Flathead Lake & US 93

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It’s a long, but scenic, drive to get from Interstate 90 to Kalispell and Glacier National Park, or to go the opposite direction. Most likely, if you’re headed this way, you’ll be traveling US 93. The highway passes some beautiful mountains, wetlands, and of course Flathead Lake. It’s all pretty, but it’s also a tiring drive.

My Visit

On this day of my trip, I was headed south on US 93, after wrapping up my time at Glacier National Park. I needed to cover a lot of ground to get to Missoula for the night, but I also wanted to see some scenery.

US 93 can be tedious to drive.  This time wasn’t as challenging as my previous trip down the road in 2006 — when I traveled at night through a construction zone that lasted for many miles.  At that time, they had taken up all of the pavement on the road, and the construction zone was literally miles and miles of dirt road, clogged with rock-hauler trucks.

The highway is better now.  Parts of it are 4-lane, although much of the road is still two-lane, with occasional passing lanes.  You will get stuck behind slow-moving traffic, over and over again.

So, why not make some scenic stops?

My first stop was at Flathead Lake West Shore State Park.  That’s Goose Island, just offshore.  It looks quite similar…

… to how it looked in 2006, when I arrived at the park just after sunset.

Heading south, the next worthwhile detour…

… is at Big Arm – an inlet on the west side of Flathead Lake.  Take a short drive up Montana Route 28 to find this view of Big Arm and Wild Horse Island.

 At this point, I seriously considered detouring off of US 93.  I could have taken Route 28 to Montana 200, which would have returned to US 93, but it would have added about 18 miles to my already-long driving day.  I decided to stay on 93, but that was probably the wrong decision.  I think Route 28 would have been more scenic (I drove it in 2006…

… and was very pleased with the pictures I took, including this one.)

Polson

Polson is just one of two towns along US 93, big enough to mention.  It’s located at the southern end of Flathead Lake.  On the approach into town, the road drops down a long, gradual hill, providing a nice view of the area.  I couldn’t help but notice the bright yellow plants blooming in the fields nearby.

Of course, Polson takes advantage of its location on the lake.  Just a few blocks from this pier…

… there’s a small downtown district.

The Wolf Den bar is the most noticeable of the downtown businesses, thanks to its neon sign.

Ronan

The next town to the south is Ronan.  I didn’t stop in the town itself…

… but I did try to get a good picture of what must be its most famous barn.  This beautiful old structure is north of town, and east of US 93.  You’ll be able to see it from the highway.  Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get any closer than this.  What you can’t see in this picture is, the barn is located at the end of Ronan’s airport runway.

South of town, I noticed the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, and decided to check it out.

The wildlife refuge surrounds the Ninepipe Reservoir.  Dirt roads surround the reservoir, and provide access to the water for wildlife watching and fishing.  Find the right spot, and you should be able to enjoy a nice view of the Mission Mountains (that long chain of mountains on the east side of US 93).

During my visit, most of Ninepipe Reservoir was closed for bird nesting season.  Closures and restrictions are common, so it’s best to check the Fish & Wildlife website for information before you visit.

After this stop, I decided to head south without making any more detours.  South of Ronan, US 93 intersects with Montana 200, and both roads run together to Interstate 90, outside of Missoula.

By not stopping, I missed one worthwhile natural attraction along the way: the National Bison Range is located north of the 93/200 junction.  In addition to discovering where the buffalo roam, you can also drive up Summit Road for a stunning view of the surrounding area.

Location

In western Montana, US 93 runs from the Canadian border, through Kalispell and Missoula, to the Idaho border.  On this page, we’ll focus on the section of road between Kalispell and Interstate 90.  This section of the road skirts the western edge of Flathead Lake, and passes through small towns like Polson and Ronan.

I’ve covered the stretch of US 93 from Canada to Whitefish on a separate page.

The Bottom Line

A drive down US 93 is a necessity, and the road itself can be tedious to drive.  But, if you allow enough time for some detours, you’ll find plenty to enjoy.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Hungry Horse, through Columbia Falls and Kalispell via US 2 and 93, ending at Montana 28 (Big Arm) …

… and from the MT 28 junction south on US 93 to the junction of MT 200…

… and from the MT 200 junction, south on US 93, to I-90 and Missoula:

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