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Wild Horse Island Flathead Lake, MT
mini location map2021-08-03
35 by photographer avatartibber
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Wild Horse Island Flathead Lake, MT 
Wild Horse Island Flathead Lake, MT
Hiking avatar Aug 03 2021
Hiking3.33 Miles 678 AEG
Hiking3.33 Miles   1 Hour   40 Mns   2.20 mph
678 ft AEG      9 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Route Scout Route Recorded  on Route Scout Popup | MapDEX
And so it begins. I drove about 1250 miles in two days with an overnight stop at Springville UT (same place where I stopped with my brother in May 2016, it's about 1/2 way). The weather was ever changing as I made my way north. I was very nervous about driving 9 1/2 hours or so but with a few stops, including Flagstaff, Navajo Bridge, Jacob's Lake cookies :D and a couple more gas stops to Springville, Day One was okay. Day Two involved some of the same with two great stops at very nice Rest Areas.
Of course, the traffic thru SLC was dreadful and got especially scary in the area where they're doing freeway work and you all of a sudden find yourself in a lane sectioned off from the main road in a torrential rain and wonder if you got off an exit only to find out you were fine, Whew! It got really smoky as I got near Montana. I would learn that there were nearly 700,000 acres burning; a normal year is 70,000. This smoke would dog me for almost the whole trip in Montana.

I don't recall ever driving I-90 out of Butte toward Missoula before. I stopped at Deer Lodge for fuel and found some awesome huckleberry beer and chocolate bar. The last time I was in Deer Lodge (the state pen) was in 1979 when I got to interview the warden while I was in the employ of the Montana Legislature, forty years ago. The weather continued to be tenuous until I got to Missoula and it cleared, other than the smoke.
On the 93 north I was on the lookout for a stop to get that huckleberry ice cream I had seen billboards for and I found it near St Ignatius. I had a milkshake :) . Along the rest of my route I saw one of the largest herd of horses I have ever seen, it was a spectacular site. I pulled into my friend's driveway at around 5:30 and the odometer was almost 1250 miles. She had some old high school friends from Havre coming by for dinner.

The next day we headed for Wild Horse Island which is surrounded by water so it's via boat, kayak or swimming that you can get there. It was very smoky as we departed. We boated by 342 acre Cromwell Island where there was a large $25-million, fortress-style mansion. Wild Horse Island was across from it and we boated to the east side to Skeeko Bay where we slid into shore and tied up the boat, no docks here.

I've always wondered about Wild Horse Island ever since I first started coming to Flathead Lake back in the late 60s so it seemed surreal that I was here and actually hiking on the island. There is some signage here including a dedication sign to Jean Turnage who I knew from my days at the Montana State Legislature. He was one year older than my dad and died in the same year. Anyway, he apparently was part of the establishment of public access to the island.

We hit the pit toilet first and then headed on the trail with no particular objective in mind. You immediately start hiking through old growth Ponderosa pine forest on the largest island in Flathead Lake. 2,160 acre Wild Horse Island has been a landmark since the Kootenai Indians were reported to have used it to pasture horses to keep them from being stolen by other tribes. Now there are various limited wildlife including Big Horn sheep, deer and wild horses as well as eagles and osprey.

We walked by some old homestead buildings and headed south up the hill. This was through a more open area of the island with sweeping plains and done alpine balsam root that must be so awesome when it's blooming. Once we got to the top of one of the larger hills, where apparently they had added a couple switchbacks, we could barely see the views in the distance. As I told Debbie, at least these are unique conditions to hike in but I do look forward to coming back when I can see the surrounding lake and mountains.

There was a trail that went to the SW and we thot maybe that might be a loop down and around to join up with a trail below but after going down a good part of it, we discovered that wasn't the case. Over on the other big hill there appeared to be a use trail but it went straight up so we passed on that. For a pretty sizable island, there is not much in the way of official trails, however, they are marked somewhat. We headed back down the way we came and hiked NW to a couple corral areas where I enjoyed the few deer on the island and then we went over to the old corral where they will bring the animals from time to time.

We headed back up the hill and past the homestead shacks before heading back to the Bay. Debbie visited with a few of the people there and we watched some osprey high up in the trees and also saw a mom and her two fawns come to the lake for a drink. Another family was swimming in the Bay; that water's pretty cold so I passed on that. Surprisingly, the only trails are on this north side of the island so

We got back in the boat and headed toward Dayton before coming back past Cromwell Island and back to Big Arm. All I can say is it's a good thing she knew where she was going as the smoke was so thick you could hardly see the shoreline. Other than the smoke, it really was a great outing and if you get the chance, head out to the Island. I think there are places to rent kayaks too.. but for that matter, Debbie has extra kayaks so if you're heading up there, let me know and I'll hook you up.

That evening we headed over to Lake Mary Ronan where I had never been. We hooked up again with the former Havre residents, the Hendersons, and I think I was starting to finally remember Lori who I went to two years of high school with. I guess I should dig out the annuals. Do they still do high school annuals?

Here are some videos:

The drive to Montana 4:30 - [ youtube video ]
Wild Horse Island boat ride and hike - [ youtube video ] and [ youtube video ]
Named place
Named place
Lake Mary Ronan
For me, sometimes it's just as much about the journey as the destination.
Oh, and once in awhile, don't forget to look back at the trail you've traveled.
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