In Montana, the lakes are some of the most underappreciated parts of the entire state. Most people get caught up in the soaring peaks, unique wildlife, and flowing rivers, but the best lakes in Montana offer amazing activities for the entire family and add to the beauty of an already amazing state.
Table of Contents
- 15 Best Lakes in Montana
- 1. Lake McDonald
- 2. Flathead Lake
- 3. Whitefish Lake
- 4. Seeley Lake
- 5. St. Mary Lake
- 6. Avalanche Lake
- 7. Fort Peck Lake
- 8. Tally Lake
- 9. Dickey Lake
- 10. Browns Lake
- 11. Hebgen Lake
- 12. Lake Koocanusa
- 13. Canyon Ferry Lake
- 14. Lake Elmo
- 15. Georgetown Lake
- Best Lakes in Montana: FAQs
- In Conclusion
Each time I take a trip to Montana, I make it a priority to visit new lakes while I’m there. I find that they act as gateways into all of my other adventures. The lakes are the best place to relax and enjoy nature before pushing myself on some more intense outdoor activities around Montana.
15 Best Lakes in Montana
There are over 3,000 lakes in Montana, making it one of the best places in the US for lake vacations, but the following 15 are accessible for all types of travelers, and all offer some amazing activities. I’ve listed some of my favorite lakes in Montana, which area located all over the state.
1. Lake McDonald
- Location: 📍Lake McDonald
- Best For: sight-seeing, hiking, boating
- Amenities: lodging, restaurants, rental equipment (boat rentals), toilets
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in all of Glacier National Park. It’s located on the west side of the park and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road passes right by it.
Lake McDonald is known for the epic peaks that surround it and the rainbow-colored rocks that cover the bottom of the lake. This is a must-see destination for your next visit to Montana.
I recommend having a picnic on the shore or renting a boat and getting out on the water.
Where to Stay Near Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald Lodge: This Swiss-inspired historic lodge is one of the most sought-after places to stay near Lake McDonald. There are a variety of accommodations to choose from, as well as restaurants and general stores.
Apgar Village Lodge & Cabins: The Apgar Village accommodations give you a rustic experience and are just steps away from Lake McDonald, hiking trails, and bike paths.
Restaurants Near Lake McDonald
Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria: Jammer Joe’s is located right in Lake McDonald lodge and offers a lunch and dinner buffet, make-to-order pizzas, soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Russel’s Fireside Dining Room: This restaurant offers a cozy dining experience in Lake McDonald lodge and serves food that focuses on local fare.
Glacier Highland Restaurant: Located just 15 minutes away from Lake McDonald in West Glacier, this restaurant serves hearty American comfort food, breakfast, and coffee.
2. Flathead Lake
- Location: 📍Flathead Lake
- Best For: water skiing, fishing, boating, picnicking
- Amenities: picnic tables, boat ramp, bathrooms, rentals, campgrounds
Flathead Lake is located southwest of Glacier National Park and is known for its clear water and ample fishing opportunities. There are also some of the best campgrounds in the state close by.
Visit Flathead Lake for clean water, fishing, boating, and camping. Furthermore, Flathead Lake has some great beaches and roped-off swimming areas that are perfect for families and children.
Where to Stay Near Flathead Lake
Big Fork Mountain Lake Lodge: Take in stunning views from this lodge located right on the lake. The lodge offers breakfast, an exercise room, a spa, a putting green, a fire pit, and a few different restaurants.
Best Western Plus Flathead Lake: The Best Western isn’t located directly on the lake, but it’s only a few minutes away. It offers a pool, complimentary wifi, and breakfast.
The Islander Inn: The Islander Inn is just across the road from Flathead Lake and has 8 bungalow rooms inspired by the relaxing elements of island life.
Restaurants Near lake Flathead Lake
The Sitting Duck: The Sitting Duck is a classic bar and grill located right on the shore of Flathead Lake with amazing indoor and outdoor seating. And it’s pet-friendly!
Saddlehorn Station: Saddlehorn Station is a dining experience with a stationary bar and a rotating schedule of food trucks each night.
Beargrass Bistro: Beargrass Bistro offers a farm-to-table experience and was voted OpenTables Diners’ Choice in 2022.
3. Whitefish Lake
- Location: 📍Whitefish Lake
- Best For: fishing, boating, swimming
- Amenities: beaches, boat rentals, camping, lodging
Whitefish Lake is known for its ice-cold water and Whitefish City beach, which is a perfect place to spend a summer afternoon swimming and lying on the sand.
Located just minutes northeast of the town of Whitefish and a short distance from Glacier National Park, this lake is a great place to take the whole family to fish, boat, and swim.
Where to Stay Near Whitefish Lake
The Lodge at Whitefish Lake: The Lodge sits right on the lake with mountain views surrounding it. The lodge has a lakefront pool and hottub, restaurants, a spa, and a coffee dock.
Good Medicine Lodge: This rustic and chic bed and breakfast offers a comfortable stay in Whitefish. The Good Medicine Lodge provides homemade breakfast, a hot tub, laundry service, and freshly-baked cookies.
The Firebrand Hotel: The Firebrand Hotel offers an urban experience in downtown Whitefish; giving you close proximity to the mountains, Whitefish Lake, and many restaurants.
Restaurants Near Whitefish Lake
Last Chair Kitchen and Bar: Last Chair is a cozy restaurant located near the shore of Whitefish Lake serving a wide array of food including soups, sandwiches, and seafood.
Whitefish Lake Restaurant: This restaurant is located on the Whitefish Lake golf course and is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a good selection of seafood, or a little fancier dining experience.
Buffalo Cafe: Buffalo Cafe is located in downtown Whitefish not far from Whitefish lake and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with kid friendly options and a long list of local brews.
4. Seeley Lake
- Location: 📍Seeley Lake
- Best For: boating, fishing, swimming, camping
- Amenities: boat ramp, boat rentals, lodging, bathrooms, camping
Seeley Lake is located just an hour northeast of Missoula, MT, and is surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Seeley-Swan Valley. Not only is it close to Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but it’s also a prime destination in and of itself.
You could easily spend a few days at Seeley Lake boating, swimming, camping, and exploring the other lakes nearby.
Where to Stay Near Seeley Lake
The Lodges on Seeley Lake: Consisting of 19 cabins, the Lodges on Seeley Lake are great for honeymooners, families, and anyone looking to get away and relax for a few days on the lake.
Tamaracks Resort: Tamaracks is located right on the northeast shore of Seeley Lake and offers a variety of cabins and amenities such as a dock, boat camp, dog-friendly park, basketball court, and a sandy beach.
Double Arrow Lodge: This lodge is located just south of Lake Seeley and is a great destination for family reunions and weddings. There’s even an 18-hole golf course here!
Restaurants Near Seeley Lake
Seasons Restaurant: Seasons Restaurant is located in the Double Arrow Lodge and serves classic country cuisine.
Lindsey’s Prime Steak House: Enjoy a steak, salad, potatoes, and garlic bread with a view of Seeley Lake.
5. St. Mary Lake
- Location: 📍St. Mary Lake
- Best For: boat tours, sight-seeing, wildlife viewing, hiking
- Amenities: hotel, campground, visitor center
St. Mary Lake is located in Glacier National Park and is 10 miles long! You can enjoy St. Mary Lake by driving along its shore and taking in the massive mountain views, by taking a guided boat tour on it, or by hiking the many trails around it.
St. Mary Lake is the 2nd largest lake in Glacier and is the starting point for the iconic Glacier National Park hike to Avalanche Lake.
Where to Stay Near St. Mary Lake
Rising Sun Motor Inn: Rising Sun Motor Inn sits along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and is just minutes from St. Mary Lake. They offer both rooms and cabins.
St. Mary Village: St. Mary Village offers motel rooms, tiny homes, and upscale rooms sure to meet all kinds of guests’ needs. St. Mary Lake is located just behind this village.
Glacier Peaks Hotel: Glacier Peaks Hotel is located about 50 minutes away from St. Mary Lake in the nearby town of Browning. It offers a complimentary breakfast, wifi, and a fitness center.
Restaurants Near St. Mary Lake
Two Dog Flats Restaurant: Two Dog Flats has a classic American menu and is a great place to stop before you head down Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Rising Sun Pizza: Rising Sun Pizza offers pizza made with hand-tossed dough, delicious salads, and tasty wings. What more could you ask for?
Snowgoose Grille: Located in St. Mary Village, the Snowgoose Grille is a comfy and casual dining experience.
6. Avalanche Lake
- Location: 📍Avalanche Lake
- Best For: hiking, sight-seeing, picnicking
- Amenities: none
Avalanche Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Montana. However, it’s only accessible by foot as you have to hike about 2 miles to get to it. Formed by the Sperry Glaciers, this alpine lake is worth the hike to take in the beauty.
On your way up to the lake, you’ll pass some waterfalls and likely run into various kinds of wildlife. Pack a lunch and spend some time near the lake enjoying food and the spectacular mountain views.
Where to Stay Near Avalanche Lake
Glacier Guides Lodge: Located in West Glacier, this lodge offers cozy accommodations just minutes outside Glacier National Park and the trailhead to Avalanche Lake.
Great Northern Resort: Great Northern offers hotel-style rooms and private cabins; perfect for any getaway to Glacier National Park and not far from Avalanche Lake.
Great Bear Inn: The Great Bear Inn is another great lodging option just outside of Glacier National Park that offers cabin rentals, hotel-style rooms, and a warm complimentary breakfast.
Restaurants Near Avalance Lake
Three Forks Grille: Three Forks Grille is located just minutes away from West Glacier in Columbia Falls and is a casual Italian that serves Montana-raised products and fine wine.
Heavens Peak Montana Kitchen: Heavens Peak is a BBQ restaurant in a rustic lodge that also serves good beer, wine, and cocktails.
Great Bear Cafe: Great Bear Cafe is a great place to stop on your way to hike to Avalance Lake as they serve hearty breakfasts and also serve grab-n-go sandwiches.
7. Fort Peck Lake
- Location: 📍For Peck Lake
- Best For: boating, water sports, swimming, fishing, hiking, camping
- Amenities: boat ramps, marina, RV park, bathrooms
Fort Peck Lake is well-known as the largest lake in Montana. Fort Peck is a massive man-made reservoir within the Missouri River in the northeastern part of the state.
You could spend an entire day on the reservoir boating, skiing, fishing, or simply swimming. The Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the lake so you have a good chance of seeing some wildlife while here too.
Where to Stay Near Fort Peck Lake
Fort Peck Hotel: This historic wooden hotel is the perfect getaway for those looking to spend time on the water and near wildlife.
Cottonwood Inn and Suites: This hotel is located in the town of Glasgow just 20 minutes from Fort Peck Lake. It offers a restaurant, pool, and fitness center.
Rundle Suites: Rundle Suites is also located in Glasgow and is a newly renovated historic hotel.
Restaurants Near Fort Peck Lake
The Silver Spoon Bar and Grill: This bar and grill is located in the Fort Peck Hotel and is a great place to relax by the fireplace, sit at the bar, or enjoy the front porch.
Gateway: The Gateway is found just minutes from Fort Peck Lake and is a great place to enjoy some chicken wings after a long day on the lake.
Hilburn’s BBQ: Hilburn’s is a little BBQ food truck that serves up some delicious pulled pork, brisket, and ribs.
8. Tally Lake
- Location: 📍Tally Lake
- Best For: hiking, camping, fishing, boating
- Amenities: campground, bathroom, boat camp
Tally Lake is known for being the deepest lake in Montana. Located west of Whitefish in the Flathead National Forest it’s a great place to stop for boating, fishing, hiking, or camping.
While visiting Tally Lake, you’ll also be treated to beautiful mountain views covered in green lush forests. I landed my first ever Kokanee salmon while fishing in Tally Lake – I’ll always have fond memories of it.
Where to Stay Near Tally Lake
Tally Lake Campground: Tally Lake Campground is located on the northern shores of the lake and is home to 39 sites that are equipped with picnic tables and fire rings. The campground also has a public boat ramp, vault toilets, and drinking water. We stay at this campground whenever we visit Tally Lake.
Hampton Inn and Suites Whitefish: This hotel is located in the heart of Whitefish and has wifi, breakfast, an indoor pool, and a fitness center.
The Farmhouse Inn and Kitchen: This modern yet rustic farmhouse-style bed and breakfast is a cozy and relaxing place to escape to after a day on the lake.
Restaurants Near Tally Lake
Logan’s Bar and Grill: Logan’s Bar and Grill is a casual and delicious spot to gather with friends, watch the game, or sit and enjoy the patio.
Abruzzo Italian Kitchen: Abruzzo prides itself on cooking things from scratch and providing an authentic Italian food experience.
Jalisco Cantina: A great place to visit for a fine dining experience, a special celebration, or a handcrafted cocktail.
9. Dickey Lake
- Location: 📍Dickey Lake
- Best For: boating, swimming, trout fishing, salmon fishing
- Amenities: campgrounds, boat ramp
Dickey Lake is located way up in the northwest part of the state in the Kootenai National Forest. Dickey Lake may be a bit more of a secluded lake, but it’s a great place to escape to for some peace and quiet, camping, and fishing.
Where to Stay Near Dickey Lake
Homestead Cabin Resort: Eight minutes north of Dickey Lake is the Homestead Cabin Resort. Each cabin is equipped with its own bathroom, kitchen, and firepit.
Dog Creek Lodge and Nordic Center: This lodge is 12 miles south of Dickey Lake and has cozy lodge-style rooms, wifi, restaurants, a firepit, and countless outdoor activities nearby.
Tobacco River Ranch Glamping: This glamping experience is located just 20 minutes away from Dickey Lake and is a great chance to stay in a camper or tiny home.
Restaurants Near Dickey Lake
Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant: Jerry’s serves a wide array of appetizers, sandwiches, seafood, and steak.
Trego Pub and General Store: The Trego pub is known for its friendly atmosphere and its live music. Oh, and don’t forget about its huge selection of local beer.
Von’s Cafe: Stop here for a classic burger and fries meal or for one of their rotating homemade soups.
10. Browns Lake
- Location: 📍Browns Lake
- Best For: fishing and boating
- Amenities: boat ramp, bathrooms, campground
Brown Lake is known to be a fishing lake best for catching large rainbow trout. The lake is located in the Blackfoot River valley and is near the small town of Ovando.
Where to Stay Near Browns Lake
Browns Lake Campground: This 14-site campground allows you to stay for up to 7 nights and offers toilets, a boat launch, and a fire ring.
Ovando Inn: The Ovando Inn is located just 15 minutes away from Browns Lake and houses 6 private rooms with their own bathroom.
Three Bears Motel of Lincoln: The Three Bears Hotel is a family-owned hotel that offers wifi, is pet-friendly, and gives you the unique option of sleeping in a tipi or in the hotel.
Restaurants Near Browns Lake
Stray Bullet Cafe: Stray Bullet is a small cafe in the nearby town of Ovando that serves tasty homestyle American breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Wheel Inn Tavern: This classic dive bar serves up a pretty good burger and fries.
Scapegoat Eatery: This cozy bar and grill is the perfect place to stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
11. Hebgen Lake
- Location: 📍Hebgen Lake
- Best For: fishing, boating, and camping
- Amenities: boat launch, bathrooms, boat rentals
Hebgen Lake is hard to beat for anglers looking for some still-water action. There are nice populations of rainbow, brown, and cutthroat in Hebgen Lake. With its proximity to West Yellowstone (15 minutes), you have great access to a variety of other attractions.
It’s a family-friendly lake that I’ve visited on several occasions when I wanted to escape the crowds in West Yellowstone. I bring my fly rod and walk the shoreline in search of those beautiful cutthroat trout.
Many boaters and kayakers also enjoy fishing here.
Where to Stay Near Hebgen Lake
Kelly Inn West Yellowstone: The Kelly Inn in West Yellowstone has an indoor pool and hot tub as well as a free complimentary breakfast.
Yellowstone Park Hotel: Yellowstone Park Hotel has a hot tub, a fitness center, and offers a continental breakfast daily.
Clubhouse Inn: The Clubhouse Inn has an indoor pool and hot tub as well as a complimentary continental breakfast.
Restaurants Near Hebgen Lake
Pete’s Rocky Mountain Pizza: Pete’s Rocky Mountain Pizza is the best choice for pizza in all of West Yellowstone. My favorite is the Garlic Chicken Alfredo.
Running Bear Pancake House: This is my favorite breakfast spot in all of West Yellowstone – don’t leave without trying the pancakes, they’re to die for.
The Falafel Spot: I’m a sucker for falafel, and this restaurant has some of the best I’ve ever had.
12. Lake Koocanusa
- Location: 📍Lake Koocanusa
- Best For: boating, fishing, swimming
- Amenities: boat ramps, toilets, campgrounds, equipment rentals
Lake Koocanusa is a 90-mile-long lake in Libby with some of the best fishing and boating opportunities in the state. There are islands in the middle of the lake called the Yarnell Islands that offer overnight camping. I absolutely love it here.
The rainbow trout and cutthroat trout fishing on this lake are some of the best in Montana. Plus, Koocanusa has a nice population of Kokanee salmon just waiting to be caught.
Where to Stay Near Lake Koocanusa
Rocky Gorge Campground: Rocky Gorge Campground has 60 sites and offers potable water, vault toilets, and a full boat launch.
Venture Inn: Venture Inn is a great, affordable place to stay after a long day on the water with a nice on-site restaurant.
Country Inn: Country Inn in Libby offers free continental breakfast, wifi, and parking.
Restaurants Near Lake Koocanusa
Von’s Cafe: Great burgers and chicken sandwiches are available at Von’s Cafe near Lake Koocanusa.
Pinoy Oriental Restaurant: This food truck often sets up near the lake and offers some amazing sushi rolls.
Cafe Jax: Cafe Jax is the best breakfast near the lake. The egg scramble is the ideal meal before a day of fishing.
13. Canyon Ferry Lake
- Location: 📍Canyon Ferry Lake
- Best For: boating, fishing, camping, hunting, waterskiing, and swimming
- Amenities: campground, public boat launches, public restroom, boat rentals
Canyon Ferry Lake is the premier recreational lake in Montana. I’ve open-water and ice-fished on this lake and caught some massive rainbow trout.
It covers 25 miles and offers great skiing, boating, kayaking, and swimming opportunities.
Water skiing while staring at the mountains was one of the best experiences I’ve had in recent years.
Where to Stay Near Canyon Ferry Lake
Court Sheriff Campground: Court Sheriff Campground is located on the shores of Canyon Ferry Lake and has vault toilets and potable water. I’ve stayed here several times and almost every site is on the water.
Oddfellow Inn & Farm: Oddfellow Inn & Farm isn’t far from Canyon Ferry and gives you a unique experience of staying on an operating farm.
Residence Inn by Marriott Helena: The Residence Inn by Marriott Helena has an indoor pool and hot tub as well as a complimentary breakfast.
Restaurants Near Canyon Ferry Lake
Yacht Basin Bar & Restaurant: This is a good restaurant for both burgers and local beer. There’s an excellent selection of both.
The Big Bull Bar & Grill: This restaurant has great choices of American food, but keep in mind that they only take cash.
Bread and Butter Cafe: You won’t find a better breakfast near Canyon Ferry Lake. The eggs Benedict are the best I’ve ever had.
14. Lake Elmo
- Location: 📍Lake Elmo
- Best For: soft sands, kids, paddleboarding, picnics, kayaking, fishing
- Amenities: playground, dog park, restrooms, changing areas
Located in the city limits of Billings, Lake Elmo State Park is a great place to stretch your legs as you’re traveling through the state. My family and I have walked here numerous times on our way to Yellowstone.
It’s not a pristine alpine lake, but it’s a great place to visit on an especially hot day or if you’re looking for a place to take a pleasant walk. Plus, the fishing from Rogers Pier is an absolute blast. The bass population is healthy here too.
Where to Stay Near Lake Elmo
Hilltop Inn by Riversage: Hilltop Inn has complimentary breakfast, free wifi, and a fitness center, and is quite close to Lake Elmo.
Northern Hotel: The Northern Hotel in Billings has two restaurants and is a more luxurious option for Lake Elmo visitors.
Restaurants Near Lake Elmo
Bull Mountain Grille: This is one of the best steakhouses in all of Billings. The ribeye I had here was amazing.
Okinawa Sushi & Asian Bistro: If you’re interested in Sushi, look no further than the Okinawa Sushi & Asian Bistro.
Blues BBQ: I seek out good BBQ everywhere I go, and the brisket at Blues BBQ blew my mind.
15. Georgetown Lake
- Location: 📍Georgetown Lake
- Best For: boating, fishing, windsurfing, camping, ice fishing, and snowmobiling
- Amenities: boat ramps, campgrounds, hiking trails, public restrooms, picnic areas
Georgetown Lake is located at over 6,000 feet in elevation and stretches across 3,000 acres. This lake is surrounded by four campgrounds and it’s a great lake for kayaking and fishing.
The Kokanee salmon and rainbow trout populations are healthy. I’ve landed several Kokanee here.
It’s also one of my favorite lakes to kayak. It’s not overly large, but there’s enough room for you to find some space and soak in sites of the surrounding Flink Creek and Pintler Mountain ranges.
Where to Stay Near Georgetown Lake
Stuart Mill Bay Campground: Stuart Mill Bay Campground is a primitive campground, but vault toilets are available. All of the sites are along the water. I’ve camped here twice and loved the privacy it provides.
The Forge Hotel BW Signature Collection: The Forge Hotel has a restaurant, casino, fitness center, and bar, as well as a shared lounge.
Anaconda Cabin with Fire Pit, Walk to Georgetown Lake: This cabin offers 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and is within walking distance of the lake.
Restaurants Near Georgetown Lake
The Lakehouse at Georgetown Lake: The Lakehouse at Georgetown Lake opened a couple of years ago and offers wonderful salads and burgers. I particularly enjoy the grilled chicken sandwich and tater tots here!
Friday Night Pizza: Friday Night Pizza is the definition of a small-town restaurant. The pepperoni pizza is just what’s needed after fishing.
O’bella: O’bella has some of the best Italian food in the towns surrounding Georgetown Lake.
Best Lakes in Montana: FAQs
The best lake in Montana is Flathead Lake due to its proximity to Glacier National Park and the number of activities available on it.
Flathead Lake in Kalispell is the best lake for families because it offers numerous family-friendly activities.
The best lake in Montana for couples is Whitefish Lake because of its lodges and activities.
Iceberg Lake in Glacier NP is the best off-track lake in Montana.
Seeley Lake is located just an hour northeast of Missoula. It makes for a great day trip if you’re staying in Missoula.
The best time to visit Montana is anywhere between June and September. If you’re looking to spend time on the lake, it would be best to visit in July and August.
The northwest part of Montana has the best lakes. Anywhere near Glacier National Park, Whitefish, Kalispell, and West Glacier will provide endless options of lakes to explore.
Avalanche Lake in Glacier NP has the clearest water.
Yes, Whitefish Lake in Whitefish is home to a white sand beach.
Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park has the bluest water.
Yes, the lakes in Montana are safe for swimming.
The safest lake in Montana is Flathead Lake. It’s a perfect lake for all kinds of activities.
Lakes across the state of Montana are more than ideal for people of all ages. Whether you’re interested in fishing, boating, kayaking or just relaxing on a beach, you’ll easily be able to find something that suits you.
I find each lake I visit in Montana offers great views and a chance to spend some time reflecting on all of my adventures.
The best lakes in Montana like Whitefish and Flathead Lake are some of my personal favorites, but all of the others mentioned on this list are beautiful and are ideal places to visit if you’re in need of some rest and relaxation.