No-one knows for sure if it is fact, but apparently, the name to what is today a town with a population fast approaching the 5,000 mark is based on its location at the ‘big fork’, where the Swan River merges with the vastness of Flathead Lake.
When Everit Sliter arrived on the scene towards the end of the 19th-century, things gradually began to develop after he had established both the first general store and a hotel in the town. He also implemented orchards and served as the postmaster in the place that he had discovered on a fishing trip.
The construction of the dam, the power plant, and roads followed soon after, and as this was the steamer era Bigfork Bay became something of a harbor for large lake steamers.
To say that Bigfork has developed since those days of the steamer is putting it mildly. The population has quadrupled in the last two decades alone.
Many visitors to the place fall for its charm and decide to move once they have had a taste of a town that is lively and cultured yet close to nature and some amazing recreation and other outdoor opportunities.
It is no small wonder that people come from all over just to experience the forests and waters of the Flathead Valley region considering just how vast and scenic it is.
With the continuous increase of people so there has followed an increase in local developments in terms of restaurants, bars, hotels, and other accommodation options.
Bearing in mind this area would have just been a small, eastern farming town on the banks of one of the largest natural bodies of water in the state not too long back, that’s some achievement.
And yet the real charm of the place is the small-town vibe that has somehow been retained for the most part. These days though, amenities in Bigfork include galleries, theater, and fine dining, although the splendor of nature is never more than a walk or a short drive away.
All this is reason enough to come to Bigfork, along with the fact that the town hugs the sparkling and picturesque blue bay of Flathead Lake.
Main Cultural, Historic, and Outdoor Attractions in Bigfork
Even though Bigfork is a comparatively small town in Montana terms it does offer a delightfully wide range of eating and dining options.
Some of these places are established and have been around for a while like the local favorite breakfast spot Echo Lake Café which has operated for more than 50 years. On top of that, you can find wine shops, Mexican restaurants—you name it, it’s here.
Bigfork is big on community spirit and thus you’ll find regular activities, events, festivals, and such like the half-century-old Bigfork Festival of Arts which showcases the work of local artists, craftsmen, and other vendors along with entertainment and cuisine.
The many galleries in this Montana town are world-class, as are the theater performances as Broadway-caliber displays come to the Bigfork Summer Playhouse.
Bigfork is a thriving community with plenty of shops, fine dining, and even a 27-hole championship golf course—not to mention the fact that Bigfork is also a great launch point for Flathead Lake recreation or a welcome return to civilization after a few days in a tent campground.
Every season–which in the case of the ‘Theatre by the Bay’ is from mid-May to late August–recruits Broadway-caliber acting talent from across the country to bring impressively-professional live theater to the Northwest. The playhouse is known for bringing the best of Broadway to the Rockies and usually operates Monday-Saturday noon-5 p.m.
The Bigfork Art & Cultural Center (BACC) has been the focal point of fostering local arts and providing a community center for the town. The Facility is located in a renovated gas station on Electric Avenue and operates as a non-profit organization with the mission to celebrate and preserve local history and provide avenues for artists to thrive in.
The center serves as a creative and educational hub for all who visit and allows both artists and visitors to explore new ideas in art and culture.
The upper galleries in the center are also where you’ll find the museum featuring various Bigfork History Projects, including interactive workstations and our historical collection.
There are usually various exhibits in the lower gallery throughout the year The Art, etc., gift shop sells the works of local artists and authors.
Bigfork is big on local craft brewing and Flathead Lake Brewing Co. is a prime example of a producer of quality handcrafted and award-winning beers, brewed using local ingredients and glacial water. After checking out the process involved in the production of the beer you can indulge yourself in the FLBC Pubhouse with its bar and 16 taps to choose from.
The Bigfork Museum of Art & History is yet another local venue devoted to raising the awareness and appreciation of visual arts in Montana, particularly from the historical aspects of the Bigfork region. The museum features various inspiring exhibitions, programs, collections, and offers to the local community.
Hiking and mountain biking trails in and around Bigfork can take you to places most people are never aware of such as old logging trails, country roads, and deep forest routes. If you don’t have your own mountain bike, you can easily rent one for the day at many places around Bigfork.
Swan River Nature Trail: Trailhead for the 4.2-mile trail starts at the east end of Grand Avenue in downtown Bigfork.
The Aeneas Loop is a moderate 2.8-mile trail that can be nice and quiet during certain periods of the year, and it is accessible year-round according to weather conditions.
The Hall Lake Trail is another moderate route although this time an 8-mile wander through the Bigfork surrounds.
Blacktail Mountain is excellent for skiing and is 30 minutes from Bigfork to the west of Lakeside.
Jewel Basin Bigfork and the Flathead National Forest feature some impressive cross-country ski trails.
Whitefish Mountain is located nearby Whitefish and is a world-class ski resort and possibly Montana’s finest.
Jewel Basin in Flathead National Forest is also a region with over 20 lakes that provide more than reasonable fishing opportunities for cutthroat and rainbow trout. This is also a popular area for hiking with some decent trails.
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the Western U.S. and one of the most popular ways to experience the lake is from the water.
Bigfork is literally on the shore of one bay of the super-large lake, so you can imagine the opportunities for water activities in the area are vast whether by way of boating, swimming, water-skiing, kayaking or otherwise.
The Flathead Lake State Park System contains six different shoreline units, a couple well within the range of Bigfork. Two of the sites are on the west shore of the lake and three are on the east.
Big Arm is the largest, with a 40-site campground with a nice and long pebble beach along the shore. Wayfarers State Park is a 7-site campground located on the northeast shore of the lake that accommodates RV’s up to 50 feet. It has flush toilets, water, and bear-resistant storage.
The other state park units including Yellowbay, and West Shore, all have small campgrounds as well, each with a public boat ramp. The sixth state park unit is the day-use Wild Horse Island.
Aside from the lakeside options, you can find other campgrounds in and around the town such as Outback Montana RV Park & Campground located in Lakeshore, in Bigfork; Timbers RV Park is located at Highway 35 South and Woods Bay Marina & RV Park located at 624 Yenne Point Road.
Accommodation–Hotels and Lodging
- Bigfork Lake Getaway
- The INN Bigfork Bay
- Buffalo Lodge
- Flathead Lake Resort
- Timbers Motel
- Islander Inn
Special Events in Bigfork
- May—Bigfork Whitewater Festival—annual historic local event featuring white water rafting and other competitions
- Aug–Festival of the Arts—another annual favorite with artists and visitors alike. A well-attended festival fills the main street of town with a fine selection of arts, crafts, food, music, and other entertainment on both Saturday and Sunday.
- Aug—Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival—special annual music event held at Flathead Lake Lodge
- Sept—Rumble in the Bay Car Show—huge community car show
- TBC—Montana Dragon Boat Festival–complete with 46-feet oriental dragon boats
Activities and other Points of Interest near Bigfork
Forests/State/National Parks/Wilderness Areas:
- Flathead National Forest
- Glacier National Park
- Bob Marshall Wilderness Area
- Swan Wilderness Area
- Wayfarer’s State Park
- Carlyle Johnson Park
- Everit Sliter Memorial Park
- Bigfork Museum of Art and History
- Check out much more of Bigfork in terms of its historic, arts, and cultural aspects