to the only wild horse herd in Montana. The park’s policy is to keep the herd of five wild horses as close to wild as possible so that they remain healthy and able to escape from predators. As a result, it is strictly prohibited to feed or attempt to ride the horses.
Wild Horse Island State Park is an amazing destination for outdoor pursuits and a great place to see native wildlife. The best time to visit is between mid-June and early September, when the weather is warm and the wildlife is most active. You’ll find that the majority of the island’s campsites are reserved for groups, so it’s a good idea to book a site in advance. If you’d like to take a ferry to the island, be sure to book in advance as they sell out quickly. The ferry departs Driftwood Point near Big Arm several times a day and can be booked with Big Arm Boat Rental and Rides. wild horse island flathead lake