Hungry Horse Reservoir and Dam is located in the north-western region of Montana along the South Fork of the Flathead River. The huge dam and reservoir is high in the Rocky Mountain region and just under 30 miles from the Continental Divide.
It is also only 15 miles from the western entrance of Glacier National Park in the vicinity of Kalispell and can be accessed off Highway 2 in Hungry Horse by following the visitor center signs for about 5 miles.
The dam was built as part of the Hungry Horse Hydroelectric Project with the twin purposes of power provision and flood control. It took five years and was completed in 1953 on the South Fork of the Flathead River, in a picturesque region surrounded by a backdrop of more than 25 mountain peaks.
The dam is also the 10th highest in the U.S. at 564 feet and was actually the second-highest when it was completed. The project encompasses the dam and its appurtenant works, the reservoir, a power plant, a switchyard, a visitor center, and a viewpoint overlook.
The intriguing name Hungry Horse came from two freight horses put to task along the Flathead River’s South Fork area in 1900. The horses somehow strayed from their logging shed during what turned out to be a severe winter.
They went completely off track and somehow struggled their way through deep snow until they were found a month later close to starvation.
The amazed loggers who found them gave the two survivors the name “Mighty Hungry Horses”, and nursed them back to health. The name Hungry Horse stuck and was given to the region which now contains the dam.
The area around Hungry Horse Reservoir and Dam offers excellent recreation opportunities. It attracts thousands of visitors every year who are coming to take advantage of the fishing, boating, camping, water skiing, snowmobiling, and hunting on offer.
The area is managed by the Flathead National Forest Service and is encompassed by two main roads — #38 East Side Reservoir Road and #895 West Side Reservoir Road – which both provide campground and boating access.
Hungry Horse Reservoir Stats
- Approximately 24,000 acres
- 34-mile-long lake
- At least 12 campgrounds
- Open year-round
The visitor center at the dam is home to both static and interactive exhibits related to the history of the local area and the construction of the dam. The exhibits in the center interpret Hungry Horse’s role in flood control, power supply, and recreation in Flathead County.
The center offers daily free tours of the dam’s crest from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day under normal operating conditions. Visitors can walk the length of the dam or see the gantry crane, water tower, old cableway location, and the highest morning glory spillway in the world on the guided tour.
The outdoor guided walking tour is 1.5 miles long and takes about an hour. The tours run up to four times per day on a first-come, first-served basis for up to 12 people.
Things to do at Hungry Horse Reservoir
The region of the dam and reservoir offers recreation in many forms across four seasons. This comes by way of camping, boating, swimming, fishing, water skiing, hiking, huckleberry picking, and snowmobiling in winter. The surrounding mountains are also popular big game hunting areas.
The lake is not necessarily one of Montana’s prime fishing locations as it is not stocked, unlike most other reservoirs in the region. It does still attract a fair amount of willing participants though, and the best locations are near inlets and bays, especially where the South Fork Flathead River flows into the reservoir.
Some of the main fish species you are likely to encounter in the reservoir include cutthroat trout and whitefish, along with some scattered bull trout that make their way down from the South Fork.
Both motorized and non-motorized boating is available in the following sites in and around the dam and reservoir: Abbot Bay Boating Site, which you can find 5 miles south of Hungry Horse. It is on #38 Reservoir Road on the eastern side of the reservoir.
Canyon Creek Boating Site, is also on the east side and encompasses a boat ramp and toilets. Doris Point Boating Site is accessible from the west side on Reservoir Road #895. Riverside Campground and Boating Site allows access to camping, toilets and boat ramps.
Camping at Hungry Horse Reservoir
There are over a dozen campgrounds along the reservoir, plus a fair few pull-in areas for anyone seeking that much more privacy. Most of these campgrounds offer boating access, and on top of that, there are plenty of other boating sites for anyone wanting to spend a few hours on the water.
Adventurous campers with their own boat can spend the night in the established campgrounds on Elk Island and Fire Island. Doris Creek Campground on the west side and Emery Bay Campground on the east side are both within 20 miles of Glacier National Park.
This campground contains 9 overnight sites for tents and RVs, and they are all equipped with tables and campfire rings with grills. You’ll need to bring your own water provisions to this site though, although there is a vault toilet. A campground host is available, and the sites are operated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Lost Johnny Point Campground has 21 sites and is located high up in the Rocky Mountains, which means you get some impressive views along with the opportunity for various recreation activities. Each site here comes with tables and campfire rings with grills, vault toilets, and available water supplies.
Twelve of the sites here can be reserved and the stay limit is 16 consecutive days.
This 22-site campground offers first-come, first-served sites for tent and RV camping. All sites come equipped with tables, campfire rings with grills, and available vault toilets. No drinking water is available at this campground though, so come prepared.
This campground has elevations of 3600-feet along the reservoir’s west shore and contains 5 sites. Access for both fishing and boats is available at the Lost Johnny Point boat ramp.
Graves Creek Campground is located along the western shore of the reservoir off Road #895. This is a fairly primitive campground with just 3 sites, although there is a vault toilet and nearby fishing access. The Graves Creek trail begins at the campground, which has a 16-day limit on stays.
Hiking Trails at Hungry Horse Reservoir
The trail system around Hungry Horse Reservoir is located to the south of Glacier National Park. The trails run far and wide around this region, with some of them being close to the border of the east side of the Continental Divide and Flathead Valley on the west side.
Hungry Horse Reservoir Trail is a 23-mile long out and back route rated as moderate. Traffic along the route is also moderate, and the lake is in view along the trail. A couple of other activity options are accessible from the trail, and dogs are allowed if kept on a leash.
This is an easy/moderate trail of just over 3 miles long that starts out at Doris Basin Road #1602. It finishes up at Alpine Trail #7 and some of the routes are used for other activities like ATVs. The whole trail is used for motorbikes and horse riding along with hiking.
This trail is just less than 6 miles long and starts out at Logan Creek on Felix Creek Road #1632. The route finishes up at Baptiste Lookout and is also used for horseback riding.
Clayton Creek Trail 5-mile out and back trail with light traffic. This route is rated as moderate and is used mainly for hiking, and backpacking. This is a very intermediate route that won’t give hikers too much trouble either going up or down. There are some tent camping sites at the end of the trail.