Just the name — Wild Horse Island — sends the imagination flying. And the short boat ride from Polson to this island on Flathead Lake is an adventure in and of itself. Located in Montana’s largest freshwater lake, the park is a world unto itself and home to some pretty amazing things.
The history of the island begins with its Indigenous inhabitants. Legend has it that the Salish-Kootenai used the island, which is 2,164 acres in size, to pasture their horses and protect them from thievery by other tribes. Today, the island is home to five or six horses that are part of a herd managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. For their health and safety, the horses are not ridden or fed. But you can admire the beautiful creatures from one of the many designated hiking trails on the island.
A wide variety of other wildlife can be seen on the island, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, waterfowl and bald eagles. Wild Horse Island is also the home of the Flathead Valley’s largest herd of wild mustangs. It is illegal to feed, chase or attempt to capture these animals. In addition, the use of bicycles on the island is prohibited and pets are not allowed. For your safety, it is also a violation of state law to take any artifacts from the island.
Throughout the years, the island’s history has been a wild ride, and relics of those earlier days can still be found scattered around the park. The first settlers arrived on the island in 1910. One family built a house and barn on their claim that still stand along one of the island’s hiking trails. The homesteading era ended in the late 1970s when developers began platting the island for summer homes. The state acquired most of the island in the 1980s, but a portion of the shoreline remains private.
With its designated hiking trails and world-class fishing, Flathead Lake’s Wild Horse Island is a popular destination year-round. It’s also a great place for kayaking, canoeing and sailing. It’s best to bring a boat from Polson or one of the other lakeside communities, and it’s important to respect private property. Boaters are asked to stay off private lots on the island’s perimeter and not use private docks without permission.
In addition to the island, Flathead Lake is home to five other state parks that offer camping, hiking and beach time. Finley Point State Park is an overnight campground with spectacular views of the mountains and glacier-carved landscape, Yellow Bay State Park offers a feeling of exclusivity and a close proximity to the area’s famous cherries, Wayfarers State Park provides a sense of solitude, and Wild Horse Island State Park offers a combination of nature and history that’s hard to beat. Visit the park website for more information about visiting this incredible lakeside gem. wild horse island flathead lake