Looking north across Flathead Lake toward the Swan Range.

Matt Gibson

Looking north across Flathead Lake toward the Swan Range.

The largest natural, freshwater lake in the western United States, Flathead Lake boasts 200 square miles of surface and over 180 miles of shoreline. One state park and several public recreation areas ring the water, making it easy to find a place to splash around or launch your boat, even if you're not one of the lucky folks with access to a lakeshore cabin.

High season starts just before the Fourth of July, when you'll find people water-skiing, sailing, fishing, SCUBA diving, kayaking, paddle-boarding, and partying down on pontoon boats. But even in July and August, midweek crowds are almost non-existent, and it's easy to find yourself alone on the water. By mid-August, most folks have packed up the kids and dragged them back to school, but the water's still warm and there's plenty of fun still to be had.

Most anglers target the pernicious population of non-native lake trout, but fishermen can also find whitefish, trout, and perch. The southern half of the lake lies within the Flathead Indian Reservation, and tribal recreation permits are required to fish or hunt.

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