The island is known for its pristine hiking trails, stunning vistas and wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl and bald eagles. It also contains an old-growth ponderosa pine forest and a herd of wild horses for which it’s named. The island is a popular day-use park but can only be reached via boat. It’s also surrounded by private property on the perimeter so visitors are encouraged to respect the privacy of landowners and not trespass on the property.
The legend of how the island got its name stems back to when the Salish-Kootenai Indians pastured their herds on the island to protect them from raids by other tribes. Eventually the herds grew so large they began to break free of their tethers, and the Natives decided to round them up and return them to the mainland. Then the herds were renamed “wild horses” to honor the event.
In the 1960s, Bourke MacDonald, owner of a multigenerational Butte lumber operation, bought the island and opened it to the public in 1968. He donated the park to Montana in 1969, and his wife Paddy later donated a substantial sum of money to preserve it forever as one of the state’s largest state parks.
Today the park is open for hiking and horseback riding in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter. It’s one of Flathead Lake’s most popular destinations, with over 20,000 visitors annually. A variety of activities can be enjoyed on the island, but hiking is the most popular activity. There are four miles of hiking trails, and it’s also possible to explore off trail. In spring, the park offers a spectacular display of wildflowers.
If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, there are plenty of nearby options to consider. Flathead Lake has five other state parks that are perfect for camping, including Finley Point and Yellow Bay. The lakeside town of Polson is another great option for lodging. The town has opportunities to swim, shop, visit museums and enjoy the bountiful Flathead Cherry Festival.
There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy Flathead Lake with family and friends on a pontoon boat rental from Go Sail Flathead Lake. Whether you’re looking to explore the trails on Wild Horse Island or catch a trophy lake trout, Captain Mike is ready to help you plan your Flathead Lake Adventure. Contact us today for more information! wild horse island flathead lake