15 Best Things to Do in Polson, MT

Polson, MT skyline
Janelle Garcia Photograph / shutterstock.com

At the southern tip of Flathead Lake, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, sits Polson, Montana.

It's a charming lakeside community and the trading center for one of the lushest areas in the state.

Polson embodies Montana’s natural beauty with its wildlife, beautiful landscapes, green hills, and rolling mountains.

In 1898, the pioneer and rancher David Polson founded the city, which took his name to honor him.

Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi area and provides the primary backdrop for vacations at Polson.

South of Polson is the sweeping, snowcapped Mission Valley, bordered by snowcapped Mission Mountains.

The Flathead River connecting the city features whitewater rafting and the Seli'š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam.

Downtown Polson is the site of many festivities throughout the year, such as the Cherry Festival and the Polson Farmer’s Market.

Also nearby is the National Bison Range, with its large and thriving herds.

The Ninepipes and Pablo Wildlife refuge attract birdwatchers.

Here are the best things to do in Polson, MT:

Enjoy the Waters at Flathead Lake

A wooden dock on Flathead Lake
Tyler W. Stipp / Shutterstock.com

Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater body in the West and one of the biggest playgrounds in Western Montana.

Its beautiful waters reflect the snowcapped peaks, forested slopes, and vivid blue sky, making for a stunning sight year-round.

Twenty-eight miles long and 15 miles wide, Flathead Lake is among the cleanest lakes in the world.

One of the top Polson activities is going out on Flathead Lake for a leisurely day of boating, fishing, motorboating, kayaking, sailing, or stand-up paddleboarding.

Scenic view of Flathead Lake
James R Poston / Shutterstock.com

You can also go fishing and camping along the lake's 188-mile shoreline.

People often set up camp under mature ponderosa pines and juniper.

The hiking trail shows incredible vistas of the embracing mountain ranges and lofty peaks, with wildlife-watching opportunities.

During winter, the lake becomes a wonderland of exploration.

Skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers enjoy the trails throughout the region.

Sunset over Flathead Lake
Tyler W. Stipp / Shutterstock.com

A group of local artists founded the Sandpiper Gallery during the 1970s.

Today, the Sandpiper Gallery has remained an artist’s collective on Polson’s Main Street.

It encourages and promotes participation in the arts and gives educational opportunities through gallery exhibits, festivals, workshops, a library, and other resources.

The gallery creates art exhibits with particular emphasis on Western Montana artists.

Every year, they hold non-juried shows with opportunities for experienced and novice artists.

They offer workshops throughout the year that cover a variety of mediums.

Regional and local artists handle these workshops.

The gallery maintains a library with hundreds of books covering art-related subjects, which is also open to the public.

It celebrates festivals like Mission Valley Art Trails, a treasure hunt and a great exhibit, and the Annual Sandpiper Art Festival, which has fine arts and crafts from around the region.

Savor Mexican Food at Fiesta en Jalisco

If you want to taste some great Mexican food in Polson, head to Fiesta en Jalisco.

Enjoy some of the best Mexican delicacies there, like quesadillas, fajitas, and tacos.

Then, wash it all down with tequila cocktails.

They traditionally craft their dishes to perfection and offer incredible value for money.

In 1994, four cousins established Fiesta en Jalisco.

They first worked as servers, cooks, dishwashers, and bussers, working their way up the ladder until they became restaurant managers.

Then, they decided to start a business.

Today, Fiesta en Jalisco has multiple branches, with seven restaurants in Montana, including the Polson branch.

Discover Local History at the Polson Flathead Lake Museum

The Polson Flathead Lake Museum opened in 1972, focusing on the pioneers, homesteaders, and Native Americans who shaped its history.

Learn how the first homesteaders lived, settled, and farmed on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

See the developments, information, and memorabilia marking the area’s progress over the years.

See the historic Lambert Trading Post, Polson’s first building; artifact collections from the Salish and Kootenai tribes; an 1800s chuck wagon; and the Allard Stage Coach.

See old-time fire engines and a passenger automobile from the 1800s, a pioneer home interior from the 1910s, Rudolf the Highland Bull that pulled wagons over the years, and Calamity Jane’s saddle from her final ride.

Also, view the famed “Flathead Monster,” a 7.5-foot sturgeon caught in Flathead Lake in 1955, the local version of the world-famous Nessie.

Buy Fresh Goods at Polson Farmers Market

The Polson Farmer’s Market is Montana’s longest-running market, settled at the south shore of Flathead Lake.

The market offers fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, cheese, honey, jams, jellies, and baked goods.

Sample pies, tarts, and scones at Home on the Range Pies.

Try fresh-baked pastries at Sisters Sweet Shoppe, and find freshly roasted coffee at Dobson Creek Coffee.

Browse Strange Americana at the Miracle of America Museum

A vintage vehicle on the grounds of Miracle of America Museum
Danita Delimont / Shutterstock.com

The Miracle of America Museum bursts with eclectic Americana, deserving the name “Smithsonian of the West.”

For over 35 years, it has become the most diversified museum in Montana, housed within 40 buildings and various outdoor areas.

An old automobile repair shop at Miracle of America Museum
Danita Delimont / Shutterstock.com

Find different structures with themes such as sewing and beauty shops, auto and blacksmithing shops, and a 1912 one-room schoolhouse with a teacherage and outhouse.

Check out military collectibles like two jet airplanes, four aircraft, over 70 vintage motorcycles, 30 military vehicles, and a 1912 Harley-Davidson.

See UFOs, anti-and-pro-Vietnam War bumper stickers, antique bobbin lace, a tugboat, Victorian hair art, Native American art, logging equipment, fishing lures, phonographs, etc.

Have an Adventure with Flathead Raft Company

With Flathead Raft Company, you can go sea kayaking through the remote islands of Flathead River.

Then, ride the Wild Buffalo rapids of the upper canyon, and enjoy tranquil river floats in the lower canyon.

Enjoy Class II and III whitewater rapids on the Lower Flathead River.

Paddle a double kayak down roaring waters.

Likewise, jump into the exciting sport of riverboarding.

Taste Dairy Goodies at Flathead Lake Cheese

Down at the base of Polson Bay is a bright yellow two-story building with a copper roof crowned with a 140 tube solar array.

John and Wendi Arnold dreamed of opening a cheese shop in Polson.

They built most of the Flathead Lake Cheese shop themselves, and they opened in 2012.

One of their facility’s unique features is a solar, thermal-based pasteurization process.

They also create artisanal cheeses using a vat pasteurizer, churning them with 300 gallons of locally collected milk.

Join a quick tour and taste cheeses at the facility, or stroll by their walk-up window for samples.

Their Joe’s Hawaiian Shirt Feta is a perfect everyday cheese to apply on veggies and eggs or your favorite bowl of soup and stew.

Ray’s Pop Curds come from their Gouda recipe.

Its distinctive flavor is a good pair for pizza, Caprese salad, or good old mac 'n' cheese.

Their Buckshot Gouda is a luscious cheese that has some nuttiness, with subtle nuances of peppercorn flavor.

Taste Nautical Treats at the Cove Deli and Pizza

The Cove Deli and Pizza is a family-friendly and locally owned restaurant in downtown Polson.

Kevin Avison had the idea for the Cove.

He brought it to his brother, Ryan, and then he asked their parents, Ken and Tami, for help.

They themed the deli after the local school mascot, the Polson Pirates, whose nautical theme reflects its location on Flathead Lake.

You will often spot children wearing eye patches, sporting temporary pirate tattoos, and waving pirate flags there.

Tasty treats include Buried Treasure Nachos, Captain Hook, Calico Jack Wrap, Captain Jack Sparrow, Blackbeard, Billy Bones, and others.

It serves premium old-fashioned Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream flavors of Chocolate Runs Through It, Huckleberry, Montana Moose Moss, Stuck in a Rut, and others.

Train and Fly Together with Blue Goose Aviation

Blue Goose Aviation offers scenic tours for the general public around the Mission Valley and Flathead Lake, with group air tours and flight training courses for pilots.

They fly down the Flathead River, past the Bison Range, above the Mission Mountains, and over Flathead Lake.

The airplane is a Cessna 182 single-engine ride that can carry three passengers.

Their chief pilot is a retired Air Force pilot with over 10,000 flight hours.

He has been a FAA Certified Instructor since 1982.

Their Mountain Back Country Mountain Course suits pilots with limited mountain flying experience.

Learn how to navigate the gorgeous backcountry airstrips.

Their Mountain Orientation Course is for pilots who have not flown in the mountains.

Gain general knowledge and involvement in mountain flying.

Their 3-Day Instrument Refresher Course is a total refresher for you and your airplane, which also counts as your flight review.

Bask in the Sun at Sacajawea Park

Sacajawea Park takes its name from the famous Native American woman who helped the famous explorers Lewis and Clark in 1800.

It is a lovely green space that should be everyone’s hangout on lazy summer days, located right off Main Street in Polson.

This grassy space sits by the water, sporting a walking trail along the waterfront where people can hang out, go boating, or fish.

It's not like a traditional beach.

If you want to swim, climb down the ladders from the raised walking path onto the water.

There are informational signs along the path that teach people about the history of Flathead Lake.

There are playgrounds and fields nearby for kids, picnic tables spread out for families to enjoy a lunch, and live performances and shows to watch by the waterfront.

Commune with Nature at Pablo National Wildlife Refuge

You will find Pablo National Wildlife Refuge on the tribal trust lands belonging to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

It comprises 2,500 acres of marsh, water, and upland grassland, providing resting and nesting areas for migratory birds and more wild creatures.

The surrounding terrain consists of pothole wetlands shaped by glacial activity approximately 12,000 years ago.

Waterfowl numbers fluctuate throughout the year, with as many as 80,000 flocking there in October and November.

About 40,000 birds arrive from late March to early May.

Nesting begins in late March, lasting to July.

The most numerous nesting species are American widgeon, pintail, redheads, Canada geese, mallards, shoveler, blue and green-winged teal, and others.

See other species of marsh, water, and upland birds such as common loons and bald eagles from May to October.

Common mammals are meadow voles, field mice, striped skunk, muskrat, badgers, minks, and porcupines.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Take Beautiful Pictures at Seli'š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam

Aerial view of the beautiful Seli'š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam
Foto: Martina Nolte

The Seli'š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam is a concrete gravity-arch dam that stands at an astounding 204 feet tall, with water crashing down its spillways.

It is located 15 minutes southwest of Polson, an essential structure for the entire region since it controls Flathead Lake’s water levels.

It prevents flooding around the region, supports recreation in the Lake, generates electricity, and holds primary cultural importance for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The water that rushes to Seli'š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam
iisariya / Shutterstock.com

It is the only dam in the country owned solely by a Native American tribe.

The US government ordered the Native Americans to build the dam.

Taking pictures at the dam is one of the best things to do in Polson.

Try capturing its mesmerizing size and heading down the staircase leading to a viewing platform to watch the water cascade.

Daytime view of Seli'š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam
tiswango, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Return to the Past at Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana

Crow war shirt displayed in Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana
Djembayz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana has a unique place in the cultural preservation of Montana.

The lovely log-faced structure is in the Mission Valley.

Find it in Charlo, Montana, 25 minutes away from Polson.

The 8,000-plus square-foot museum enshrines the culture and history of early Montana and the Flathead Indian reservation.

Nez Perce moccasins displayed in Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana
Djembayz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See Native American beadwork, such as moccasins, regalia, and cradleboards.

The museum has a room dedicated to photographs featuring many of the residents’ ancestors and events from the 1800s.

Enter a large diorama room depicting the St. Ignatius Mission Church, an early trading post, an Indian camp, and wildlife mounts native to the valley.

Collections of Western horse tack, hunting artifacts, and outfitting equipment bring early Montana to life.

Horse bridles displayed in Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana
Djembayz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have a Paddling Adventure with Sea Me Paddle

A person kayaking on Flathead Lake
Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

Sea Me Paddle Kayaking is the premier paddleboard and kayak guiding company on Flathead Lake and its surrounding waterways.

They offer water equipment rentals on Whitefish Lake or Flathead Lake.

They carry a complete line of tandem kayaks, single kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, pedal boats, and more during the warmer weather.

Sea Me Paddle showcases Flathead Lake’s vast islands, expansive shores, and wide water with glimpses of wildlife, native plants, and unique habitat types.

Join the tour to see the ring of mountains around the shore and the stunning Wild Horse Island.

Other tours are the Cedar Island Pictograph Paddle, Somers Bay Adventure, Sunset and Honeymoon Paddle, Team Building Paddle, Stand Up Paddleboard, etc.

It also offers tours in Glacier National Park, where you can experience summer wildflowers and wildlife.

See fall’s first snow and winter’s hush and icy loveliness.

Final Thoughts

Polson is a Montana location brimming with rich history and natural escapes.

Its natural beauty and adventurous Northwestern flavor will show you endless discoveries.

Pack your bags and head to Polson today!

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