Monday, September 04, 2006

Bike ride around Flathead Lake.

Sunday I rode my bike about 2/3s the way around Flathead Lake in Montana. (I avoided a high traffic section that I've ridden before.) I've been wanting to do this for several years. I've ridden all of the roads but not on the same ride. And the last time I rode down the east side of the lake I was about 14 years old and it was pouring down rain. That was on a Tour of the Swan River Valley ride. I didn't have any rain gear so I used a garbage bag as a poncho.

But Sunday the weather was beyond beautiful. The east side of the lake is at the foot of the Mission Mountains and even at this time of year there were springs coming down the slope to the lake. The forest smelled really sweet. There was very little traffic as I suspected there would/ wouldn't be on that side of the lake. The highway on that side is slow and narrow so most of the traffic going north goes up the west side of the lake.

I started at the north east end of the lake at Bigfork. Bigfork is a really cool little town, both on the lake and in the woods with a little harbor. There is a summer play house there and it is a must see if you ever go to Flathead Lake. I rode south along the mountains to Polson. Then I rode up the west side back to my place.

The first photo is looking southwest. I rode to the left of the frame. It shows how big the lake is. It's too big to get in a single photograph and looks like a sea. Later in the day I would go over those mountains in the distance where I took the second photo.

The Second photo is looking northeast. Those are the Mission Mountains on the other side of the lake that I just came down along the shore a couple of hours earlier. That little island is called Dream Island. the bigger one that looks like a mountain behind it is Wildhorse Island. I've been to the top of it on foot. I like to take the skiff over there and hike. Like I've said before there are bighorn sheep on it and I like to go there to view wildlife. There are lots of islands in Flathead Lake.
It was a great ride and gave me some perspective of the lake. You see more on a bike than you do in a car. Flathead Lake is a very big lake as you can see. It is almost like a freshwater sea. I rode 55 miles. When I started out it took me about 40 min to warm up. I could see how far I had to go along the lake and I had a head wind. I thought to myself, "this is going to be a long day!" There are lots of rollers on the east side highway, and there is a huge climb at the end on the west side. It wasn't about the distance, and it wasn't about the speed. In the end it was a pleasure.

I'll post some more photos of buildings and such later.

The north end of the lake isn't far from Glacier Park. So next week I plan to go to Glacier Park and ride my bike up the Going to the Sun Highway. I've done it before and it is a very difficult climb. The bonus is that I get to camp up there in grizzly bear country. Actually this is also. One was spotted not far from our place, and I've come face to face with black bears.


Anonymous said...

Hey Don,
I'm an over-the-hill rugby player who took up cycle touring in 2003; now age 68, I'm trying to rack up some adventures. I've done a few--in Missouri, New York, Mexico, and here in Silicon Valley. But I want to do Flathead Lake because I have a friend (non-cyclist) who has a house there. I need a good route in the Flathead Lake area without too much climbing (I'm good for 1,000 or so feet), or too much traffic. I read (some of) your blog. Nice style.
Thanks, Karl in San Jose

don said...

Hi Karl,

Flathead Lake is beautiful but there's a lot of traffic and that makes for kind of a difficult ride. I went early in the morning and didn't ride one section. Took my chances.

What I suggest is that you ride in the Swan Valley just to the east. And perhaps do TOSRV West in the spring. (Tour of the Swan River Valley) It's a supported ride every May that leaves from Missoula goes to BigFork at the north end of Flathead via Swan Valley and then back down the Swan to Missoula. (it used to go down past Flathead Lake back to Missoula but now there is too much traffic. The Swan is nicer to ride anyway)

There are several nice lakes on the TOSRV route. The climbing isn't bad, but remember that it is Western Montana. There's a climb out of Missoula and another one at Seeley Lake. They do have a short route and you still get to go up the Swan to Bigfork.

The mountians back there are really beautiful and there is less traffic. It's a great ride. Plan early.

Thanks for stopping in.

R said...

Hi Don,
My name is Rebecca Ziegler and I work for Montana Water Center here in Bozeman. Currently we are working on a non-profit, DNRC-funded project on Montana Hydrology to inform decision-makers in Helena. We were wondering if we might be able to use one of your Flathead Lake photos if we credit you, as it seems we have been having trouble locating one for the slideshow. Please email me at to let us know if this is possible or not.
Thanks for your time,