Montana is renowned for its many natural and impressive water features. From huge glacier-carved bodies of water to rivers, reservoirs, and waterfalls, some of the best lakes in Montana are nothing short of breath-taking. Montana is an expansive and rugged terrain surrounded by the mountainous wilds of nature of the state. So it is no surprise that many of the best lakes in Montana are to be found up in the mountains in the western region.
That said, the largest lake in Montana, Fort Peck Lake, is actually in the eastern part of the state, but lakes are also prevalent in and around towns and cities such as Helena, Bozeman, and Missoula. The sheer pristine and picturesque beauty typical of western Montana lakes often comes accompanied by features like campgrounds, lodging, restaurants, and boat rentals. The majority of these lakes are easily-accessible and many have a fantastic rustic feel to them.
Glacier National Park is another natural expanse in Montana that is home to some of the best lakes, as is Yellowstone. In these regions, many of the most popular outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming are centered on and around the lakes. So let’s take a deeper delve, in no particular order, into some of Montana’s best lakes.
Ten Lakes in Montana
- Flathead Lake
- Whitefish Lake
- Holland Lake
- Seeley Lake
- Mystic Lake
- Hebgen Lake
- Lake McDonald
- Mary Lake
- Avalanche Lake
- Fort Peck Lake
The surface area of Flathead Lake is the largest expanse of natural water west of the Mississippi River. This popular Montana Lake covers close to 200 square miles and is the place where you’ll find large numbers of Western Montanans during the summer. You can access the lake from various points around the shore, including some of Flathead Lake State Park. This is a popular camping area and it is possible to set up close to the shore in some sections.
Flathead is unsurprisingly something of a focal point of all kinds of boating activities and other water sports, and some stretches of the shore are lined with restaurants, various types of lodging, and marinas. A stay close to the lake includes its fair share of amazing sunsets and views of the Mission Mountains. The lake also has many islands, and the somewhat unique Wild Horse Island State Park is the largest.
Not too far from the equally attractive and renowned ski slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort, this lake covers just over 5 square miles. Whitefish Lake is one of the most scenic Montana lakes in the region, and some areas have sandy beach stretches with designated swimming areas, surrounded by gazebos and picnic tables.
The lake is also something of a hot spot for fishing and boating, and on the southwest shore of the lake along the Whitefish Lake State Park stretch you will find boat ramps and rentals, along with various campsites. Along the south shore of the lake is Whitefish City Beach, which is one of the most popular spots to go swimming in the summer – even though like most lakes in the region the water in this one is somewhat on the cold side.
You’ll find plenty of amazing lake resorts around the Whitefish Lake region featuring the Western charm and stunning views typical of the area.
3. Holland Lake
Holland Lake is a visually stunning, alpine body of water located in the Flathead National Forest. The lake covers around 400 acres, and its scenic appeal is added to by the surrounding Swan Mountains. The impressive surrounding 3-mile terrain is considered to be one of the best hiking trails in Montana, and it ends up near the shore of the lake. Hikers then continue to have their minds (and their cameras) blown when they happen across the spray of Holland Falls at the end.
Holland Lake is a popular destination for locals looking for either relaxation or adventure. Boating and other water activities like kayaking and water-skiing are all popular on this picturesque lake, and it is also a decent spot for fly fishing for salmon and trout.
Overnight options are a possibility around the lake and you can find lodges and campgrounds to suit.
4. Seeley Lake
Just an hour’s drive from Missoula you can find the impressive mountain ranges of the Seeley-Swan Valley, where Seeley Lake is located. This is another western Montana lake covering around 1,000 acres. Seeley Lake is directly opposite the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the entire surrounding community is a gateway to Glacier National Park.
Seeley Lake is actually part of a chain of lakes located in the Clearwater River Valley, with 11 others including the well-known Rainy Lake, Placid Lake, Clearwater Lake, and Salmon Lake.
Seeley Lake is one of the most scenic destinations and is popular for boating, water sports, and fishing. There are plenty of boat ramps and boat rentals on the lake, and the lake area also comprises a few great places to stay near the water. There are three different campgrounds near the shore which are operated by the forestry service. The Seeley Lake Campground features a beach, a swimming area, and around 30 spots for camping. If you don’t fancy pitching a tent though, you will find a couple of lodges around the lake.
5. Mystic Lake
Mystic Lake is one of the most scenic lakes in the Yellowstone country of Montana, as well as being the deepest lake in the Beartooth Mountains. It is located more than 7,000 feet above sea level and is accessible by a 3-mile trail that is a little on the steep side in some spots. That might sound like a lot of effort to some people, but it is worth the effort if you love amazing lakes and scenery.
The lake is right in the mountain range not too far from Granite Peak, which is one of Montana’s highest peaks. The lake itself and it has a nice and large sandy beach, and it is popular for fishing, as well as day hikes.
It is actually surprising to many when they see that Mystic Lake also functions as a storage reservoir for hydroelectric power generation. The lake was originally a natural formation though, and a dam and the power generation area were added to this part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area in the 1920s.
6. Hebgen Lake
Hebgen Lake is a man-made lake that is a two-hour drive from the southwest Montana town of Bozeman, near West Yellowstone. This lake has long been a vacation destination and resort, although it was hit by a somewhat severe earthquake in 1959.
Today though Hebgen Lake is a popular outdoor destination for locals and visitors alike, and accommodates hordes of enthusiasts who come for boating, water-skiing, swimming, and fishing. The shore of the lake features marinas and boat rentals as well as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.
The shore of the lake is not that big compared to some of the other lakes, but it does provide access to a number of decent fishing sites. There are also several camping sites around the lake that are run by the local forestry service.
This typical Montana Lake is the biggest in the Glacier National Park. It is an essential stop-off point for anyone in the vicinity of Going-to-the-Sun Road, which runs along the south shore of the lake. At 10 miles long and close to 500 feet deep, the lake sits in an Ice Age glacier basin, which gives it that classic fjord-type Montana Lake look.
To all sides but the western one, the lake is essentially surrounded by the backdrop of the Continental Divide, which not only adds significantly to the picturesque nature of the lake but also helps to block any incoming rain. There are some amazing wildlife-viewing opportunities to be had around the region of the lake as well, making it possible to spot bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and elk, as well as the odd black bear.
St. Mary Lake is yet another slice of breath-taking Montana scenery and natural beauty. The views become apparent anywhere close to the 10-mile-long lake in Glacier National Park and are simply some of the best you are ever likely to encounter. This is the second largest lake in the region of the national park.
Around the bottom of the impressive and dramatic mountain peaks, the pine forests are prime wildlife habitat and contain elk, bighorn sheep, and bears, to name a few of them. There are a few decent hiking trails around the vicinity of the lake from which to explore the area, and close to the shore, you can find some of the best campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Boat cruises are available across St. Mary Lake during the summer months, and this is a particularly scenic time for the lake as the wildflowers are in bloom.
Avalanche Lake is located on the west side of the continental divide and is surrounded by vast mountains. The incredibly scenic lake is named after the fairly common avalanches that are known to cascade down the said surrounding mountains. During the spring and early summer seasons, these avalanches actually transform into waterfalls of various sizes that flow down from the highest peaks.
The wildlife in the area of the lake is abundant, and it is quite easy to spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep, as well as deer grizzly bears – although this lake is surrounded by a pretty busy trail so don’t worry too much about encountering one of these beasts.
One of the best ways to see the lake is by hiking the Trail of the Cedars, and a good Avalanche Lake hike will take around half a day to complete. The lake itself is surrounded by fairly steep cliffs on three sides, with more than a few cascading waterfalls to see.
10. Fort Peck Lake
Formed by the vast Fort Peck Dam, Fort Peck Lake is the largest lake in Montana, with a staggering 1,500 miles of shoreline and a surface length of more than 130 miles. This man-made lake was created as a result of an impoundment of the Missouri River in Montana’s eastern region.
The lake is surrounded by the vast expanse of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, which gives the otherwise man-made body of water a natural feel. The lake is popular for a wide range of activities, not least of all due to its sheer size. Boating and water sports are the main activities along with fishing.
One of the main ways to access the lake is via the Fort Peck Marina, which is just west of the Fort Peck Dam and the region provides ample opportunity to hike and explore, and camping is available.