The former logging camp that turned into the small, unincorporated Montana community town of Swan Lake was formed in the early 1900s in the scenic Seeley-Swan Valley.
These days Swan Lake and its surroundings in the western Montana region are known for being home to everything that is good about Montana.
Outdoor recreation is the main draw, and year-round visitors use the area as a base from which to explore the surrounding fishing lakes and streams, maybe do some boating, hike the trails, do a spot of birding or other wildlife watching, and in the winter maybe seek out some backcountry skiing in the mountainous terrain.
This region is 26 miles from Kalispell in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, and Flathead National Forest, which covers around 2.5 million acres of land in all. Wildlife like grizzly bears and lynx frequent the terrain — a prime destination for would-be explorers of the natural Montana landscapes and its wildlife.
Anyone looking for exceptional bird-viewing opportunities should visit the nearby Swan River Wildlife Refuge where they’ll find osprey, cranes, ducks, and bald eagles to name but a few.
Much of the dense Flathead National Forest, including the rugged-looking, snow-covered peaks of the Swan Mountain Range surrounds the lake. The lake itself is approximately 8 miles long and a mile wide, which makes it an ideal place for fishing, boating, and water sports, with the added bonus of a campground.
The lake still manages to go under the radar of a lot of visitors to the area, which is why you might turn up here one day and be pleasantly surprised to find it quite a bit less crowded than the other nearby lakes Flathead and Whitefish which overshadow Swan Lake to some degree.
The Serene natural beauty of the long, narrow, and picturesque lake has a forest service day-use area with various amenities which make this a great day-use area.
The fee for the day-use area at Swan Lake costs $5.00, usually paid on entry, and you can reach Swan Lake via Montana Highway 83 which brings you into the southern end of Swan Lake.
If you are coming in from Bigfork, you can take State Route 209 east and drive for another 5 miles on State Route 83.
If you take a right turn here and go just over another 10 miles you will eventually come to the campground sign.
Swan Lake Stats
- Approximately 3, 200-acres
- 36-site campground
- Open year-round
Main Attractions at Swan Lake
The day-use center at Swan Lake has various attractions and amenities like the small beach, a boat ramp, picnic tables, and fire rings. You’ll also find restroom facilities, potable water, and trash receptacles at this focal point of the lake.
Camping is another main attraction at the lake aside from the recreation, and about a mile from the campground is the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge, with its wildlife and bird observation area.
If you fancy heading a bit further out from this particular spot then bear in mind that Glacier National Park is within an hour’s drive. And if you find yourself in the lake’s vicinity in August, there’s the nearby Swan Lake Huckleberry Festival.
Things to do at Swan Lake
Paddling, Kayaking, and Canoeing
The day-use area has several little parking lots, each of which leads to its own little beach area complete with picnic tables. The small sections of the beach are somewhere between 25 and 40 feet long and a layer of trees keeps them separate from the others.
This makes them ideal spots from which to indulge in a spot of paddling. Kayaking and canoeing on Swan Lake can also be easily accessed from one of the little beaches in the day-use area without too much hassle from other water users.
Boating at Swan Lake
If you are using a boat you’ll probably want to head to the boat launch area, which is not hard to spot when you enter the day-use area. This is a great place for boating or any kind of water activity as you won’t be overwhelmed by crowds of people. The lack of other boats means it’s also an ideal lake for water skiing or wakeboarding.
Fishing at Swan Lake
Swan Lake has a great reputation with anglers, who may cast a line from a boat or try their luck from the shore. There are various types of trout such as brook, cutthroat, and rainbow in the lake in decent numbers, especially in the summertime. Anglers are also likely to encounter a few northern pikes, yellow perch, or mountain whitefish.
You’ll need a Montana fishing license first though, and these are available from fwp.mt.gov in advance or at the Swan Lake Trading Post in the small nearby town.
Camping at Swan Lake
The campground is adjacent to the day-use area, although you will have to cross Highway 83 to get to it – which means no lakeside sites. It is in the midst of the Flathead National Forest though so you are in a pretty scenic natural spot anyway.
The campground consists of two loops, Ponderosa Loop and Birch. Here, we have 38 rentable sites with a limit of 16 consecutive days on stays. If you are looking for a larger spot that is a bit more of an open space head to the Ponderosa Loop section of the campground, while the Birch Loop region of the campground has smaller sites. If you would prefer some shade this is the spot.
Fourteen of the sites are operated on a first-come, first-serve basis, although you can reserve the remaining 24 up to six months in advance. There is also a reservable group site that can accommodate up to 100 people.
The sites are family-sized and have paved parking areas, fire rings, and picnic tables. Drinking water and vault toilets are available, although no dump station exists. Campers and day-use visitors have access to the boat ramps and beaches.
The campground also offers Kayak, Paddleboard, and Canoe rentals, and bike lanes run through the entire campground. Fees range between $20.00 and $40.00 for single and double occupancy, and group rates vary according to size.
Hiking Trails at Swan Lake
There are many trails in and around the vicinity of the lake. If you are looking for trails in the immediate vicinity of the lake you should head for the southeast end. If you drive to Swan Lake and happen to be cruising along the Scenic Mount Highway 83 you might notice signs for hiking trailheads.
The Six-mile Sidehill Trail is ideal if you like scenic views. It is an intermediate trail just over 2.5 miles long, and it has access to some amazing views of Swan Lake along moderate inclines and declines. This is a route that branches off from the Six-mile Lookout Trail, and the route is parallel to the lake.
The Six-mile Lookout Trail is actually quite a bit more challenging as it heads up to the top of Six-mile Mountain. The 4.5-mile trail is rated as difficult, although the effort needed for the ascent is well-rewarded by the awaiting panoramic views.
If you are looking for a longer hike there is the scenic but difficult, close to 8-mile trek involved in the Bond Creek Trail. This classic alpine trail is just a bit further out than Swan Lake and starts out from the trailhead on Highway 83, milepost 71 It eventually reaches Bond Lake after passing through various rocky terrain.