The Swan Mountain range is a unique, long and narrow mountain range located in northwest Montana. This range is of the most rugged in Montana and makes a perfect backdrop for Flathead Lake, one of the largest natural lakes in Montana.
The Swan Mountains are part of the Kootenai Mountains. Many people that come to Montana as visitors think that the Swan Range is the quintessential image of what mountains should look like.
The Swan Range creates a bold border on the east side of the Swan Valley, and its eastern side is one of the most remote areas in the state.
The southeast portion of the Swan Range is part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a designated area for preserving the unique mountain ecosystems of Montana.
The Swan Range is well known in Montana for its multitude of recreational activities. One thing that is not well known about the range is how it received its name.
Some believe that the range was named for Swan Lake, an 83-mile-long lake on the west side of the range that once was home to trumpeter swans. The swans are gone, but the name remains.
However, there is another theory that the range was named after Emmett Swan, who was one of the first residents of the area and lived here for an extended period of time.
If you are exploring the Swan Range, there are plenty of communities that you can visit or stay in. The Swan Range starts at Columbia Falls in the north, and travels south, with the towns of La Salle, Creston, Bigfork, Seeley Lake, and finally Lincoln.
These communities not only provide a place to stay for visitors, but they also have plenty of resources for equipment rentals, guides, and information on the best places to recreate in the Sawn Range.
Swan Mountain Range Statistics
- Highest Elevation (ft/m) – 9,356 feet (2,852 meters)
- Most Recognizable Peak – Holland Peak
- Season (when can it be accessed) – All Year
Swan Mountain Range Recreation Activities
With some of the most remote wilderness areas in Montana, the Swan Range is the perfect place to hike if you want to get away from the crowds.
Even though this range is only a short drive from two of Montana’s largest cities, Kalispell and Missoula, this area is not as popular with visitors so, a great place to see the sights without the crowds.
There are a number of great places to hike in the Swan Range. If you’d rather not fight with mountain bikes, ATVs, or snowmobilers, the southeastern part of the range extends into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, where you can hike in peace without the distraction of motorized vehicles.
For hikes that are easy to access and family-friendly, the Jewel Basin Hiking Area offers plenty of trails that are perfect for experienced hikers, or just a short, fun hike with your kids and dogs.
There are also a number of lakes in the area that have nice hiking trails that wander around the lake or start from the shore, for another hiking experience.
There are numerous camping areas located in the Flathead National Forest and the Lolo National Forest. Many are accessible by forest service roads, many of which are easily traveled by most 2-wheel-drive vehicles.
Some however are accessible only by hiking and require a backcountry camping permit. If you are looking to utilize one of these areas, make sure that you stop in at one of the ranger district offices for permits and pertinent information.
The National Forests in this area also have a limited number of camping cabins and fire lookouts that can be rented for more adventurous campers. These cabins and fire lookouts generally require reservations and a small fee for nightly use.
The Swan Range offers a number of great fishing opportunities. Most of the lakes in the Swan Mountain Range are stocked with cutthroat trout. However, they aren’t the only species that you’ll find in the range’s lakes. The larger lakes are great places to fish for walleye.
There are over 28 lakes of all sizes in the Swan Range, and many of the backcountry lakes are accessible from the Jewel Lake Hiking Area. If you want great pristine fishing opportunities, consider stepping off the beaten path, and try your luck at one of the less heavily fished lakes within the range.
With a variety of different ecosystems within the Swan Range there comes a wide range of animals that are worth keeping your eyes open for.
The lush valleys of the Swan Range are home to moose, songbirds, and waterfowl. As you move into the forests of the Swan Mountains, look for deer, elk, small animals, and even an occasional bear.
The high, rugged peaks of the Swan Range are one of the best places in Montana to view mountain goats and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. These two species alone are a big draw for wildlife watchers.
Swan Mountain Range Trail Routes
There are many, many hiking trails in the Swan Mountains. With so many options, you’ll want to do your research and find the perfect trail for your experience level.
The range also offers plenty of backcountry trails that lead to amazing campsites that will leave you in awe. This list is our favorite hiking trails and areas in the Swan Mountain Range.
If you are looking for a good backpacking trail, the Alpine trail is a nice option. This trail is a 50-mile hike that takes at least 3 or 4 days to complete and requires backcountry camping.
You’ll follow the Alpine Trail at Columbia Mountain and follow it south across the crest of the Swan Range and through alpine meadows. The trail ends near the Jewel Basin hiking area.
With 50-miles of distance and 3,500-feet of elevation gain, this is a great hike but not one for the inexperienced backpacker.
Bond and Trinkus Lakes
This hike is a slightly longer day hike but can be accomplished by experienced hikers in one day with minimal difficulty.
The total hike is 14-miles out and back, with 2,500-feet in elevation gain. The trailhead for this hike is located just south of the small community of Swan Lake, off of Highway 83 on Lost Creek Road.
Bond Lake is the stopping point for most hikers on this trail, as it has nice views, picnic and camping spots, and lush meadows.
However, if you’re wanting a less busy spot to end your hike, travel just a bit further to Trinkus Lake in the valley above Bond Lake.
This 12.4-mile round trip hike is a surprise to many hikers. Though it starts at a higher elevation, you’ll not miss out on the climbs in elevation that the Swan Range is known for.
However, if you’re willing to tough it out on the climbs, this trail will reward you with amazing views. The top of the trail ends as Inspiration Point, which was once a fire lookout station that looks over the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
This trail starts at the same location as the Napa Point trailhead off of forest service road 10505. You’ll start your hike at a nice 6,423-feet high and end at 7,628-feet.
Upper Holland Lake Loop
This hike is another that is popular with backcountry campers and backpackers. Though it is only a 12-mile round trip hike, this one can be a bit challenging thanks to plenty of rocky conditions on the trail.
For much of the way, this trail follows Holland Creek. The trail reaches Upper Holland Lake which is a smaller mimic of its lower elevation duplicate, Lower Holland Lake. If you get this far, keep your eyes open for moose, which frequent the lake for a drink or snack.
If you’re willing to hike further, check out Sapphire Lake which mirrors Little Carmine Peak which sits across the valley. From here you’ll also get nice views of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
This is a busy trail in the summer months, so if you want to experience it with fewer people, take this trail in the fall when you’ll also be rewarded with the yellows and golds of the changing foliage.
If you need to get your kids out on a hike, but still want to have a great experience for the adults, the Holland Falls trail is a good option.
This short, 3-mile hike is a perfect hike for families and for pets. You’ll start your hike at Holland Lake, walking the shaded shore. From here the trail will climb a bit above the lake to Holland Falls.
There are plenty of large rocks and logs to sit and enjoy the views from. There are also a number of social trails from this point that will take you down to the bottom of the falls.
The entire area is full of loose talus and slick soils, so these unmaintained trails to the falls can be treacherous if you’re not steady on your feet.
Columbia Mountain Trail
If you are looking for a hike with perfect summer wildflowers and an amazing view of the Flathead Valley, then you’ll really enjoy the Columbia Mountain Trail #51.
This trail is located near Columbia Falls, so it is easily accessible if you are staying in this area. The total trail distance is 12-miles out and back, but the upper 3-miles is a pretty difficult uphill climb.
Many people stop at the waterfalls, which is approximately 2.5-miles into the hike. This makes for a perfect 5-mile day hike.
Strawberry Lake is a quiet alpine lake that offers nice views of the lower Flathead Valley, and a quiet stroll through spruce and fir forests.
The trail is a moderate 6-mile out and back, with a decent amount of elevation gain. The trail ends at Strawberry Lake, a small alpine lake with a nice sandy beach. The lake is quite clear and you’ll often see trout swimming along the shoreline. Many people like to take a quick swim in the lake, especially on hot days.
This trail does have open snowfields that cross the trail in the early spring, so make sure that you have the proper equipment necessary for crossing them. Inexperienced hikers will want to avoid crossing the snowfields as a matter of caution.
The Strawberry Lake area is also home to bears, so make sure that you hike with a canister of bear spray just in case.
This is a hike that has all of the things you want in a perfect Montana hike: amazing views, easy-to-pick huckleberries, unique wildlife, a beautiful lake, and some great fishing.
The hike to Birch Lake starts at Camp Misery, where it follows a service road to the top of the ridge. From here you’ll progress to the trail junction where you’ll traverse the eastern slope of Mount Aeneas.
Birch Lake is just after you pass by Martha Lake. You can pass by the lake and continue on the trail for a short distance for great views of Hungry Horse Reservoirs.
Birch Lake is a great spot for fishing, and the area is home to mountain goats, which are an animal that is fun to see but can be reclusive.
The hike to Birch Lake is a 6.25-mile loop with only 636-feet in elevation gain. This is a great hike for less experienced hikers that want to challenge themselves with a bit more distance.