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Explorer’s Guide to the Flathead Country Loop, Montana

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Nestled in the towering arms of the majestic Rocky Mountains, the vast expanse of Flathead Country spreads out like a canvas of golden fields, sweeping prairies, and aromatic cherry groves waiting to be explored.


The Flathead Country Loop in Montana is a scenic drive that offers breathtaking views of the state’s natural beauty. The loop takes you through the Flathead Valley, which is nestled between the stunning Rocky Mountains and the serene Flathead Lake.

As you drive along the loop, you’ll be treated to a diverse array of landscapes, from lush forests and rolling hills to rugged mountain peaks and crystal-clear lakes. The area is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, moose, bears, and numerous species of birds.

In addition to its natural beauty, the Flathead Country Loop also offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Whether you’re into hiking, biking, fishing, boating, or just relaxing in the great outdoors, you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy the area’s natural splendor.

Overall, the Flathead Country Loop in Montana is a must-see destination for anyone who loves nature, outdoor adventure, and breathtaking scenery.

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Table of Contents:

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Nestled in the rugged landscape of the Rockies, Missoula is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounded by the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot rivers, this brawny western town is a gateway to breathtaking hiking trails and prime fishing spots. For centuries, it has been a vital passage for Salish people on their way to buffalo hunting grounds and today, it continues to attract travelers seeking adventure on the Northern Pacific Railway.

Despite a devastating fire in 1884, the rugged beauty of historic Missoula endures. The old downtown district, nestled on the north side of the Clark Fork River, boasts charming old structures such as the Missoula Mercantile Building and the country courthouse. Across the river, adventure awaits at the University of Montana, surrounded by lush forests and dotted with grand 19th-century homes. Every day, the sweet melodies of bells chime at noon from University Hall, beckoning travelers to explore this wild and picturesque town.

Nestled in the heart of Missoula, lies the majestic Greenough Park, stretching for a mile of untouched wilderness. As you tread through towering conifers and rustling cottonwoods, a symphony of birdsong greets you. Watch in awe as warblers, woodpeckers, dippers, waxwings and other rare feathered creatures dance around you. This is not just a stroll, but an exhilarating journey into the wild.

See our guide to planning an adventure trip to Missoula.

View of Missoula from Mount Sentinel, in Missoula, Montana.

Flathead Indian Reservation

The journey northwest from Missoula on Interstate-90 is a breathtaking one. As the road winds alongside the Clark Fork River for eight miles, you’ll be surrounded by lush grasslands and soaring mountains in the distance. But once you turn north onto Route 93, get ready for an exhilarating climb through dense forests of Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines. After just seven miles, you’ll reach Evaro and the southern edge of the Flathead Indian Reservation, spanning over 1.2 million acres of unspoiled nature. Here, adventure awaits amidst sprawling valleys and towering mountain ranges, home to over 5,000 people who have coexisted with this majestic land for centuries.

The journey from Enaro takes you down a winding road into the mystical Jocko Valley, where every July the largest powwow in the northwest is held. A quick ascent brings you to a breathtaking lookout point overlooking the majestic Mission Mountains. Standing at 10,000 feet, these awe-inspiring peaks form an impenetrable barrier of ice and stone, seemingly reaching for the heavens. The valley below is so beautifully preserved that it was once known by Native Americans as the “place of encirclement.” Prepare to be enchanted by nature’s rugged magnificence on this adventure.

Springtime landscape of the Mission Valley and Mission Mountain Range in Montana. Foreground is a wide expanse of Arrowleaf Balsamroot and green pastures with snow capped mountain range and big beautiful blue skys with wispy clouds. Scene was taken from the National Bison Range, MT.

St. Ignatius Mission

In 1840, brave Jesuit missionaries, known to the native Americans as Black Robes, trekked through the rugged mountains of western Montana. The chosen site for their mission? A majestic hillside, teeming with natural beauty. And in 1854, they built their masterpiece – a simple brick structure that belied the breathtaking wonders within. For beneath its unassuming exterior awaited 50 hand-painted murals and frescoes, each depicting biblical scenes with enchanting detail.

The Mission in St. Ignatius comprises of four structures: the 1891 church, the original 1854 log church and residence, the 1864 Providence Sister’s residence, and the 1960 Rectory. The church is the most notable building among them. Building began in 1891 and lasted for two years until completion. All materials were obtained from the local area, including bricks made from clay found nearby and trees that were cut on site.

Over the course of fourteen months in 1904-1905, a Jesuit Brother who served as the Mission cook painted fifty-eight murals inside the church. These works of art were the creation of Brother Joseph Carignano, SJ (1853-1919), a humble cook at the mission who had no formal training. He created these paintings while also fulfilling his regular duties and tasks. The murals depict scenes from both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, as well as various stories from the lives of the saints. The triptych positioned behind the main altar showcases the three visions of St. Ignatius of Loyola, after whom both the Mission and town are named.

In 1973, The Mission was designated as a national historical site and is currently open for self-guided tours every day from 9am to 5pm.

The interior beauty of the St. Ignatius catholic mission in St. Ignatius, Montana.

CSKT Bison Range

Venturing through the rugged terrain, backtrack 5 miles south on Route 93 to Ravalli and continue west on Route 200 towards Route 212. As you head north to Moiese, the starting point for a wild journey through the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Bison Range awaits. Once roamed by millions of shaggy beasts, these plains were tragically decimated by the white man in the 19th century. But now, through restoration efforts at the cornerstone of this range, their numbers are steadily growing. Embark on a 19-mile auto tour that winds through an enchanting mosaic of high-country landscapes, from swirling grasslands to timbered hillsides and stream-side groves. Here, bison and a plethora of other wild animals roam freely, just as they did before European settlers arrived in the New World. Get ready for an immersive adventure into nature’s untamed wonders.

Nestled in the breathtaking Mission Valley, just north of Missoula, lies the awe-inspiring CSKT Bison Range. With over 18,500 acres of untouched wilderness, this sanctuary is home to a diverse array of wildlife including 300 to 500 majestic bison, elusive black bears, regal bighorn sheep, swift pronghorn antelopes, and graceful elk.

Experience nature’s magnificence firsthand in this untamed paradise. Located within the heart of the historic Flathead Indian Reservation, this range is not only a celebration of Native American culture but also serves as a symbol of strength and resilience for the tribes who have called it home since time immemorial. Now under the ownership of the CSKT, visitors can immerse themselves in this sacred land through hiking trails, guided tours, and educational exhibits at the Visitor Center.

The full drive through the CSKT Bison Range took will take you just over 2 hours, including time for stopping to see the various wildlife along the way and a walk at the Grassland Loop Trail. The trail is only a 0.4 mile hike but it is a perfect chance to stretch your legs and move around. The view is breathtaking, with wide open plains and wildflowers blooming, and the Mission Mountains jutting into the sky all setting the scene for a view you will not soon forget. You’ll find yourselves saying “wow” the entire time you drive through the National Bison Range Scenic Byway which takes visitors through 20 miles of the CSKT Bison Range.

The majestic National Bison Scenic Byway spans across two breathtaking routes – the winding nineteen-mile Red Sleep Mountain Road and the serene five-mile Prairie Drive. The Red Sleep Mountain Road boasts scenic views of rolling hills and mountains, but caution is necessary as trailers are prohibited on its steep inclines and sharp curves. As a one-way road, it provides a thrilling experience for visitors. Meanwhile, the Prairie Drive offers a tranquil drive through the base of the mountain and the picturesque flats of the reserve all year round, making it perfect for adventurers with trailers in tow.

The CSKT Bison Range Grassland Loop Trail is a 0.4-mile easy route with scenic views and benches to rest on. Starting at the National Bison Range visitor center, this simple trail takes about 7 minutes to complete and offers an unpaved but manageable adventure through nature. The CSKT Bison Range Nature Trail is a scenic, dog-friendly path around a marsh and alongside a river. With an easy 0.7-mile loop and various wildlife sightings, it’s perfect for anyone wanting to stretch their legs and immerse themselves in nature. Located in Dixon, Montana, this popular trail takes only 13 minutes on average to complete and offers solitude during quieter times of day.

And while purchasing your pass, take a moment to appreciate the awe-inspiring sight of bison roaming freely – descendants of a herd that once faced extinction. But before you set out on your adventure, make sure to check for updates on road and weather conditions to ensure a safe and memorable experience in this stunning natural wonderland.

Spanning over 18,500 acres of untouched wilderness, the National Bison Range serves as a vast sanctuary for bison, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and an array of untamed creatures.

Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

Venturing a few miles further north on Route 212, you will reach the breathtaking Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. This nature sanctuary boasts a diverse wetland habitat, featuring marshes, reservoirs, and glacial pothole ponds that serve as a haven for over 200 species of birds. From majestic Canada geese to graceful herons, from soaring bald eagles to colorful pheasants, this refuge is a birdwatcher’s paradise. For the ultimate viewing experience, head to the east side of Ninepipe Reservoir during spring and fall, when thousands of migrating birds make a pit stop at this beautiful destination. Enter the realm of nature and embark on an adventure like no other at Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge.

Panorama of Nine Pipes National Wildlife Refuge and the Mission Mountains.


Nestled amidst the rugged glacier moraine on the shores of Flathead Lake, Poison boasts lush cherry orchards and a bustling waterfront lined with shops, restaurants, and docks. For those seeking adventure, take a stroll along the energetic bay and follow the Lower Flathead River as it winds through the stunning canyon terrain. Marvel at the towering Kerr Dam, a magnificent 204-foot concrete structure that serves as both a feat of engineering and an entrance to the wild and inaccessible hills beyond. Blaze your own trail by venturing down Seventh Avenue to Kerr Dam Road and following the signs to breathtaking lookout points above the roaring rapids below. It’s a landscape that will take your breath away and leave you yearning for more exploration.

Town of Polson, Montana.

Flathead Lake

From the top of a gentle hill near Polson, Flathead Lake comes into view. Its vast expanse of crystal clear water stretches 28 miles into the horizon, surrounded by rolling hills, lush forests, and snow-capped mountains. Islands covered in dense vegetation scatter throughout its shimmering surface as sailboats gracefully cut through the waves. As enchanting as the glacier that carved it 12,000 years ago, Flathead Lake leaves a lasting mark on all who embark on its journey.

Venturing northwest from Polson, Route 93 winds through rolling green hills before hugging the lakeshore once again at Big Arm. The bustling marina offers boat rentals for a journey to Wildhorse Island, a legendary haven for the Flathead people’s horses in times of war. Today, the island is home to over 100 majestic bighorn sheep, adding an element of thrilling adventure to any trip.

Winding through the rugged terrain of Big Arm Bay, the road ventures northward, tracing the jagged shoreline for a scenic 15-mile journey. Thick evergreen forests line the water’s edge, while the majestic Mission Mountains cast long shadows across the lake during sunset. It’s a breathtaking adventure through nature at its finest.

Flathead Lake, Montana.

Lake Mary Ronan

Nestled in the midst of towering ponderosa pines, Lake Mary Ronan offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. With only a short three-mile drive on paved and gravel roads, you’ll find yourself at the secluded lakeshore, surrounded by pristine nature. As the sun sets, the serene ambiance is broken only by the energetic splash of record-sized trout and salmon jumping out of the crystal clear waters. A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, this hidden gem promises endless possibilities for adventure and exploration.

Lake Mary Ronan State Park, Montana

Lone Pine State Park

Set amidst the breathtaking flora and fauna of Flathead Country, Lone Pine State Park is a must-visit for adventure-seekers. As you traverse its scenic trails through vibrant meadows and enchanting forests, be sure to stop at the three cliffside lookouts that offer unparalleled views of Kalispell and Glacier National Park’s rugged peaks. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world as you soak in nature’s magnificent beauty at this picturesque park.


Nestled in the lush grasslands with a stunning view of Swan Peak and the Whitefish Range, Kalispell emerged as a thriving town, a tribute to one man’s bold spirit and fortuitous timing. Charles Conrad, who had lost everything in the Civil War, started anew and built a booming freight business in Fort Benton. But his adventurous soul led him west, where he followed a tip from the Great Northern Railroad and established his enterprise in the untamed Flathead Valley. And when the railway finally arrived in 1891, Conrad was ready and waiting, ushering in the birth of Kalispell and all its natural wonders awaiting exploration.

In the heart of the northern Flathead Valley lies Kalispell, a bustling hub of trade and travel. But beyond its prosperous commercial district and charming residential neighborhoods, lies a world waiting to be explored. Surrounding the city are sprawling forests and crystal clear rivers, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure. And nestled within this natural paradise is the grand Conrad family mansion, a stunning Norman-style home adorned with 23 beautifully appointed rooms. Adjacent to it, lies a tranquil park with fragrant rose gardens and a peaceful duck pond, serving as a reminder of the city’s rich history and pioneering spirit.

Aerial view of the beautiful landscape around Kalispell, Montana.


Nestled fifteen miles north of Kalispell, lies the serene Whitefish, a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Its crown jewel is the majestic 7,000-foot Big Mountain, beckoning thrill-seekers all year round. In the warmer months, vibrant wildflowers cover its slopes, offering breathtaking views that stretch from Flathead Lake to southern Canada. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, a swift gondola ride to the summit awaits, or you can brave the Danny On Memorial Trail through untouched alpine forests and lush meadows, adorned with sweet huckleberries.

Nestled at the base of the majestic mountain, Whitefish Lake sprawls for 7-miles into the untouched flathead National Forest. A haven for nature lovers and thrill-seekers alike, the Town of Whitefish proudly boasts its title as “the recreation capital of Montana.” And for good reason- each February, it is home to one of the most exhilarating winter carnivals in the state. For those seeking an adrenaline rush and an escape into nature’s playground, be sure to check out our adventurer’s guide to the Whitefish area.

Birds eye view of fall colors surrounding the town of Whitefish, Montana.

Hungry Horse Dam

Amidst the wintry wonderland of 1900, two spirited steeds, Tex and Jerry, broke free from their logging team and embarked on an extraordinary journey. After surviving a month in the treacherous terrain, they emerged as legends, capable of producing enough energy to power a city five times the size of Missoula. Beyond the towering dam lies the 34-mile-long Hungry Horse Reservoir, a serene oasis nestled deep within the untamed backcountry forests. Encircled by a rugged gravel road and bordered by the Great Bear Wilderness and Jewel Basin Hiking Area, it beckons to those seeking adventure and immersion in nature’s raw beauty.

Tree stump on the shores of Hungry Horse Reservoir, with Mount Murry looming in the distance. Located in Flathead National Forest, a haven for nature lovers and adventurers alike.

Swan Valley

Venturing southward, the road winds through the quaint village of Bigfork before joining with Route 209 and veering east. As it continues its journey, the path turns south onto Route 83, a stunning stretch of terrain that runs parallel to the crystal-clear Swan and Clearwater rivers for over 90 miles. Enveloped by the rugged peaks of the Swan and Mission Ranges on either side, this highway seamlessly blends into the picturesque wilderness that surrounds it. Along the way, travelers can stop at various points of interest, such as the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge near Swan Lake, offering breathtaking opportunities for wildlife observation. Keep your senses sharp for glimpses of majestic moose, elusive bears, graceful tundra swans, and regal bald eagles in their natural habitat within this unspoiled wetland and lakeshore area.

A mountain goat stands atop a peak in western Montana’s Swan Range.

Holland Lake

Nestled in the depths of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, lies an enchanting body of water. Its secluded location and tranquil beauty make it a true gem. The calm waters shimmer in the early morning mist and glow with vibrant hues during sunset. As a gateway to the sprawling wilderness, Holland Lake beckons hikers and horseback riders to explore its surrounding trails. Spanning over 2 million acres of unspoiled forest and straddling the Continental Divide, this vast reserve known as “the Bob” promises endless adventures for nature lovers seeking solace in the great outdoors.

Lake Holland, Montana.

Seeley Lake Area

Winding its way south towards the Blackfoot, the Clearwater River creates an idyllic chain of lakes – Alva, Inez, Seeley and Salmon – offering breathtaking views of the majestic Mission and Swan mountains. For a unique and thrilling experience, try the Clearwater Canoe Trail: a 3-mile downstream adventure with a 1-mile journey back to the starting point. As the sun sets, the serene ride is amplified by the haunting calls of loons that fill the air. Continuing on, Route 200 leads west through Clearwater and eventually loops back to Missoula via the stunning Blackfoot River corridor – famously immortalized in Norman Maclean’s beloved novel, A River Runs Through It. Explore the rugged beauty of Montana like never before.

Stormy sunset on Seeley Lake in western Montana.

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