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3 Easy and Beautiful Hikes in the Flathead Valley

We love hiking around the Flathead Valley, it is after all one of the reasons we live in this magnificent place! Sometimes we just need a quick hike to fit our schedules or something close so we do not spend our day just getting to the trail head. With that in mind, here are 3 hikes that we recommend for the time crunched traveler who wants a real slice of  Montana.

1. Twin Lakes Trail: This hike starts at the Camp Misery trail head in the Jewel Basin. It is a easy traversing trail with incredible alpine views. After hiking through a small pass in the mountains the trails slopes down to the first of the Twin Lakes. The water is crystal clear and refreshingly cold! The hike is approx. 4 miles round trip. Click here for a map of the trail.

2. Peters Ridge Trail: This trail is a steep and short climb to the top of Peters Ridge through forest and the open area of Peters Ridge Bowl. The views are second to none of the Flathead Valley to the West and the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the East. The hike is approx. 5 miles round trip. Click here for more info.

3. Apgar Lookout Trail: This easy access trail head is just inside the west entrance of Glacier National Park. A popular trail that meanders through a new growth forest. The forest burned in the 2003 Roberts fire and the new trees are short enough to see over, so the views are present almost the entire hike. Be sure to bring your sunscreen as shade is hard to find! The trail ends with a world class view of Lake McDonald and the epic mountains of Going to the Sun Road. The trail is approx. 7 miles round trip. Click here for more info.

Get out and enjoy the Flathead Valley!

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A new adventure

In my four years as General Manager of Montana’s Best Vacation Rentals I have been very lucky to lead a great team and to be a part of a great company. I have loved to see the impact on our guest’s lives of staying in inspiring homes and exploring the great Flathead Valley. I ultimately was able to begin to do what I believe is my calling: to help people have an adventure.

Now, the time has come to move on to the next chapter in that journey.
As of May 13th I will be resigning as General Manager to pursue my passion in travel and adventure. I have created a startup company, Saint Mountains, which will produce lifestyle adventure content for brands such as Land Rover, Canon, and Amazon.

Benji Poffenroth will be taking over as General Manager at Montana’s Best Vacation Rentals. He has been an imperative part of creating the culture and vision that is so unique to Montana’s Best. I am confident that he will do an amazing job at carrying the torch and bringing the company to the next level. Many of you know Benji, and if you don’t I encourage you to read his bio at or give him a call. He is a fantastic leader, I am excited to see him in this role.

Montana’s Best has been an amazing experience that has connected me to many incredible people. I am sad to leave my team, but am also excited to start the next chapter in my business journey.

Thank you for all of your support, feel free to reach out to me.


Isaac Johnston


Let’s Camp on a Frozen Island


Here in Montana we’re always up for a good adventure. Neither snow nor ice nor below-freezing temperatures will stop us.

In early January, guest Morgan Phillips – along with Alex Strohl, Rishad Daroowala, Julien Pelletier, Olivier Dabene and Montana’s Best General Manager Isaac Johnston – set off with the goal of canoeing to an island in Hungry Horse Reservoir to camp for a night.

Grab a drink and a comfy seat. You’ll want to settle in for this adventure story, told from Morgan’s perspective and with his accompanying photos.

We set off at 11am to put the canoes in the water, our destination is Hungry Horse Reservoir. Specifically, we are headed to an island in the reservoir. It was supposed to take 1 hour to get to the shore. We didn’t make it to the water until 4:30 PM, sunset. The delay was caused by a closed road, getting stuck in snow, and having to walk a mile with the canoes through the deep Montana snow. It was worth the 4 hour effort because we were greeted with the beautiful pastel colors of sunset. I snapped this picture as we slid the canoes in the water. The current temperature was 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-11 C) with a forecast calling for colder weather. We began our paddle as the sun set. There was no way to know what the night had in store!


After 30 minutes of rowing, the sun had set. The headlamps and lanterns were turned on as we pulled our canoes ashore. It was time to see our home for the night for the first time. Upon initial glance, the island was steep. Very steep. Could not easily see a place to set up camp. After climbing the embankments, we came across a small area suitable for setting up tents and making a fire. The temperature had already fallen, what seemed to be, 5 degrees. I am sure it was in my head. As we began to set up camp the sun set, this would be the last time we saw this part of the lake unfrozen…


The sun has set, the headlamps are on. Setting up camp on the small island felt normal. Six people were on this camping trip so we set up 2 tents and I slept in a bivy. This was the first time I had slept in a bivy. For those that don’t know, a bivy is basically a sack that goes over your sleeping bag, think of it as a one man tent without poles. As I dug 2 feet down into the snow to find the solid surface of the earth I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Hole dug, bivy set up, I surveyed the situation and came to one unfortunate conclusion. It was going to be a cold one. The temperature was dropping rapidly, it was time to start a fire…wood wasn’t the only thing that was set ablaze that night…


The tents and bivys have been set up. The hunger has set in. We had already built a fire for warmth but decided we would use a camp stove to boil some water. Pasta for dinner. Living like kings. When plugging the butane into the first stove it leaked everywhere. We attributed this to the cold and waited for the water to boil. It never did. We got tired of waiting and attempted to use my stove. I screwed my butane in and it leaked just like before, once again attributed it to the cold. This time the butane leaked on my leg. I didn’t think too much of it but I should have seen that I was sitting next to an open flame. All of a sudden my leg was engulfed in a fireball. I calmly pat myself out with the help of Isaac. We had a good laugh about it until we looked around. Of the 6 people that were on this expedition, Issac and I were the only 2 that remained. As I surveyed the area for my friends, the people I trust to, say, put out flames if I happen to burst into a fireball, had run. When I say run, I mean sprinted like their precious lives depended on it. Leaving their friend to burn. Heroes. The flames might have kept me warm for a minute, but the warmth didn’t last til the morning. The chill was setting in…


We woke up early. The key words in that sentence are “woke up.” I am can’t believe I actually slept, I am guessing the exhaustion of being set on fire had taken its toll. As we all start rumbling around the campsite, boiling water for the morning coffee, we notice one enormous problem. The lake had frozen the night before. You might remember we canoed to this island so the ice was quite a dangerous obstacle. The ice was thick but not thick enough to walk on. As we took in our daily caffeine, we discussed the options we had at our disposal. Calling for help, finding thick enough ice to walk on, or trying to paddle though it.


The frozen lake is the newest obstacle in our winter adventure. Obviously it was way too dangerous to walk on the frozen lake. The ice was only an inch thick. We certainly weren’t willing to call for help just yet. So we opted for paddling the canoes through the ice. Luckily in some parts the ice was thinner so it was easy to break through, but we spent a long time breaking ice with paddles and axes so the canoe could float through. I had never seen a lake freeze overnight, it was something to behold. Now that we had freed ourselves from the island, broken the ice, and landed on the shore, the task was to get the canoes 1 mile up a hill to the cars. We didn’t make it…


Breaking and paddling through the ice was tiring. We arrived at the shore and pulled the canoes out. Then decided to hike our gear back to the trucks, leaving the canoes behind, and come back for them later. Once back to the trucks, we were exhausted. So, embarrassingly, we paid a man with a tractor to tow our canoes out. Many lessons were learned on this trip. It was the first time most of us had camped in temperatures below 20. I am ready to do it again. Next time we are heading into the mountains. Maybe near the one pictured here.



We know you want to go on your own adventure. If this one sounds too cold for you, how about dog sledding to a cozy snow-covered cabin? We love to help you with your adventures. Let us know if you need help planning your next great Montana adventure!


4 Ways You MUST Spend a Day in Montana

Drawing a blank on how to spend these luxurious summer days??? Here’s 4 ways you MUST spend a day in Montana.

Brunch N’ Float. Mimosas? Crepe’s? We usually make them at home, but you could also hit up the Pocketstone Cafe in Bigfork for a delicious coffee and omelet. This is hands-down one of my favorite things to do in the summer. Friends, tubes (and other less- than-sea-worthy flotation devices.) Ice chests/plastic bags full of beer and snacks. It’s just the best. The float is mellow(ish) with enough little rapids to keep you laughing and pointing at that one friend that seems to always be fighting a loosing battle with their air mattress. There is a short or a long float option (times very depending on the height of the river). Remember to keep valuables at home, and keys on your person (to pick up the second vehicle). I may or may not have hitchhiked with my two aunts in bikinis, borrowed some towels from a roadside stranger and been picked up by a colorful lady on her four wheeler. All worth it for the story I assure you.  Remember to always be cautious and use water safety. ***For directions see bottom of post.

Rent a boat. Is it worth it? YES. There are so many places to explore on Flathead Lake in particular, and there is no better way to beat the crowds and find private beaches all your own. Explore Wildhorse or Cedar islands and see Painted Rocks (ancient Native American cliff drawings). Besides that I love touring the lake homes, water-side. There is everything from stunning, timeless to eccentric. Castle Island, and our own Osprey House are musts. While you’re at your rental place of choice grab tubes or water skis and make a day of it. Load your cooler with plenty of drinks and snacks, but for dinner or lunch pull your boat into the docks at The Raven (a Jamaican style bar and grill on the east side with fabulous margs and burgers), Aqua Pazza in Lakeside or the new Saddlehorn Bar & Grill (that I’ve heard a lot about and can’t wait to try, on Yenne Point). Enjoy delicious food and stunning views from either deck.  There is no better way to reignite your soul than to spend a day in the sun and water. It’s water therapy ya’ll.


My kids build a fort out of drift wood on Wildhorse Island

Spend a day in Whitefish. Whitefish has endless options, with fun boutiques, antique stores, and thrifting (If you love a steal, head to the Soroptomist). For the Lake, go to City Beach, or my favorite Les Mason State Park. If you have a chance rent paddle boards or kayaks, it’s every bit as peaceful as it looks. There is a new company in Whitefish called SUP Yoga that offers paddle board yoga. Spend the day in the water, either on your own or with a guide and then head to Casey’s downtown for their rooftop bar. It’s packed on a Friday or Saturday night, so get there early to secure a spot for dinner. If it’s full, enjoy an expanded menu downstairs (the Spicy Szechwan Wings are killer) and the roof opens up to everyone at 9:00pm. It’s the perfect place to lounge on modern style couches with your own fire and watch the sunset. If you’re up for some more fun, get those feet a movin with DJ’s and other entertainment every Friday and Saturday night. Oh, and that siren at 10:00? That’s Whitefish’s “curfew” (USA Today writes about it here)…time to toast your adult-freedoms and a glorious day.

Watch a sunset at Wayfarers. Wayfarers State Park in Bigfork is unique and beautiful with it’s beaches, and cliffs overlooking the water. You must set aside an evening for the whole experience. Head to the local’s favorite Burger Town (my friends and I wait with anticipation for it to open each summer), and enjoy it there or bring it to go. My favorite is the Flathead Burger with jalapeños and a banana milk shake. And the best part? Finish the night by sitting on the cliffs watching an epic sunset from a front row seat.

What’s your favorite way to spend a day in the Flathead?


The Not-So-Secret Flathead 4th of July

The Not-So-Secret Flathead 4th of July

and why it’s worth planning for.

 I can barely speak about Independence Day in the Flathead. It makes me so happy. My first Montana forth of July, was like my first good kiss. Having moved from a nameless state where mass amounts of firetrucks are required to use a sparkler and the only “illegal” fireworks I’d seen (imported from Mexico) were very unimpressive three-foot-tall fountains. Now that I’ve become a local here, I know, that three-foot-tall fountains are for babies. 

To talk about this holiday you must understand that in the Flathead the “4th” is not a one day affair, but lasts ten extraordinary days (which is the exact amount that the firework stands are legally open). Everyone collectively scrapes together their change, giggles deviously and purchases the things children from my home town could only dream of. I do not care who you are in Montana. Seven or ninety-seven—you buy fireworks.

I grew up near downtown Lakeside. First off, there are always at least two stands, for about a half mile of “town”. Those two stands hopefully get into a friendly firework competition, which provides a lively show each evening.  Our first year there we lived in the trees above town. I’d never lived around trees that weren’t about to collectively burst into flame by the beginning of July. Because of the climate, and vicinity to the lake it does not seem to be a concern, for from all over the woods and porches, come soaring burst of color and explosions of light. And if you’re near little children…or adult aged…children, cannon sized explosions.

The day of the Forth is the pinnacle of celebration.  All the lake towns host a show. Bigfork, Whitefish, Lakeside.  My parents’ porch offered a fair view. However, I am like a moth drawn to a light bulb. I’ve got to be where I can almost touch it—where fireworks are going off everywhere like microwave popcorn and the streets are electric with energy. Where it’s really hard to tell what exactly is “the show” and what are innocent retirees having some fun.  A barge off the shore hosts a grand finale that’ll make your knees weak, and across the lake you can see Bigfork doing a similar display.

A Flathead forth of July is worth planning for. It’s a time honored tradition. And if you want to experience it you have to plan ahead, because the word is out, and it’s one of the busiest days of the year. But just like any professional football game, the crowds are worth braving, and the collective excitement is even better than experiencing it alone.

Jessica Johnston

Wife of one, mother of four, lover of adventure, family, and outrageous theme parties.


Late Winter Splendor in Glacier National Park

Late winter in Montana is coming to a close. It’s a bittersweet feeling, because it means that summer is coming – and summers here are AMAZING – but it also means that the quiet, cozy, snowed-in wonderland is ending.

To make the winter wonderland last longer, I like to run away to Glacier National Park for a day. It’s the perfect place to relax, soak up the scenery, snowshoe or watch the sun set.

Depending on how adventurous and strenuous you want to get, here are a range of suggestions for enjoying a winter day in Glacier.

Scenery & Relaxation

From the park entrance at West Glacier, it’s about 10 miles to Lake McDonald Lodge. This small portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open all winter, and it’s a beautiful drive. There are plenty of pull-outs for enjoying the lake and mountain views, and traffic is almost nonexistent.

The lodge is closed in the winter, but the lakefront is a destination in itself. The iconic views from the dock are ever-changing with sun, clouds, fog, snow…you just never know. But it’s always beautiful!

This part of Lake McDonald is perfect for a relaxing stroll or skipping rocks. I’ve seen couples with camp chairs, a cooler and thermos. On a sunny, calm winter day, you can practically sunbathe here.

Wait here to watch the sun set, or drive back toward Apgar and catch the alpenglow there.

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Lake McDonald, by Morgan Phillips.

On the Water

Lake McDonald is large enough that it rarely freezes in winter. This winter has been mild enough for canoeing and kayaking around most of the lake.

It’s not every day that you can cruise around a glacial lake surrounded by gorgeous mountains, with a chance to see deer and other wildlife on the shores.

Sportsman Ski Haus, in both Kalispell and Whitefish, rents kayaks and canoes. Or we can help you sort out those details.

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Canoeing Lake McDonald, by Rishad Daroowala.

Finding a Summit

Ready for more? Grab some snowshoes or cross-country skis and head for the heights.

Apgar Lookout is 10.5 miles round trip, and it’s not a beginner trail. From the summit you’ll enjoy unrestricted views across Lake McDonald and deep into the park.


Lake McDonald from Apgar Mountain, by Alex Strohl.


Come Away To Montana This Winter


Winter is coming.

Here in Montana the first snow happened just a week ago. Fires have been started, coats and boots have been pulled out of boxes and the kids have started writing letters to Santa.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
Henry David Thoreau, The Thoughts of Thoreau

Come Away To Montana This Winter

Winter Light in Montana

In The Norwegian’s Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter, writer Laura Vanderkam says that Norwegians, “have a word, koselig, that means a sense of coziness. It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress. People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets.”

“Koselig”; what a beautiful way to describe the sense of warmth that can only be found in the cold. The best part of winter (I think) is a good snow storm. There is something about the wildness of nature just a pane of glass away that makes all feel right in the world. Safe and cozy inside, we can pull close the ones we love, and feel grateful for the best, most important things in life.

Come Away To Montana This Winter

Warmth of the Fire photo by Veer

A day on the slopes makes a person feel alive in the best way possible and is both exhilarating and addictive. My first experience with snowboarding I fell more than I stood, but at the end of the day I proclaimed it, “The best day EVER.” Warming toes by the fire and sipping hot buttered rum was the end to a perfect day.

Winter is an invitation to come away and escape the busyness that is so easily consuming. Even nature is taking a needed break. We at Montana’s Best are looking forward to long evenings with friends around the fire, community events, which are at their finest (read more about it here), and days spent on the mountain.

If there’s a longing inside you for “koselig”, by all means, let winter draw you in.


7 Reasons to Travel to Montana

  1. Montana makes you want to adventure. There is something about this beautiful place that can make you want to let loose. And you should.  Climb a peak in Glacier. Go skinny dipping. Have bon fires till 2 in the morning. Mingle with the locals at  sweet music venues like the Red Room (Whitefish) or the Beer Stub (Whitefish Mountain Resort) . Build a fort out of drift wood on Wild Horse Island. Swim until your fingers wrinkle. Don’t go home without a full heart and an epic sunglasses tan.
  2. I don’t care what they say…rest is not the same around your OWN messy house. We’ve all done it. Grabbed a glass of wine, reclined on the couch. Turned on a show. Tried to tune out the to-do list, the house work. It’s kind of like taking a nap while a child is repeatedly slapping you in the face. Or wait. Maybe that has happened too. Unless I’ve been sedated from some sort of dental surgery…not restful. There is always something calling for our attention. Work, dust, relationships…I don’t care what it is…sometimes you have to get away to rest. 
  3. We’re not in a hurry. The pace in Montana is slow, people are relaxed. They’re also kind, make eye contact and will chat with you if you want. There is a small grocery store here that has the slowest cashiers (I am convinced) on the face of the planet. But I guarantee if you take that time to ask questions, you’ll find out about the best beaches, the tastiest burgers and prettiest hikes around.
  4. Nature is healing. When I first moved here at 15 I was completely in awe of the lakes. It was also the first time I became aware that “reservoirs” were not real lakes. (I still haven’t lived that down in the eyes of my native-Montanan husband). In Montana they call things what they are. Flathead Lake, Whitefish Lake, Lake McDonald (Glacier National Park)…15 years later I’m still completely love struck. As a teen and to this day, when my life is unsettled I like nothing better that to sit at the end of the dock, with nothing in front of me but the glassy clear water and the majestic entity of the mountains. It quiets me. Try it. I bet it will quiet you too.
  5. You can watch the news without getting depressed. Okay. Although strange, I believe this factoid needs a shout out. Local headlines are almost always based on something bizarre and unimportant. One of today’s is…I kid you not “Fruit bouquets are Flying off the Shelves…”. Also, if you’re looking for less than polished broadcasting and humorous commercials, look no further. In a world full of negativity I often take a moment to be thankful that more often than not, in the Flathead, there is literally nothing to report.
  6. To make goals and stick to them. It’s probably the wild ruggedness of Montana or it’s perfect untamed nature that will allure you. Warning: A vacation to the Flathead may cause you to have fresh perspective, and new ideas. My husband and I take our travel-induced ideas seriously. We pinky swear that when we return to “normal” we’re still going to stick to our guns. First it was to take other small trips, then it was to sell our house and travel in our camper, then it was a trip to Costa Rica. All these ideas were birthed on a trip, and all of them have happened.
  7. We need to see each other with our hair down. Whether you’re traveling with your partner, friends or children, vacationing together lets you connect in a different way. Vacations are where you collect inside jokes, laugh until someone snorts and make memories to last a lifetime. It’s where you get to see each other out of the norm, outside of stress and work and just being yourselves. It’s when no matter what your age you get to remind each other that you’re still young.


There are always a million reasons to postpone a trip. But this year, grab your significant others and pinky swear you’ll make it to the Flathead. We’ve all worshiped at the alter of “busy”, but there are not many things as rewarding as taking the time to stop, to travel and to live a little. You’ll never regret it.


Dragon Boat Racing? What the Heck IS IT? Find out why you don’t want to miss it THIS Sept. 12th!!

Anticipation for this year’s Dragon Boat Festival grows as September 12th draws near. This is one of my favorite community events, and one you don’t want to miss. Imagine a bit of Chinese heritage brought to our beautiful Flathead Lake, mixed with local gusto and flavor, that makes you feel “home”. (Even if you’re not.) You can feel the hype in the air, as teams prepare to bring their strength and team camaraderie to the water. Each colorful “Dragon Boat” is 46ft long and has 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steersman. One of the Dragon Boat Racing teams taking the water this year is called the Riveting Rosies, a women’s team that has banded together to raise money and awareness for Save a Sister a non-profit that helps breast cancer survivors. “The task of paddling in sync with 19 other rowers is much more difficult than it looks,” says Rosie’s Kelsey Jones of Film Saints Productions, who looks forward to competing Saturday.

The Event

Dragon Boat Racing has grown in popularity and is expected to draw 3,000 spectators and 2,000 racers to Lakeside, MT’s, Volunteer Park this Saturday and Sunday (Sept 12th & 13th of 2015). This will be the first year Lakeside hosts the event. “I’m looking forward to being involved in something that the local community is working so hard to host, and I want to be a part of making it great.” Said Jason Goodfellow who is heading up Team Thrive for local missionary organization YWAM. For the past three years the festival has taken place in Bigfork, Mt, but organizers expect better lake and wind conditions on the West Shore, as well as more room for the growing crowds.

What is Dragon Boat Racing?

If you’re like me, you have that nagging question…‘what is the story behind Dragon Boat racing??’ The 2000 year old sport originated in China and is deeply intertwined with their cultural heritage. To read more about the symbolism of the “Dragon Boat”, click here. The first International Dragon Boat races took place in Hong Kong in 1976. Since then it has grown to 300,000 participants in the U.K. and Europe and 90,000 in the U.S. and Canada. Dragon Boat Racing is the only paddle sport that requires 22 people to work together as a team, and the International Dragon Boat Federation sees an Olympic future.

KimBerly E Photography Kalispell Maternity Photographer_0460

The Dragon Boat Racing festival will be all weekend long, and is fun for the whole family. My husband and I, and our four kids will definitely be there. Vendors at Volunteer Park and along Lakeside Boulevard will include a beer garden as well as food from Mountain Berry Bowls, Indah Sushi, Black Gold Espresso, Cold Stone Creamery and more. Click here to look at the event map, complete with parking. The weekend will kick off with a FREE live concert at Lakeside Town Center 5:30 on Friday the 11th of September. Saturday morning races start at 8:30, one of the highlights being the Breast Cancer Survivor Race at 11am. There will be music by Dan Dubuque, as well as activities for the kids.

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Photo Credit Kimberly E Photography, Check out more of her BEAUTIFUL work here (Really you must!)

Since we are lucky enough to have Dragon Boat Racing right by our house in Lakeside this year,  my kids will be the cute ones selling otter pops and lemonade in the driveway. See you there!


A Fall weekend at Flathead Lake

The summer crowds have faded, the bustle on the streets have died down, and the waiting lines have ceased. There’s something different about the wind.  It’s September, and along with the brightly painted leaves it has brought cooler nights that make you want to snuggle up to an evening fire.


With another busy tourist season behind us, my wife and I set out for the weekend at a cabin.  There had been plenty of activity the previous months in the long Montana summer days; exploring the North Fork, climbing peaks in Glacier National Park and the Jewel Basin, and of course some epic floats. But now it was time for a break.  Turning off scenic highway 93 near the Flathead Indian Reservation, there it was…the charming house on Flathead Lake.


For the first explorers of this area it must have been a tremendous surprise, having come west through the Badrock Canyon or up through the Mission Valley, to lay eyes on one of the greatest gems in America!  With its majestic expanse, sheltered by often snow capped mountains and over 180 miles of shoreline, Flathead Lake is truly a sight to behold.  Being one of the cleanest fresh water bodies in the world it shimmers and glows, reflecting a wide range of colors depending on its mood.


Within minutes of arrival I found myself on the dock, lazily digesting a book in the comforting sun while letting my eyes wander off the pages to Wildhorse Island nearby.  My mind slipped back in history to a time when local Salish and Kootenai Indians would swim their horses to the biggest island in Flathead Lake to escape the wrath of the Blackfeet, a fierce neighboring tribe.  To this day several wild horses reside on the island just a short paddle away.


The weekend was spent soaking in the sun, paddling on the lake and relaxing around the cozy house. We had leisurely meals on the deck, took in the morning views (including two bald eagles) and watched the moon rise over the mountains from a waterfront fire. On the final day 25 sailboats silently floated past our dock, making their way across the lake seemingly hinting at the truth that was hanging in the air…September is truly a spectacular month that is meant to be enjoyed at Flathead Lake!

-Benji Poffenroth