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The Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive, Montana

The Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive, which is also known as the Swan Highway and Highway 83, is a stretch of road that in simple terms connects Montana Route 200 to the region of Kalispell. The very same route also begins in the southern vicinity of Clearwater, and passes by some picturesque lakes heading northwards through the state.

The highway ends up at Route 35, but not before cutting through a deep section of the Flathead National Forest and more pristine lakes than you can count. Heading out from the Swan Lake region, drivers can enjoy expansive views of the Swan Valley, which is nestled between the Mission Mountains and the Swan Mountains.

The Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive will take you through regions where you will find abundant opportunities for some fantastic outdoor recreation as you stop along the way. This includes the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.

If you are interested in undertaking this drive anytime, prepare yourself for endless miles of trees backed up by mountainous landscapes.

The route is also dotted with various other features that might be worth your attention such as resort homes, a few small towns like Condon and Swan Lake, and various viewpoints for properly checking out some of those.

The Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive

Whether you are looking to find your own peaceful wooded lake spot or stop and admire the sun shimmering off some of the surrounding peaks— the 90-mile scenic drive through Swan Valley is the other side of breath-taking.

scenic drive
Image: Rebecca Brown

Scenic Drive Stats

  • Approximately 90 miles long
  • Around 2-3 hours’ duration
  • Includes towns, lakes, and recreation

Main Attractions

main attractions
Image: Rebecca Brown

The main attraction is the actual drive itself and the potential offshoot activities that it potentially invites. It will pay to have some idea in mind beforehand of just how you want to approach not only the driving but also the stop-offs.

You could easily find yourself taking in the picturesque shores of Flathead Lake or perusing the storybook town of Bigfork.

The ever-expanding yet charming town hosts many annual events such as a white-water festival, and the local boutique shopping options and an array of museums and art galleries makes this a worthwhile stop-off.

Maybe you could schedule a performance at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse.

Starting Out on the Drive

starting out on the drive
Image: Jon Martin

From the Kalispell region, you can take Route 93 south. This will lead you in the direction of Highway 82 east and allow you to pick up Highway 83 just outside of Bigfork.

Highway 83—or the Seeley-Swan Scenic Highway— moves south from this region, heading past Swan Lake towards Seeley Lake for a 90-mile stretch of fairly narrow, two-lane driving for the most part.

The other end of the Seeley-Swan Scenic Byway begins at the Sinclair station in Clearwater. This is the southern end of Route 83 and as good a place as any to fill your tank.

Stop-offs and facilities are likely to prove somewhat on the sparse side along the way.

highway 83
Image: Rebecca Brown

Heading back in the other direction, Highway 83 will get you to Kalispell, and it might be a slightly easier route than the typically-congested US 93. You should still brace yourself for the eventuality of driving with plenty of slow-moving traffic in some sections, depending on the time of year.

For much of the drive, you will be driving between two walls of trees.  Many of the properties on and around the lakefront are privately owned.  You might get the inkling to drop by and rent a lakefront cabin for the week later on.

The Lakes along the Scenic Drive

lakes along the scenic drive
Image: Wesley Fryer

Many drivers undertaking the Seeley-Swan Scenic Byway believe the highlights of the route are the lakes. Others have been known to gripe that there are too many trees and the lakes are largely obscured aside from a few lookout points.

That’s one you might have to judge for yourself, but there are a fair few renowned lakes along the drive worth investigating more closely.

From one end of the drive to the other, whether you see them in detail or not you’ll pass Salmon Lake, Seeley Lake, Lake Inez, Lake Alva, and Swan Lake along the Swan River in the direction of Flathead Lake.

If you are heading north along the scenic route you’ll encounter the small but quiet and lovely Salmon Lake first. That’s when you know for sure you are in the Seeley-Swan Valley. The next stop along lake-wise is likely to be Seeley Lake, which is a small populated region as well and a good place to refill the tank if necessary.

Seeley Lake is a popular spot for all kinds of recreation for people coming in from all directions to participate in a spot of hiking, birding, wildlife viewing, fishing, horseback riding, boating, camping, and plenty more all near the lake.

The Seeley Swan Scenic Drive runs through the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountains. South of the lake there exist other popular recreation areas like Placid Lake State Park, Salmon Lake State Park, and Harpers Lake. All of these spots are ideal for camping and fishing to varying degrees.

That’s another reason why it pays to come prepared along this route—the follow-on options are virtually endless.

Recreational Activities on the Scenic Drive

recreational activities
Image: JohnDavidStutts

The Seeley Swan Valley is a prime launching point for outdoor recreation year-round. Water activities are high on the list for many coming to the region, not least of all due to the prominent number of lakes.

Aside from the water, there are also virtually endless avenues for hiking and biking, and when the winter months hit, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are the order of the day.

The entire region is one of the best winter playgrounds and one of the largest road-free zones in the whole state.

The valley is home to the 1.5 million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex which straddles the Continental Divide and contains rugged and undiscovered wild land to explore.

swan range
Image: Bitterroot

Aside from the hundreds of miles of trails to hike, bike, and snowshoe, the Clearwater Canoe Trail is one of the reasons water-loving enthusiasts head out to the valley.

The Canoe Trail is 4 miles north of Seeley Lake and presents the chance to indulge in a spot of canoeing or floating. It leads through a dense, willowy marsh and eventually enters the lake at the top end.

About halfway between Swan and Seeley lakes, an ideal opportunity presents itself for any willing hikers to jump off the beaten path at Holland Lake.

The famous Holland Lake Falls hike leads up from the lake, and there’s also a lodge at the lake if you are looking for a great post-hike place to grab a Montana dinner.

Trail Routes near the Scenic Drive

You can stop off at any of the many pull-ins and take in the views of the Mission Mountains to the west and the Swan Range peaks to the east.

You may consider a stop-gap in your drive to hike up to the Holland Lake Waterfall or along any of the multitudes of surrounding trails on offer. Here are just a few picks:

Holland Lake Falls

holland lake falls
Image: Forest Service Northern Region

This is a 3.3-mile out and back trail that reaches elevations close to 500 feet. That said this route is fine for any level, and leashed dogs can come along too. Hikers are usually impressed with the views of Holland Lake from the offset at the trailhead, and the first stretch of the trail is flat.

You will encounter a few inclines along the lake’s shoreline to the base of Holland Falls. There is a small bridge about halfway into the route which is an ideal stop-off for anyone who needs it.

The trail gets a bit more narrow and rocky the closer you get to the falls but there are still some great views to be had with the sound of the cascading waterfall behind you.

Upon reaching the end point of the trail you are treated to a vast and complete view of Holland Lake and its surrounding mountains.

Boy Scout Bridge to Seeley Lake

This is an easy but narrow 1.9-mile out and back trail with hardly any elevation. Thus the route is ideal for anyone with kids or those who don’t fancy going too far.

Wildflowers and lush greenery permeate the scenery come summer and spring, and Seeley Lake is accessible and picturesque year-round.

There isn’t a parking lot to speak of at the trailhead so most hikers park along the side of the road. The Seeley Lake campground is not more than a half-mile past the trailhead.

Clearwater Lake Loop

Another short and relatively easy local trail comes by way of the 3-mile loop trailhead to Clearwater Lake. Elevations are minimal at not more than a hundred feet or so and the trail will suit any level of walker.

The lake is around a half-mile from the trailhead and the route continues around the lake. Hikers will encounter a gradual and meandering downhill trail to the lake and there are plenty of huckleberry bushes along the way.

Upon reaching the lake you’ll find yourself privy to some excellent mountain views, not to mention crystal-clear water that enables you to see the lake’s bottom in parts.

You will also find there are a few decent camping spots near the shore if you’re in the mood for stopping over and spending the night under the stars in a really peaceful destination.

Morrell Falls

morrell falls
Image: Irene’s Pics

The Morrell Falls Trail follows a 5.4-mile out and back route with elevations over 450 feet or so. This is a moderate hike that most people could easily accomplish and anyone making it to the end of the trail gets rewarded with views of the 70-foot cascading falls.

The first stretch of the route over half a mile or so is relatively flat and takes you into dense-looking woods. The route contains a moderate number of inclines that won’t prove too challenging, and you can see Morrell Lake at the 1-mile stage.

From here you continue on to the remainder of the trail to Morrell Falls, which will help to cool you off nicely if you see them on a hot day.

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