Flathead Lake Lodge resides on the longest natural freshwater lake in the West. At 28 miles long and 15 miles wide, Flathead Lake is fed with snowmelt from Glacier National Park, only 35 miles away. It is one of the cleanest bodies of water on earth.
Located in Bigfork, Montana, Flathead Lake Lodge is a respite from everyday life. Two thousand acres of outdoor space allows for multiple ways to connect with nature, your partner, and the community that inevitably bonds at this all-inclusive dude ranch. The activities and surroundings cast a magical spell that’s so compelling, 70 percent of the guests return every year. Suppose you’re flying from the eastern part of the United States. In that case, eight major airlines have seasonal direct flights into Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, 26 miles from the Lodge.
Chase Averill, General Manager and third-generation owner of Flathead Lake Lodge, will welcome you back to all the things you love about a Montana dude ranch vacation. It’s becoming a rare experience these days. His team will meet you at the airport and bring you back, although you may not want to leave. Here are eight special reasons why.
Note: I was a guest of Flathead Lake Lodge for the Adult Weekend Getaway. All opinions are my own.
1. Check Out The Historic Lodge
The history of the Lodge unfolds once you step inside the door. Les Averill was a bomber pilot during World War II and spent his childhood in Montana, hunting, fishing, and riding. When he returned, he found the abandoned boys camp, built by the WPA, on the shores of Flathead Lake. It was a rundown main house and a few cabins for sale. He bought it for around $5,000 and promoted it as a hunting lodge. He almost went broke until Bugsy Siegel, the famous American mobster, showed up and asked Les to take him hunting. After that, a string of famous men, some from the military, came to hunt and fish. Their repeat business kept the Lodge afloat, and many wanted to bring their families along. Les changed his hunting lodge to a dude ranch.
Seven decades and three generations later, it’s still a place that people love to visit for some rest and renewal. The rustic Lodge, a log cabin, features an enormous crackling fire in the double hearth fireplace that constantly burns, no matter the season. Animal heads hang from the walls, as do photos and artifacts from days long past. There’s a story associated with every one of those trophies. If you are lucky enough to meet Doug Averill, Les’s son and second owner of the Lodge, he’ll tell you some.
2. Ride A Horse
With 2,000 acres of private land to explore and over a hundred horses to choose from, you must ride a horse on this Montana dude ranch. You can experience many trails during your stay, no matter your skill or comfort level. There’s a morning ride that includes breakfast and several rides throughout the day. An advanced ride through the 500-acre elk preserve with a chili and cornbread lunch, including views of Swan Lake, is a favorite, and there are lessons for those who would like to brush up on their skills. You can ride as much or as little as you want; it’s entirely up to you. The staff at the barn is friendly, knowledgeable, and managed by Carson Averill, Chase’s cousin, an experienced manager in his fourth season.
3. Enjoy Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake is the 79th largest lake on the planet, and it’s one of the cleanest. Depending on what month you visit (May being the coolest and August as the warmest), you can paddle the lake in a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard. In summer, you can wakeboard or water ski behind powerboats on the water. There are a variety of sailboats from 14 feet to 27-foot Olympic Class Songs. Adding to the nostalgia are two historic 51-foot Q-class racing sloops, the Questa and the Nor ‘Easter, built in 1928 and 1929 as prototypes for America’s Cup boats. The sailing staff will take guests on tours of Flathead Lake on these beauties. If you want to enjoy the water from land, watch the action from the heated pool or throw a line in from the beach or dock and catch a giant fish, some as big as eight pounds.
4. Tour The Elk Preserve
Dax VanFossen, the Brand Ambassador and Marketing Coordinator, hosts tours of the 500-acre elk preserve in an Austrian-made high mobility all-terrain vehicle in a 1971 army green or a 1972 beige version. This open-air, off-road truck adds a bit of excitement to the ride as it climbs into the preserve. Elk live an extra five or more years in the preserve, helping extend their lifespan. There are around 27 elk this season, and we hope to see them. The bulls eat 40 pounds of grass a day, their antlers weigh approximately 40 pounds, and, if angered, they can run 40 miles an hour. Luckily they don’t have their antlers because they shed them in winter. As we meander through the preserve, we spot a bull and some females frolicking with a bunch of older horses. The horses are eating here before they walk to the barn for children to ride this summer. They think we have food. One approaches the open truck and sticks its head inside for some petting. This unexpected nuzzle, along with the spectacular lake views from the top of the overlook, is breathtaking.
5. Salute The Sun On The Yoga Deck
After hiking, biking, and horseback riding, a good stretch is in order. That’s when you find your Zen and take one of the many yoga classes included with your stay. The views are stunning, and the morning practice offers just the right balance to get your day started in the perfect natural setting. If the weather isn’t cooperating, the conference center, with huge picture windows facing the lake, is another venue to find your center.
6. Savor Locally Sourced Made-From-Scratch Meals
Executive Chef Rob Clagett loves cooking for the guests and staff at Flathead Lake Lodge. He sources local ingredients, including produce, meats, and new for his third season, cherry wood to burn in his outdoor kitchen grill and oven. Chef Clagett and his team make everything from scratch, including bread, desserts, and delicious treats served throughout the day. The new outdoor kitchen allows the team to cook on an Argentinian-inspired grill that will allow them to raise and lower grates and cook meats over the cured cherry wood. This will infuse extra Montana flavor while the guests enjoy views of the lake. All the other favorites will remain: breakfasts served in the woods, the Wednesday evening Steak Fry in the preserve served with cowboy beans, cheesy bread, potato salad, Maureen Averill’s famous undone brownies, and those delicious hors d’oeuvres for happy hour at the Saddle Sore Saloon.
7. Dance To Live Entertainment
Enjoy several live performances at Flathead Lake Lodge. Sometimes it’s an acoustic night; other times, it’s a full-on party in the barn or in the pasture where you learn how to Two-Step and dance the night away. Whether it’s a mellow night on the beach by the campfire with S’mores or in the preserve during the Steak Fry, the musicians make evenings unique. Many have played here over the years and are fan favorites.
8. Experience Montana Sunsets
You will never forget sunsets on the lake. One clear evening the lake was calm, and the sun was slowly setting around 9 p.m. Our group rushed down to the dock and started to snap pictures as the orange and purple rays began to spread out against the vast sky. We watched the colors float over the water’s glassy surface with new friendships formed and partners by our sides. It was absolutely amazing.
There are different types of getaways and accommodations at Flathead Lake Lodge: adults only, families, and multi-generational. Check the website and book early. Summer is best for warmer temperatures. Fall is gorgeous for leaf-peeping.