Polson was part of the region occupied for thousands of years by two major Salish-speaking Tribes by way of the Salish and the Pend d’Oreilles, as well as one band of the Kootenai Tribe.
The first non-native visitors to the Flathead Lake region were fur-traders, somewhere around the 1820s. The town developed as commerce in the region developed due to the convenient transportation offered by both the Flathead River and Flathead Lake.
The population of Polson is around the 5,000-resident mark, and this small northwestern Montana town is a decent spot from which to base yourself if you are intent on exploring the region.
Polson is something of a destination in its own right though and is home to various unique attractions like rushing dams and detailed, historic museums.
As the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, Flathead Lake serves as the primary backdrop for any Polson scenario–not such a tall order considering this huge body of water covers over 200 square miles or more.
Polson is an excellent provider of various outlets and access points to lakeside enjoyment, and as the town sits on the southern end of the lake, anyone driving in from Missoula soon becomes aware of the massive body of water as it comes into view, welcoming them to town with its unlimited potential for outdoor recreation.
The Main Cultural, Historic, and Outdoor Attractions in Polson
The clean water and fertile soil surrounding the lake help to produce the juicy cherry harvest throughout late July and early August. Not unreasonably, this is something that Polson celebrates every summer.
There is an abundance of local eateries, with the biggest selection being the central downtown district close to the lakefront.
The town also has a few shops worth browsing between snacks or meals, not to mention a touch of culture by way of the Sandpiper Gallery. This non-profit cooperative art gallery is community-driven and hosts various events and workshops throughout the year.
When summer shows itself Polson comes alive with the taste of cherries. The mild climate surrounding the lake and the clean water that results from it provide ideal conditions for cultivating the stone fruits.
Needless to say, the community capitalizes on the season, and the best time for peak ripeness is usually after the second week of July through the second week of August.
This is the time to keep an eye out for roadside stands or other spots close to the lake selling fresh produce. Hockaday Orchards is in Lakeside and offers U-pick opportunities.
The cherry culture at the Flathead Lake Cherry Festival in Polson puts all of this to shame though.
This is a two-day festival occurring in the prime cherry-picking season which continues to the end of July. Most of the cherry celebrations take place on Polson’s Main Street, where local vendors ply a variety of cherry products alongside handmade regional arts, crafts, and decor.
Sacajawea Park and Salish Point Park
An expansive green space on the northern side of the Polson commercial district connects these two park spaces. They are both common weekend hangout spots for locals who come to either park for activities like boating, swimming, picnicking, and generally enjoying the outdoors.
The valuable community function of this space is apparent from special events and festivals at the park such as the Flathead Lake Festival of Art. This event occurs in Sacajawea Park every July sponsored by the Sandpiper Gallery. There are various other live performances of music and stage throughout the summer.
Salish Point Park is the place where locals head when they fancy a spot of quality open-water swimming. There is a cordoned-off swimming area close to the beach and bookended by two docks.
The site also features a fishing dock and there is plenty of boating activity.
The Polson Flathead Lake Museum is a non-profit facility that excels in exhibiting and highlighting the beginnings of modern civilization in the region. The museum’s collection features original artifacts dating back to the 1800s such as a stagecoach and a fire truck.
The museum is also home to the original Lambert Trading Post, which was first constructed in the 1870s but today functions as a local gift shop with books, jams, and various forms of artisan craft and artwork.
The museum is on Main Street in Polson and operates seven days per week, typically from May 15th to September 30th. Special ticket packages are available for admission to both the Polson Flathead lake Museum and the Miracle of America Museum.
This home-grown museum—actually located in Memory Lane in Polson– houses thousands of artifacts covering a wide range of Americana.
Just three miles down the road from the lake museum, the roadside facility finds itself the attraction of thousands of visitors a year who stop off and spend some time browsing the collection when visiting.
The range of items on display includes everything from vintage motorcycles to a turn-of-the-century schoolroom. The other exhibits include historic automobiles, artistic sculptures, firearms, and even obscure items like extra-terrestrial memorabilia.
There’s something for everyone here and the family-friendly museum is open daily, year-round.
You can check out their YouTube page to get an idea of what to expect when visiting this unique museum.
From a recreational aspect, Polson is in the vicinity of state park units and campgrounds, and hiking areas line pretty much the entire region of the lake shoreline extending from Polson.
The Mission Valley Range to the southern regions of Polson is bordered by the usually snow-capped Mission Mountains. The Flathead River courses out of Polson and features some decent white-water rafting spots.
Polson Hill Trail is an easy, out-and-back trail just short of 2.5 miles in length. It takes an average of about an hour to complete and contains some decent views even though it is closer to town than might seem apparent. The route is not that heavily maintained so brush encroaches slightly onto the trail in some sections.
Hellroaring Road to Hellroaring Reservoir is a 2.9-mile, out-and-back trail near Polson, Montana. Generally considered an easy route with a mostly gentle grade.
There is a pleasant small lake at top, and a stream dammed with rocks. The year-round route usually takes about 1.5 hours to complete. The best times to make use of the trail are definitely May through October, and dogs on leashes are welcome.
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.
This is an area well-known for its excellent powerboating and paddling conditions, and Polson is home to a few boat rental companies close to the lake covering everything from powerboats to Jet Skis.
Non-motorized boating by way of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are also catered to.
The closest state park unit is Finley Point, approximately 12 miles to the east. This is a scenic little campground next to the lake with RV sites, tent sites, and some boat camping slips.
Fishing and boating are some of the more obvious and logical activities going on out of the campground including boat fishing that utilizes the boat launch.
Big Arm is a larger, 40-site campground and the next closest state park unit along from Polson. There is a nice, long pebble beach along the shore, and the campground is approximately the same distance as the first site but this time in the other direction to the west.
The other state park units, Yellowbay, Wayfarers, 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.
Accommodation–Hotels and lodging
Special Events in Polson
March–St. Patrick’s Gnome– drinking, socializing, and learning to paint
July–Flatwater Cherry Festival–cherry-picking, eating, and celebrating
Activities and other Points of Interest near Polson