For visitors to the Flathead Lake area, wild horse island is a must-see. The state park, located on the shores of Flathead Lake and within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation, is home to an old-growth Ponderosa Pine forest with a herd of wild horses. Guests can access the island by boat — either bringing their own (remember to stop at state checkpoints upon entry to Montana to be checked for hitchhiking invasive mussels), renting from several locations around Flathead Lake, or booking a tour or shuttle service with Dayton Yacht Harbor.
The 2,164-acre island gets its name from the herd of wild horses that have called it home since the late 1700s. According to legend, Kootenai tribesmen kept their horses on the island to protect them from unfriendly tribes that would steal their prized animals. Today the herd of five horses continues to roam the island.
In addition to the horses, Wild Horse Island is also known for its rich wildlife — including bighorn sheep, mule deer and waterfowl. There are even bald eagles and osprey nesting on the island.
Despite the presence of some private lots and cabins, most of the island is publicly owned and managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. This has made it possible for the wild herd of horses to remain free of human influence.
Like many of the surrounding islands on Flathead Lake, Wild Horse Island has an interesting and varied history. The island was first inhabited by the native Salish and Kootenai people. Later it became part of the Flathead Indian Reservation, which was eventually a result of the Hellgate Treaty. During the 1920s, Reverend Robert Edington bought land on the island and operated a girls’ dude ranch. The ranch was a success, but Mr. Edington drowned during a storm in 1934.
After the turn of the century developers platted the island and sold off lots for summer homes. But the horse herd remained and eventually was granted state park status in 1977.
Visitors to the island can take a number of trails, including the Rocky Point Trail that features an old homestead cabin built in 1886. Another trail takes hikers to a scenic overlook with views of the lake and mountains. Fishing on the island is a popular activity as well. Anglers will need to obtain a joint state and tribal fishing license due to the fact that the island is within the Flathead Indian Reservation.
Those interested in learning more about the island and its history can visit the park’s visitor center or participate in a guided hike with a ranger or volunteer. The visitor center is open year-round and has information on the island’s unique natural, cultural and historical resources.
The only way to access the island is by boat. Visitors can bring their own boats from several areas on Flathead Lake, or can rent a boat at the numerous local marinas, state parks and other locations, most of which are only a short paddle from Dayton Yacht Harbor. Boats may be launched from the docks at the Wild Horse Island State Park or at other nearby boat landings, such as Skeeko Bay. wild horse island flathead lake