Dreaming of an off-the-beaten-path lake away from the loud noise of society? We think you’ll find a natural oasis in Echo Lake, a small body of water in the Flathead Valley just five miles northeast of Bigfork.
While it’s near the gorgeous – and huge – Flathead Lake with its numerous state parks and wildlife areas, Echo Lake is a bit more remote and certainly just as picturesque as its neighbor. And depending on your interests and social bandwidth, this might even be the better choice for you and your travel partners.
Situated next to the Swan Lake mountain range and the stunning Jewel Basin hiking area, Echo Lake has its own perks beyond postcard views. For starters, it’s one of the warmest lakes in the Flathead Valley – sign us up! – thanks to its magical stew of groundwater and mountain runoff from the nearby Echo Creek. So, you’ll be able to soak in a full spectrum of summertime fun – or wintertime stillness. You do you!
Probably more than anything, though, Echo Lake is well known in these parts for its excellent fly fishing and spin fishing opportunities, from bass to pike to trout of multiple varieties (Yes, we’re literally swimming in trout!).
While we also love the nearby Yellow Bay State Park for a secluded, cozy fishing spot, Echo Lake wins major points for its smaller size, perfect for that first cast of the day.
And we’ll say this much: if you come here in the height of summer, expect to see plenty of celebration between families and friends.
We Montanans take our summers very seriously after such long winters, so don’t be surprised to find a plethora of motorboats, kayaks, canoes, swimmers – any way to touch the water.
This natural freshwater paradise offers a 16-mile shoreline with a depth of around 80 feet. But more importantly, this means you’ll have room to space out for angling in the lake’s numerous coves, or to jet skiing with friends.
While it’s not exactly Western Montana’s best-kept secret (you’re here, aren’t you?!), it still offers a private space to swim, fish, hike, camp nearby, whatever you’d like.
Since some of the lake is surrounded by lakeside properties – mostly private – you might find yourself waving to folks during their own fishing off private docks while staying in lakeside rentals. If you’re looking for a more public boating launch or fishing site, check out the public-access site on the northern side of Echo.
You may not find camping sites at Echo Lake, but there are plenty of spaces to camp at the nearby state parks (Yellow Bay is a great one!), as well as further into the Jewel Basin.
Echo Lake is more of a day-use recreation area, but we like it that way (Feel free to check out Stay Montana for up-to-date vacation rentals at Echo Lake!).
While the area surrounding Echo lake was originally Ktunaxa and Salish land, you’ll find the lower part of Flathead Lake on the Flathead Indian Reservation, a community doing its best to preserve these beautiful waters and all of its associated wildlife.
Although Echo Lake is just a bit north of the reservation, we aim to extend that same respect to Echo Lake and the Jewel Basin and invite you to do the same.
Staying in town for a few days? We highly recommend heading into Bigfork to check out the Flathead Lake Brewing Company – their IPA is our favorite! – or whiskey tasting. Or, you can just go ahead and get that kayak out – there’s more to do in this region that you may even have time for. So, let’s get right to it!
Echo Lake – A Complete Guide
Echo Lake Stats
- Size: 102 acres; 15.5 miles of Shore Length
- Season: Year Round
- Number of Campsites: None
- Number of Picnic Sites: None
- Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
From hiking and biking to lakeside swimming and water sports, this area is filled with adventure. There are all kinds of things to do at Echo Lake! Let’s dive in.
Hiking & Biking
Echo Lake Road has a great 3-mile jump that’s popular with bikers, but we also love Swan River Trail for a 4-mile round trip hiking and biking excursion.
Also popular with bikers are Jewel Basin Road and Broken Leg a bit east of the lake, but both will require some good equipment and a capable rider. The switchbacks are no joke, but they’re worth it!
As for hiking, as you’ll see below, we’re big fans of Strawberry Lake Trail #5 and the Swan River Nature Trail, but you’ll find so many trails weaving their way in and out of the numerous state parks in the area.
Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the bedazzled basin that backs up to our favorite little echo chamber: Jewel Basin is home to 15,000 acres at your hiking disposal.
No need to kick up the pace – this area is perfect for a leisurely summertime hike, complete with wildflowers, cherry blossoms, huckleberries, and lakes, lakes, lakes. Don’t forget to take a selfie!
Swimming & Fishing
This lake is truly a nexus for fishermen, from rainbow and brook trout to northern pike to smallmouth bass. Similar to most regions of Montana, trout is king in these warmer waters, but there truly is a prolific number of fish to do the biting.
While that’s great news for you if you’re an avid and experienced fisher, the area also provides fishing excursions for a sense of community and togetherness.
Check out Howe’s Fishing and Bigfork Anglers for both professional guides and rentals, if needed. If you’re into ice fishing, Echo Lake will offer just the right amount of give between exhilaration and comfort – small enough to enjoy the process. Basically, this is a year-round fishing mecca!
As for swimming and boating, we love Echo Lake’s ability to support all kinds of water sports. Yep, you can swim in Echo Lake! Kayaking, jet skiing, motorboating, canoeing, even standup paddle boards.
It’s not hard to see that this lake is a prized jewel within the Flathead Valley range, warm enough to fall off the standup paddle board but cool enough to feel refreshing (Hot tip: the water is warmest from May to September!).
For a more curated adventure, check out Base Camp, our go-to for kayaking and paddling when we have friends in town.
If you have a motorboat, keep in mind that much of the lake is a no-wake zone as an added protection for its numerous swimmers and kayakers.
Camping & Lodging
While Echo Lake is a day-use site, there are numerous campsites in the vicinity – honestly so many it may be hard to choose.
bit further southeast, you’ll find a hidden gem, Swan Lake Campground, which offers 38 rentable sites, 14 of which are walk-in.
Cabin rentals and hotels are available via Stay Montana, but if we had to choose a go-to, it would be Bridge Street Cottages, thirteen unique cottages in Bigfork that manage to be both luxurious and rustic.
For something a bit more left of center, we recommend the Jewel Basin Yurt, a short drive northeast into an off-grid paradise. Somewhere between camping and glamping, this site operates year-round with private property amenities.
It’s quirky, it’s got a beautiful hiking area, and it’s definitely away from the sun glare of human interaction (Just be aware that no pets are available on site!).
Strawberry Lake Trail #5 – Length: 6 miles
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, since we mentioned it above, but check it out: it takes just about 4 hours to complete, and it’s got some pretty steep and continuous switchbacks, making it friendly for teenagers and up.
So, why’s it our favorite? We absolutely love the alpine lake at the end of this trail, the type of lake that makes all the grunting noises worth it. Do this one with some friends, and pack a small hammock for the ultimate sense of accomplishment. Ahhhh…
Swan River Nature Trail – Length: 4.2 miles
Alright, let’s downshift into something a bit more kid-friendly: Swan River Nature Trail. This hike has a more gentle grade (hallelujah!) and some uniquely wide trail routes, making them perfect for stop-and-go snack time.
If you’re bringing smaller kids, we’d recommend keeping them close once you get towards the cliffs. And since this trail runs along the Swan River, you’d have plenty of opportunities to dip your feet in or wave to fishermen catching their next trout dinner.
Noisy Creek Notch Trail – Length: 6.3 miles
Situated right in the middle of the Jewel Basin, the Noisy Creek Notch Trail is for you if you’re into eating huckleberries on the way up, enjoying epic mountain views, and you’re up for a challenging hike.
This one may not be for everyone, but we wanted to add it for the Montana adrenaline junkies!
Be sure to bring water and bug spray for this notch, and just recognize there may be a lot of snow around into June because of its elevation. And lastly, keep in mind that there’s a 6-mile drive to the trailhead, so just go slow and you’ll get there in no time.
See you on the trail – we’ll be the ones with handfuls of huckleberries!
Flathead Lookout – Length: 2.4 miles
If Noisy Creek sounds a little too tenuous for you, check out our last recommendation, Flathead Lookout. Just because it’s a lookout doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s definitely not as challenging as Strawberry Lake or Noisy Creek!
It’s steep in some areas, but that’s because the lookout requires a dedicated jump in elevation for your and your furry loved ones.
Other hikers have called this hike breathtakingly beautiful, and we tend to agree: much like Strawberry Lake, it’s got an epic view with beautiful vistas. Keep an eye out for mountain goats!