To make a perfect summer day, you can sail or kayak to the massive, mostly undeveloped island and swim, fish, hike or watch wildlife to your heart’s content. The island is three miles long, but is very hilly and the landscape alternates between grassland and forest.
At 2,164 acres, Wild Horse Island is the largest freshwater lake island west of Minnesota. Salish and Kootenai Indians are thought to have used the island to keep their horses from being stolen by other tribes. Today, a population of about five wild horses, a herd of mule deer and about 100 bighorn sheep inhabit the island.
Since it was sold to the state in 1978, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has managed the animals to keep the population of horses and sheep at a level the habitat will support. The island is managed as a primitive area and overnight camping, firepits and pets are not allowed. Groups of 15 or more must get a permit, and a state-tribal fishing license is required from the Flathead Indian Reservation.
The state has six sites it recommends for public boat landings: Skeeko Bay, Eagle Cove, Rocky Bar, Driftwood Point, Osprey Cove and East Shores. All the docks are privately owned. There are 52 private, circle-shaped lots on the island. There is a public, unisex solar-powered composting toilet at Skeeko Bay.
There’s just one trail on the island that connects Skeeko Bay to an old homestead. An old stone fireplace is all that is left of the three-story Hiawatha Hotel that was torn down on the east side of the island in the 1990s. It’s also a fantastic trip in the spring and summer when there aren’t as many people around.
Location: The island – at 47.84715 latitude, -114.23458 longitude – is located near Big Arm State Park on the western shore of Flathead Lake. It is most easily accessible by boat from any public dock along U.S. Highway 93. Dayton is a good place to launch.
Distance/duration: Depending on wind conditions and your endurance, a kayak trip to the island from Dayton can take 45 minutes, sometimes much longer.
Difficulty: Getting to the island is easy, as long as you wear a life jacket and are aware of any dangerous weather conditions that might arise. Always check the forecast, and be sure to pack out any garbage you bring. For more information, visit stateparks.mt.gov/wild-horse-island.
Categories: Horse News