Wild Horse Island is the largest island in Flathead Lake and it's relatively close to the south end, where we are. We'd been wanting to get out there since the last time we were here, but couldn't quite figure out how. It's an undeveloped state park with access only by boat. The local boating company's day trip boat is out of commission as a result of a recent storm. The island is probably too far to kayak, then hike for 2-3 hours, then kayak back. It also seemed foolish to drive 20 miles to the north side of the lake where there are charter companies to the island, have them boat 15 miles down here to the island, and back again, and then drive 20 miles home to Polson. There is no actual docking available at the Island so we were hesitant to rent a boat and ground it on the rocky shore.
Finally we found Big Arm Boat Rentals and Rides (in Big Arm, a few minutes north of Polson) that has a ride service over to the island and back for less than the cost of renting a motor boat for 4 hours.
|Big Arm Boat Rentals and Rides|
It's not a big or flashy place, but the family that runs it is very nice, efficient, helpful and full of local information for the asking.
The owner, Matt, gave us a ride over in a small motor boat and dropped us of at Skeeko Bay, one of only two places where visitors can access the trails. There is a self-pay kiosk at the trail head. The standard MT state park day use fee seems to be $6. There is also a map posted at the trailhead. You can find this one on the MT state parks website.
At that location we met a large family of Patriot's fans. Because Rick wears a Patriots' hat, he meets a lot of fellow fans. Turns out this family had a special Patriot of their own with them. More on that at the end of our hike. They also pointed out a herd of about ten male big horned sheep resting in the shade down the hill a ways.
Hiking on up the hill, we got some great views and lots of evidence of wild horses (six of them live on the island now) but no sightings. The horses are here from when the local Native Americans used the island to keep their horses so that other local tribes wouldn't steal them.
The trail then turns downward through a ponderosa pine valley that skirts the edges of a restricted area protecting nesting bald eagles. There were hundreds of pine white butterflies flitting around in the dark green tree branches. Caught this one on the ground for a few seconds.
The descent brought us out to Eagle Cove, a beautiful little bay.
The shoreline all around Flathead Lake is rocky, usually with small to medium sized colorful smoothed stones. The water is always crystal clear.
A wiki-up like those in the Pacific Northwest, on one of the small beaches.
The trail finishes with a final mile along the shore through the trees ending back at Skeeko Bay, where we would be picked up.
And there was the big family from Massachusetts again, vacationing with their patriarch Dante Scarnecchia, who was the offensive and assistant head coach of the Patriots for many years. Rick was a happy Patriots' fan indeed.
Our day at Wild Horse Island ended with a zippy, bouncy, invigorating ride back to Big Arm Boat Rentals and Rides, on a jet ski driven by the owner's 14 year old son, who didn't know the meaning of "Slow down!"