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20 of the Most Beautiful Lakes in Montana to Go

By | Last Updated : 16th December 2021

Amidst the towering mountains and scenic valleys in Montana, you will find many glacially-carved bodies of water or artificial reservoirs adding to its beauty. The breathtaking topographies combined with an array of recreational activities make them a popular tourist destination. They also provide shelter to many wildlife species you might encounter while exploring the area. All in all, lakes in Montana are an ideal getaway spot for those seeking to surround themselves with nature’s charm and beauty.

Lakes in Montana

Lakes in Northern Montana

1. Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald in Northern Montana

The first thing you’ll notice about Lake McDonald is the colorful pebbles glistening under the pristine waters. In addition to this, the majestic mountains and the surrounding U-shaped valley make it a pretty photogenic spot. Known to be the state’s largest glacial lake, it boasts 10 miles of shoreline within Glacier National Park. You can explore the picturesque surroundings by hiking the many trails. Make sure to carry your binoculars if you enjoy wildlife viewing, as you will not want to miss spotting mountain goats, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, elk, and black bears. After enjoying the day of fun and exploration, you can head to Lake McDonald Lodge, located at the eastern shore, to have your meals and stay overnight.

Fishing: The lake has plenty of cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, and bull trout.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, hiking, wildlife watching, picnicking

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2. Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake in Northern Montana

One of Montana’s main tourist attraction sites, Flathead Lake, is a vast freshwater body of water with 185 miles of shoreline. Several public boat ramps are available, providing easy access to the lake. On its western shore sits Flathead Lake State Park that features a rocky beach where you can enjoy swimming and camping. As you hike along the park’s trails, you will be able to admire the lush fir, pine, and larch forests and the encompassing Mission Mountains and Salish Mountains. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you can take a boat ride to reach the lake’s largest, Wild Horse Island. It is home to numerous wildlife species like bighorn sheep, mule deer, wild horses, bears, several waterfowl, songbirds, bald eagles, and falcons.

Fishing: Fish species like lake trout, yellow perch, pike, and whitefish populate the lake. Anglers can also expect to catch rainbow trout, bull trout, kokanee salmon, and bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, sailing, hiking, wildlife viewing, birdwatching, camping, picnicking

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3. Saint Mary Lake

Saint Mary Lake in Northern Montana

Saint Mary Lake flows along Going-to-the-Sun Road at the eastern side of Glacier National Park. It is a paradise for wildlife lovers as they can treat their eyes with the sights of mule deer, grizzly bear, elk, and black bear. Swimming may be unsuitable in the icy cold waters but taking a guided boat cruise, available during the summer time, would be an ideal way to admire the picturesque scenery of wildflowers and aspens. In winter, the surrounding trails offer excellent opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country hiking. Besides this, you can explore the nearby scenic sites like the 100-foot Virginia Falls or Wild Goose Island.

Fishing: You will be able to catch lake trout, rainbow trout, and cutthroat trout.

Other Activities: Boating, canoeing, kayaking, cross-country hiking, snowshoeing, camping, wildlife watching, sightseeing

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4. Swan Lake

Swan Lake in Northern Montana

Swan Lake lies on the northeastern side of Flathead Lake. Nestled within lush valleys and towering mountains, this little body of water provides several recreational opportunities, from hiking to wildlife viewing. With boat ramps and a small beach, you can enjoy spending time in the waters. Many picnic tables and fire rings are also available here, making it an excellent spot for family gatherings or other get-togethers. If planning a night stay, you can choose from various accommodation facilities, from campsites in Swan Lake Campground to rental lakeside cabins.

Fishing: Anglers enjoy catching northern pike, kokanee salmon, and rainbow trout in this lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, waterskiing, hiking, biking, wildlife viewing

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5. Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake in Northern Montana

Avalanche Lake lies at the foothills of Bearhat Mountain, requiring a two-mile hike via the Trail of the Cedars to access it. It’s quite a popular trail that traverses through dense forests and provides distant views of the tall waterfalls cascading down the surrounding mountains. You can relax at the rocky beaches once you reach here and soak in the beauty or hike further along the lake to get closer views of the falls.

Fishing: Despite being a little lake sitting at a high elevation, it provides anglers opportunities for fishing Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

Other Activities: Hiking, nature-gazing, picnicking

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6. Swiftcurrent Lake

Swiftcurrent Lake in Northern Montana

The Swiftcurrent Lake flows in the picturesque Many Glacier Valley region of Glacier National Park. Taking a boat tour from here to Lake Josephine would be ideal for admiring the enchanting surroundings. On the other hand, Grinnell Glacier Trail that circles the lake allows visitors to explore the scenery on foot. If planning to extend your stay, Many Glacier Hotel sits on its eastern shoreline, providing accommodation and various other facilities. Besides this, you’ll find a Many Glacier Campground beside the road where many tourists enjoy spending their time under the stars and surrounded by snow-capped mountains during the summer months.

Fishing: Brooktrout mainly populates this lake. Other fish species found here include bull trout, lake trout, northern pike, and kokanee salmon.

Other Activities: Boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, camping, wildlife watching, picnicking

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7. Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake in Northern Montana

You can access Bowman Lake from the town of Polebridge, located on the northwestern side of Glacier National Park. It does not attract too many tourists due to its secluded location providing peace and tranquility to those visiting it. Besides canoeing and kayaking, motorized boats are also allowed, but you will have to maintain a speed limit of not more than ten horsepower. At the lake’s southern end, a campground offers shelter to tourists who wish to extend their stay.

Fishing: Bowman Lake supports fish species like cutthroat trout, bull trout, and kokanee salmon.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, picnicking

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8. Echo Lake

Echo Lake in Northern Montana

This small lake is a part of Flathead Valley, sourced by groundwater and Echo Creek. It is pretty warm, attracting many water sport enthusiasts to have fun with their watercraft or simply swimming here. Even if you’re not into water sports, you can sit back and admire the stunning views of the Swan Range, Beartooth Mountains, and Jewel Basin from here. If you want to extend your stay here, vacation rentals are available all along the shoreline.

Fishing: You could catch several fish species, including northern pike, perch, pumpkinseed, and largemouth bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, jetskiing, nature gazing

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9. Lake Koocanusa

Lake Koocanusa in Northern Montana

Lake Koocanusa is a human-made reservoir flowing between northwest Montana and Canada’s British Columbia region. Its name is an interesting combination of the first three letters of the Kootenai River, Canada, and the USA. You can indulge in a tour to Libby Dam that created the reservoir or enjoy a short boat ride to Yarnell Islands. Picnicking and camping on the island would be an excellent way to spend time in the heart of the body of water. You can also camp at Barron Creek Recreation Site, located at its western shoreline, featuring a public boat ramp to launch small boats.

Fishing: Lake Koocanusa offers opportunities to fish for rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brook trout, whitefish, kokanee salmon, and bull trout.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, picnicking

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10. Fort Peck Lake

Fort Peck Lake, Missouri River Country

Fort Peck Lake in northeastern Montana is the state’s largest body of water, measuring about 134 miles in length and more than 1500 miles of shoreline. You can easily access it from Fort Peck Marina, located at the west side of its source Fort Peck Dam. You can indulge in several activities like swimming, boating, and fishing. After spending your time here, make sure to visit Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge that borders the lake. Besides appreciating the views, you can also enjoy additional activities here, including hiking, camping, hunting, and birdwatching, wildlife viewing.

Fishing: Anglers enjoy fishing various fish species like northern pike, lake trout, and walleye.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking,hiking, camping, hunting, and birdwatching, wildlife viewing

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11. Whitefish Lake

Whitefish Lake in Northern Montana

Whitefish Lake is a product of the receding glacier that sits at an elevation of about 3000 feet. It gets its name due to the abundance of mountain whitefish harvested here. The Whitefish Lake State Park features various amenities like a public boat ramp, boat rentals, and campsites to stay overnight on its southwestern shore. While kayaks and canoes dot the calm waters in the morning, motorized boats are more commonly seen in the afternoon when the lake warm up. There’s also Whitefish City Beach on its southern shoreline, attracting tourists to enjoy having a refreshing dip in the clear waters. In winters, the adjacent Whitefish Mountain Resort becomes a hotspot for skiing.

Fishing: This lake is mainly known for mountain whitefish and lake trout. You might also catch other fish species like yellow perch, brook trout, cutthroat trout, and lake trout.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, waterskiing, tubing, camping, cross-country skiing

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12. Tally Lake

Tally Lake in Northern Montana

Tally Lake within Flathead National Forest might not be a vast body of water, but it is the state’s deepest natural lake measuring about 445 feet in depth. The surrounding forested mountains make it a picturesque place to admire. Its warm waters and calm winds attract many to enjoy several water activities here, especially canoeing, kayaking, and even waterskiing. You can also picnic at the shoreline and spend overnight at Tally Lake Campground.

Fishing: This lake holds several fish species such as cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, lake trout, yellow perch, and whitefish.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, picnicking, camping

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13. Ashley Lake

Ashley Lake in Northern Montana

Ashley Lake in northwest Montana sits at an elevation of 3500 feet. You can keep yourself busy in various activities like swimming in the designated area, boating, or picnicking. Your furry friends can also tag along with you, provided they are on a leash. Three campgrounds surround the 4-mile long and 2-mile wide lake where you can spend overnight.

Fishing: Fishspecies like kokanee salmon, cutthroat trout, yellow perch, and rainbow trout are usually caught in this lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, picnicking, camping

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Lakes in Southern Montana

1. Quake Lake

Quake Lake in Southern Montana

Quake Lake, also known as Earthquake Lake, is a scenic body of water situated in southwestern Montana. You will find a significant part of it within Gallatin National Forest, surrounded by dense pine forests and a mountainous backdrop. Formed by the earthquake in 1959, Quake Lake is about six miles long and over 180 feet deep. You can access its shoreline from Highway 287 and can even launch your boats from the boat ramp here. Its Visitor Center, located just off the highway, provides visitors with information and evidence of the powerful earthquake and landslide that had also claimed the lives of 28 people. 

Fishing: Quake Lake has an excellent stock of brown trout and lake trout. Fly-fishing here is the best option to catch these fish, particularly in late March and April.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, birdwatching, hiking, picnicking, camping

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2. Hebgen Lake

Hebgen Lake in Southern Montana

Created by the Hebgen Dam, this reservoir is a sought-after vacation destination just outside Yellowstone National Park in southwest Montana. Despite having a traumatic past of the earthquake of 1959, the enchanting scenery here creates a charm that lures tourists to have a great time. Boating and swimming in its calm and pristine waters are pretty popular. You could spend the night at the nearby campgrounds like Rainbow Point and Cherry Creek.

Fishing: Hebgen Lake is known for being the state’s premier Stillwater fishing lakeRainbow trout and brown trout are fish species inhabiting the lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, camping

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3. Canyon Ferry Lake

Canyon Ferry Lake in Southern Montana

Situated close to the capital city of Helena, Canyon Ferry Lake is a well-known vast reservoir sitting on the Missouri River. The views of the mighty Big Belt Mountains are indeed awe-inspiring from here. Many marinas dot here, providing visitors various facilities like boat ramps, rental docks, and gasoline supply. If you’re a bird enthusiast, you can head to the end of the reservoir to catch the spectacular sight of pelicans and terns flying overhead.

Fishing: Canyon Ferry Lake is home to fish species like rainbow trout, perch, and walleye.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, waterskiing, camping, sightseeing, hunting, picnicking, birdwatching, wildlife viewing

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4. Georgetown Lake

Georgetown Lake in Southern Montana

Nestled within the towering mountains, Georgetown Lake is a gorgeous alpine body of water in southwest Montana. The shallow waters warm up quickly in summer, making it a pretty decent spot to swim or boat. Many wildlife species like elk and moose are often seen frequenting the area. In winter, snowmobiling is a sought-after activity here. Besides these, many lodges, restaurants, casinos, and golf courses provide additional entertainment and facilities to visitors.

Fishing: Anglers often catch trophy-sized rainbow and brook trout as well as plenty of kokanee salmon. Ice-fishing is quite common in winter season.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, wildlife watching, camping, golfing, snowmobiling

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5. Lake Como

Lake Como in Southern Montana

ake Como is a part of Bitterroot National Forest in southwest Montana. The beach area is a popular recreational site in summer, with visitors enjoying swimming or picnicking. You can also have fun in the waters by boarding your watercraft from the public boat launch.  Many trails surrounding the lake area attract hikers, bikers, and horseback riders to explore them. Lake Como Campground within the recreation area provides shelter to tourists from late May through early September. However, do keep in mind that there is an entry fee of $ 5 per vehicle to access this part of the national forest.

Fishing: You can fish for several species in Lake Como like mountain whitefish, kokanee salmon, and trout.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, waterskiing, jet skiing, picnicking, hiking, horseback riding

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Lakes in Western Montana

1. Seeley Lake

Seeley Lake in Western Montana

Located an hour’s drive away from Missoula in western Montana, Seeley Lake offers splendid views of the Seeley-Swan Valley. With two state parks, Salmon Lake State Park and Placid Lake State Park, sitting on its shoreline, recreational activities are abundant. You can rent a boat and launch it from one of the public boat ramps to take in the sights of the majestic mountains and their lush surroundings. Among the many trails, hiking the one from Camp Paxon will make you witness the world’s largest western larch tree called ‘Gus.’ The stunning Morrell Falls is also nearby, accessed by a 2.5-mile trail through lush forests.

Fishing: Rainbow Trout is one of the common fish species in this lake. Other species residing here are perch, bull trout, whitefish, northern pike, perch, and kokanee salmon.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, waterskiing, camping, hiking, picnicking, wildlife watching, horseback riding

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2. Holter Lake

Holter Lake in Western Montana

Holter Lake is an artificial reservoir that lies less than an hour away from Helena in west-central Montana. The Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area at its western side offers stunning views. Holter Lake Campground sits in close proximity to the lake and surrounding mountains, where you can choose to pitch your tents or park your RVs.

Fishing: This lake is brimming withrainbow trout, brown trout, perch, walleye, carp, and kokanee salmon.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, waterskiing, hiking, wildlife viewing, hunting, birdwatching

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TOP PICKS

Best Lakes for Fishing: Hebgen Lake, Canyon Ferry Lake, Georgetown Lake

Best Lakes for Boating: Flathead Lake,Hebgen Lake, Canyon Ferry Lake

Best Lakes for Camping: Hebgen Lake, Lake McDonald, Swan Lake

Best Lakes to Live On: Seeley Lake, Flathead Lake, Whitefish Lake

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