Situated in the dab middle of the Flathead Lake, the Wild Horse Island State Park is a 2,100-acre, “primitive-like” park rich with history, wildlife, and vegetation. It’s an ancient land that was formed more than 17,000 years ago. Prior to the 19th century, it was used by the Salish-Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Nation to raise horses. Today, it’s a protected state park framed by Flathead Lake and the high-rising peaks of the Mission Mountains.
Truth be told, Wild Horse Island State Park is the perfect destination for true outdoor lovers who really appreciate the sanctity of nature. It definitely isn’t for people interested in hunting, roasting meat under the stars, four-wheeling, or playing with fireworks. In fact, vehicles and bicycles, fires, barbecues, smoking, weapons, and fireworks have all been banned. Plus you can’t pick at or remove natural objects like antlers or horns. It’s like this to ensure that you, the visitor, don’t disturb the natural habitat of all the animals on the island. Mind you, pets are allowed. Just make sure your pooch doesn’t get into a fight with a mule deer or wild horse!
As is evident, you can only access the island by boat. The best place to depart is from the Big Arm State Park. When you arrive, you can land at one of six public landing sites. Just be sure to thoroughly secure your boat, because severe windstorms sometimes hit the island. Once you’ve landed and setup your boat, it’s time to have fun. I sure hope you really do appreciate nature, because Wild Horse Island State Park isn’t for people who prefer hiding indoors either. It’s for people who love to boat, fish, hike, kayak, sail, eat a picnic, take scenic photographs, or even just walk peacefully through nature’s most beautiful spectacle.
The Wild Horse Island State Park is especially great for fishing. Just make certain you get both a valid Montana fishing license AND a Confederated Salish Kootenai tribal fishing license before you begin. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also good for hiking. There are several intense trails that will take you deep into the island. Just make sure you have enough energy because they’re long but extremely fun and exciting trails. In case that isn’t your style, you can always lounge on the coastline as your kids swim. Just make sure you keep an eye on them!
Perhaps the best part of the park is its notable wildlife. While hiking through the island, don’t be surprised if you encounter bald eagles, falcons, wild horses, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, songbirds, waterfowl, and more than 100 other different birds and mammals. Also scattered throughout the island are a plethora of rare and endangered plant species. They’re especially prominent on the Palouse Prairie grasslands, a large stretch of coastal land always teaming with boaters, hikers, and swimmers. Honestly, though, the best way to view all the wildlife and vegetation is to slide into a canoe and just row your way around the island. It’s more environmentally friendly than a motorized boat, and, more importantly, it’ll let you get a quick look at the entire island.
While on the island, there are a couple things you must keep in mind. First, there are 56 privately owns lots clinging to the coastline. It’s important that you respect these homeowners when you have a picnic, hike along their property, or beach your boat. There are also several Special Resource Zones that cannot be entered. They are designed to protect endangered animals. Don’t worry, though, because they’re clearly identified by large signs.
For more information, feel free to log onto the park website at http://www.visitmt.com/categories/moreinfo.asp?idrrecordid=3074&siteid=1. Your best bet though is to just call them at 406-849-5256. There’s also a brochure available for review at fwpiis.mt.gov/content/getItem.aspx?id=34875. Either way, good luck and have fun!
Oh yeah… I forgot to mention. Access to the park is 100% free! Not only that, but it’s open all year long!