Set on the shores of Flathead Lake, Wild Horse Island State Park has an old-growth Ponderosa Pine forest and a herd of wild horses that continues to call the island their home.
It was incorporated into the Flathead Indian Reservation in 1872, then made a state park in 1977.
How the island itself was created is steeped in as much legend as it is history, with stories crediting its creation by an earthquake or a felled tree being circulated for over a hundred years.
In actuality, the island was formed by glaciers during the ice age and has been inhabited by humans for 10,000 years.
After the settling of the Americas began, it became the home and stomping ground of fur trappers, homesteaders, and now tourists who come to this place for bird watching or other recreational activities.
Beyond the possibility of getting to see wild horses, many activities draw scores of visitors to Wild Horse Island State Park, like hiking, fishing, and kayaking.
Experienced boaters of all kinds – but especially those of easily maneuverable craft like kayaks and canoes – will have the easiest time visiting as it is only accessible by boat.
The park does not provide boat access to visitors, but if you don’t have your own craft you can rent one privately in the nearby town of Big Arm.
Wild Horse Island State Park Stats
- Fees: $8, free for Montana residents
- Size:2,164 acres
- Season: Year-round
- Major Feature: Only accessible by boat from Big Arm
Main Attractions in Wild Horse Island State Park
Wild Horse Island is near the ‘Big Arm’ section of Flathead Lake. This region is dedicated to outdoor and natural pursuits. Both the island and the shore are dominated by parks, lake resorts, outdoor gear outfitters, and tour operators.
The main entry point to Wild Horse Island, Skeeko Bay is home to a public boat landing that welcomes visitors, especially those approaching the island from the west. The trailhead for the main trail on the island passes through here as well.
A natural point and kayak landing on the south shore of the island, Driftwood Point is an ideal landing point for those arriving from Big Arm.
Conveniently located in Big Arm, the Wild Horse RV Resort has a beautiful view of Wild Horse Island State Park. In addition to standard RV sites with hookups, the resort has an outdoor heated pool and indoor hot tubs, along with a fitness center and sauna. There are onsite cabins for those not traveling by RV.
The Big Arm Resort is a stone’s throw from Flathead Lake. The resort is located in the valley of Big Arm, Montana. In addition to their lakeside lodges and RV sites, they have many in-resort activities like fishing, hiking trails, boating, golfing, and horseback riding.
If you haven’t brought your own craft, you can rent a small boat or hire a ride to Wild Horse Island State Park from Boat Rentals and Rides. Although they’re just a small, seasonal company, they offer a wide variety of rentable crafts, tours, and gear for tourists and locals alike.
Activities in Wild Horse Island State Park
Visitors come to the island for its designated hiking trails, world-class fishing, and the wide variety of birds that frequent the island.
The park has two hiking trails that are open year-round. The Rocky Point Trail is 1 mile long and leads to a scenic overlook looking out over Flathead Lake to the Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Point Trail also features an old homestead cabin that was built in 1886. The other trail is called the Pinnacle Trail which is 2 miles long and leads through forested areas with views of the lake and mountains while passing by some historic mines.
Anglers come to Wild Horse Island State Park seeking mostly trout and bass. If you’re planning a fishing trip in the park, you’ll need a tribal fishing license in addition to a Montana fishing license as this state park is within the borders of the Flathead Indian Reservation.
There are no public docks at the park, however, there are six designated boat landings scattered around its border.
The island is home to more than 250 species of birds, largely due to the rare indigenous plant species that thrive here due to the protections in place.
In the summer, you’ll also be able to see the scores of migratory birds that come temporarily in addition to the island’s local residents.