Best Hikes in Flathead National Forest (MT)

Flathead National Forest Overview

Flathead National Forest lies just west of the continental divide and south of the Canadian border, right next to Glacier National Park. Kootenai National Forest, Lolo National Forest, and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest also surround Flathead. Visitors can check out one of three wilderness areas, such as the famous Bob Marshall Wilderness, for a rare glimpse at undeveloped areas with outstanding opportunities for solitude. The other two being Scapegoat Wilderness and Great Bear Wilderness. Many of the hikes in Flathead National Forest, described below, are quite difficult but offer great views of the surrounding area! Glacially sculpted mountain ranges dominate the landscape so be prepared for a workout. In addition to the best hikes in Flathead National Forest, there are several other great recreational activities with far less of a crowd than you’ll get at Glacier National Park.

StateMontana
Nearest Metro AreaKalispell, MT
Area Size2,404,935 acres
EstablishedFebruary 22, 1897
Hiking Trails2,249 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Flathead National Forest

(*** = best hikes in Flathead National Forest)

Alpine Trail #7 to Birch Lake + Crater Lake*** – 11.2 miles out and back
Birch Lake and the Swan Range from Mt. Aeneas
Birch Lake and the Swan Range, Photo by Forest Service Northern Region

Beginning from the same Camp Misery trailhead to access Mount Aeneas Summit (below), this hike leads to beautiful Birch Lake followed by Crater Lake. Alpine Trail #7 which you will use on your way to the lakes is actually over 50 miles long running north to south on the west side of the Swan Range. Both lakes are part of the Jewel Basin Hiking Area and offer great fishing as well as good opportunities of seeing other wildlife from the trail.

Columbia Mountain Trail #51 – 12.4 miles out and back
Columbia Mtn. view
Columbia Mtn View, Photo by art

This is a very challenging hike and one that I would not recommend on bad weather days as it makes the payoff at the top not as rewarding. However, on a clear day there are good views of Great Northern Mountain, Flathead Valley, Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the beautiful Whitefish Range. The trail climbs nearly 5,000′ with a ton of switchbacks on its way to the summit.

Danny On Memorial Trail #370 – 3.9 miles one way
Glacier Lilies, Erythronium grandiflorum, and Spreading Globeflower, Trollius albiflorus, on the Danny On Memorial Trail
Glacier Lilies on the Danny On Memorial Trail, Photo by Forest Service Northern Region

The trail starts at the base of the ski resort and ends at the summit. There are 4 routes of varying lengths. The main route to the summit and most direct is 3.9 miles long. These trails offer scenic views of the Flathead Valley and views of Glacier National Park, Bob Marshall Wilderness and Flathead Lake and the Canadian Rockies. These trails are some of the most popular trails on the Tally Lake District. Hikers can purchase a one-way ticket and ride up the chairlift and then hike down. Or they can hike up and purchase a one-way ticket and ride down.

Great Northern Mountain Trail*** – 9.5 miles out and back
Great Northern Mountain, Photo by Forest Service Northern Region

Epic views await as you climb this very challenging trail to the top of Great Northern Mountain. The trail is not maintained by the Flathead National Forest and can be a little difficult to find initially. However, once you hit the forest it is a straight uphill climb to the ridge line and then summit. The first 2 miles are definitely the most difficult. Certainly would not recommend this to anyone but experienced hikers. Along the way you will get excellent views of Stanton Glacier, Hungry Horse Reservoir, and Glacier National Park.

Holland Falls National Recreation Trail #416 – 3.2 miles out and back
Holland Lake near Holland Falls
Holland Lake near Holland Falls, Photo by Forest Service Northern Region

The Holland Falls National Recreation Trail is 1.6 miles long and climbs about 750 feet. It begins at the junction of East Holland Lake Connector Trail #415 not far from the parking lot. This easy trail shadows the shoreline of Holland Lake and then gradually climbs to the foot of Holland Falls.

Mount Aeneas Summit Loop #717*** – 7.6 mile loop
Mount Aeneas, Flathead National Forest
Mount Aeneas, Photo by Forest Service Northern Region

Take trail #717 on a difficult uphill climb to the top of Mount Aeneas before returning to the trailhead via Picnic Lakes Tail #392. The views from the summit are some of the best in the Flathead National Forest. However, keep in mind that there can be snow near the top at any point in the year.

Ousel Peak Trail #331 – 7.2 miles out and back

Another great option when the weather is clear but one that you might want to avoid if it is hazy as it is a grueling uphill climb. The trail rises nearly 4,000′ in just over 3 miles to the top of Ousel Peak. From the ridgeline there are amazing views looking north into Glacier National Park.

Stanton Lake Trail #146*** – 5.0 miles out and back
Great Northern behind Stanton Lake, Flathead NF
Great Northern behind Stanton Lake, Photo by Forest Service Northern Region

The first 0.5 miles is steep but the rest of the trail evens out on its way to the lake. About 3/4 of the way up the lake there are great views of Mt. Grant and Great Northern Mountain. This makes for a good spot to head back to the trailhead though the trail does continue past the lake along Stanton Creek.

Strawberry Lake Trail #5 – 5.6 miles out and back

The Strawberry Lake trail is 2.8 miles long and climbs 1,500 feet. It begins at the end of Forest Service Road #5390 and ends at the junction with Alpine Trail #7. This trail switchbacks up a wooded ridge and then flattens out and sidehills for the last 1.5 miles to the alpine lake. 

Featured Image: Flathead National Forest, Photo by Forest Service Northern Region

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4 Responses

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