Flathead Lake Sailing

Flathead Lake Sailing

Western Montana is blessed with having the largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi River. Flathead Lake sits at 2,900 feet above sea level and is 28 miles long and 8-15 miles wide and 370 feet deep at its deepest point. With over 200 square miles of water and 185 miles of shoreline, Flathead Lake hosts every imaginable water activity and water sports that exists. Water skiing, deep water fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, kite-boarding and even sailing.

Flathead Lake is so large, it often creates its own weather systems, and is even affected by the earths rotation – that’s a big lake. What it does create more often than not is a healthy thermal wind system from both east and west, so sailing is a perfect sport for many parts of the lake.

It is often a snarky quip to say it’s better to know a friend with a boat than to actually own a boat. Yet that only applies if the friend is incredibly nice and compassionate, particularly towards kids. My friends Geoff and Cindy have a 32 ft sailboat on Flathead Lake and have been generous and kind enough to take me and the boys out sailing almost every summer.

The excursion starts at Dayton Yacht Harbor on the west side of Flathead Lake in the small town of Dayton, MT. The typical trip is a leisurely sail to Wild Horse Island, a 2,100 acre island and part of the Montana State Park system. The island hosts wild horses, bighorn sheep, deer, bald eagles and other wildlife.

After sailing to Wild Horse Island (sailing instructions included) and docking at one of the many island bays, the usual routine is to jump into the cold waters of Flathead Lake and swim to the shores of Wild Horse Island several hundred yards away. A dinghy follows from the sailboat with appropriate hiking shoes and clothing as needed. A sunny hike to find the wildlife, especially the wild horses, can be done on the established trail system on the island. An 800 ft elevation gain hike can provide some majestic views of the island and Flathead Lake.  Wild horses are rare to spot, but usually a bighorn sheep, mule deer, osprey or eagle can be found.

After a return swim to the sailboat, a grilled fresh caught perch is often on the menu for a late afternoon snack. Heading back to Dayton Harbor is usually by motor after a busy and full day. But even better, because it offers the opportunity to engage in some behind the boat rope dragging, a simplistic and back to basics water fun for kids. Just hold onto to a rope and let the sailboat pull you through the water! 

A more wonderful Montana experience with friends and family is hard to imagine. A good friend with a boat is a friend indeed.

For more information on Flathead Lake go here.  For information on Dayton Yacht Harbor go here.  Montana’s 55 state parks are an essential and important part of the state’s culture and tourism base. Wild Horse Island is a must visit destination.

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