The 12 Best Places for Boating in Montana

Vanessa Locampo
Last Updated: February 24th, 2023

With a collection of glacially carved lakes, man-made reservoirs, and mighty rivers cutting through the wide-open valleys, Montana is one of the best places on earth for boating enthusiasts.

Many of the local lakes are also prime destinations for anglers, but even those without healthy populations of fish offer opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Whether you are interested in power boating, sailing, or kayaking; have your own boat, or are looking to hire; and are seeking a day-use destination or somewhere you can camp, we have you covered with a list of where you will find the best boating in Montana.

Best Places for Boating in Montana

hebgen lake

Hebgen Lake

An idyllic man-made lake near Yellowstone National Park in Southwest Montana, Hebgen Lake is one of Montana’s top still-water fishing and boating destinations.

Only 20 minutes west of the park, the lake is home to an abundance of brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout.

Hebgen Lake is famous for an earthquake that hit the area in 1959, which caused significant damage and formed Quake Lake immediately downstream.

In the area surrounding the lake, visitors can enjoy camping at the Rainbow Point and Cherry Creek campgrounds, as well as hiking.

Brush Lake State Park

brush lake state park
Image: caseyhelbling

Located in Glasgow Montana, in Valley County, Brush Lake is an ideal location for boating, as well as swimming, and other water sports. The lake also has white sandy beaches and surrounding grassy areas that provide the perfect setting for a family getaway.

There is a boat ramp in the northeastern area of the lake, which is a day-use area. You’ll also find a dock and picnic area here. Visitors are welcome to camp at the 12 nearby campgrounds which boast electric campsites.

Brush Lake is deep and clear, stretching for a mile. While it is a boater’s dream, it doesn’t boast any fish population due to the water’s composition.

However, it is crystal-clear and stunning to view, either from the shore or from a boat.

Noxon Rapids Reservoir

noxon rapids reservoir

Noxon Rapids Reservoir is a section of the Clark Fork River in Western Montana. It’s located along Highway 200, one of the most picturesque stretches of road in the state.

Boating enthusiasts come from all over Montana to enjoy the reservoir, which stretches for 25 miles.

The reservoir, which spans from Thompson Falls to Noxon, is popular for general boating, along with water skiing and jet skiing.

It is also a great destination for anglers, as the waters are rich in largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and walleye fish.

Flathead Lake

flathead lake

As the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi in the lower 48 states, Flathead Lake is naturally one of the best places for boating in Montana.

There are more than 200 square miles of water and 185 miles of shoreline to explore, and the lake has traditionally been a prime destination for sailing, power boating, water skiing, swimming, and fishing against a backdrop of the Swan and Mission mountains.

Visitors to the lake can camp nearby or lodge in one of the various motels and rental cabins around the shoreline. Supplies can be picked up in the towns around the lake, including Kalispell, Bigfork, and Polson.

It’s important to note that the southern half of Flathead Lake is located within the territory of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Flathead Reservation. To use this area, you must purchase a tribal recreation permit.

Lake Mary Ronan

lake mary ronan
Image: Derek Swanson

Located a few miles to the west of Flathead Lake, Lake Mary Ronan State Park offers a quiet destination where boaters can escape from the crowds and enjoy Montana’s natural beauty. The lake is bordered by a forest and is also the perfect setting for a camping trip, with 25 campsites in the area.

The lake is known for its fishing potential, but is also great for swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and of course, motorboating. There is a stretch of beach where the whole family can settle down for a picnic, and the surrounding area is ideal for wildlife watching too.

The lake is accessible right through the year, even becoming a popular destination for ice fishing in the winter. The dock at the lake is always available during open water.

Whitefish Lake

whitefish lake
Image: Rachid H

Spanning 5.2 square miles, Whitefish Lake is a glacially carved oasis for boaters. Here you’ll find a boat ramp, boat rentals, and nearby campsites to suit any boating trip, but keep in mind that this isn’t always the best lake for swimming. The alpine setting means it’s very cold right through the year.

Whitefish Lake is a short distance from Whitefish Mountain Resort, one of the most popular ski resorts in Montana. It naturally boasts pristine mountain views and is tucked away in dense woodland.

Visitors to the lake often partake in a range of other activities besides boating, including fishing and paddle boarding. Water skiing is also a popular pastime.

In the area surrounding the lake, camping, bicycling, and wildlife viewing are great ways to spend your time.

Lake Koocanusa

lake koocanusa

Up in the Northwest Corridor of Montana’s Glacier country, you’ll find Lake Koocanusa. The reservoir stretches for 90 miles, all the way into Canadian territory.

With crystal-like blue water and bordering mountain peaks, the alpine lake could have been taken from a postcard.

Lake Koocanusa is another popular campsite and is surrounded by campgrounds and picnic areas. Water access is easy thanks to the boat ramps, making the lake a trendy boating destination.

There are great fishing opportunities here, with rainbow and cutthroat trout, whitefish, burbot, and kokanee all residing in the lake. You can also find brook trout in the streams winding into the lake.

Hell Creek

Don’t let the name put you off! Montana locals and out-of-state visitors love Hell Creek Recreational Area for providing wonderful opportunities for outdoor activities. This is a great spot for a range of water sports and often serves as a base point for boat camping in the nearby wilderness, or the Missouri Breaks.

Along with boating, you’ll have plenty of chances to enjoy fishing here. A few of the species commonly found include walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass. There’s also a fish-cleaning station, plus a playground and 71 campsites.

You can pick up fishing bait, groceries, or other items you may need during the day from Hell Creek Marina, which is located in the recreational area.

Lake Como

lake como

Tucked away in the scenic Bitterroot Valley, Lake Como lies just a few miles to the north of Darby, hidden in the Bitterroot National Forest. The area boasts mesmerizing mountain views and features a seven-mile trail that wraps around the lake and passes the waterfall.

But along with walking and hiking, many visitors flock here to simply enjoy boating on the sparkling lake. The lake was developed in the early 1900s and boasts a sand beach that makes a fantastic picnic spot.

The beach is extremely busy during summer, with crowds filling up the area until at least August. Lake Como is popular among anglers, water skiers, and paddle boarders.

Seeley Lake

seeley lake

Nestled between the Mission and Swan mountains, Seeley Lake is an hour’s drive from Missoula. Another boating destination offering spectacular alpine views, the lake features calm water that is a dream to float on.

The beauty of Seeley Lake is that you don’t even have to own your own boat to enjoy it—there are boat rentals available nearby. Additionally, the public boat ramps make it easy for anyone to access the water.

Apart from boating, there is plenty more to do at Seeley Lake. The Lolo National Forest and Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex are a short distance away, as are several hiking trails and other lakes and streams.

There is also a commercial center close to the lake, where you’ll find restaurants, gift shops, and a nationally recognized golf course.

Hungry Horse Reservoir

hungry horse dam reservoir montana

The Hungry Horse Reservoir is situated between Glacier National Park and the town of Kalispell, less than 30 miles from the Continental Divide. It is home to 14 campgrounds and recreation sites, which make it an ideal base from which to explore the national park.

The reservoir itself is fed by the South Fork of the Flathead River. It begins at the Hungry Horse Dam and continues for 34 miles.

The peaceful, still water lends itself to boating, swimming, and water skiing, and the reservoir is also rich in bull trout, mountain whitefish, and westslope cutthroat trout.

There is a visitor center at the reservoir, which is open from June through September, from 7:30 a.m. through 4 p.m.

Lake Elmo

Tucked away in the city of Billings, Lake Elmo lies within a state park. The lake spans 64 acres and is ideal for swimming, non-motorized boating, paddle boarding, and fishing. There is also a nearby 1.4-mile hiking trail that takes visitors through the natural beauty of the park.

You’ll also find a dog park, two shelters, and a playground near the lake, making it an ideal summer family destination. The park is open for day use only all year from 5 a.m. through 10 p.m.

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About The Author

Vanessa Locampo

Vanessa is an Australian-based freelance writer and editor with a BA in Creative Writing. She’s passionate about creating travel content that inspires her readers to take a leap of faith and power through their bucket lists. When she’s not writing (with her border collie asleep at her feet), she’s devouring books, exploring the world, or planning her next trip.

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