5 Reasons Why This is Montana’s ‘Forgotten Lake’
By most estimates, there are more than 3,223 named lakes and reservoirs in Montana. Those range from the massive Fort Peck Lake, at 245,000 acres on the east side to Flathead Lake's 126,100 acres on the other side of the Divide.
It's hard to say what the smallest is, but without a doubt, the deepest is Tally Lake near Whitefish, which plunges to 492 feet.
Yet, there's one lake, and a large one at that, which is rarely mentioned in travel write-ups and tourism brochures. And that's Hungry Horse Reservoir. This is a shame because it's one of the most stunning lakes in the Treasure State, especially in the fall.
It wasn't always that way
When Congress approved the construction of the Hungry Horse Dam in the 1940s, it created a "boomtown" in Hungry Horse, with dozens of businesses and some 3,000 residents before the structure was finished in 1952. At the time, it was one of the largest concrete dams in the world and there was anticipation it would become another popular Montana destination.
Five reasons Hungry Horse isn't on the travel radar
1). It's far off the beaten path
While it's just a short distance from the Glacier National Park crowds, the lake's length, and remote "feel" make it a scary place for all but frequent visitors. It's long. Very, very long. While the reservoir is 34 miles end-to-end, making the complete loop is an all-day affair. Let the sun get away from you, especially in the fall, and it's a 50-plus mile drive out, expecting bears around every corner.
2). Rocks and limited beach
There are numerous boat launches around the 170 miles of shoreline and plenty of room to spread out across the lake's nearly 24,000 acres. But the lack of natural beaches doesn't work well for "come and go" landings, especially for larger boats. The logging also left a lot of "deadheads". But once you find a favorite spot, including one of the many islands, it's pretty cool.
3). It's big. REALLY big
This isn't the lake for you if you can't face some adventure (see below for one main reason). The drive is remote, cell phones are worthless, and if you get in trouble, you could be on your own for a really long time. Still, the remoteness is what's awesome if you're up for that.
This has always been grizzly country, but even more so in recent years, especially in the fall when the bears are on the move. It's not uncommon to see "griz" tracks along the lake, and upstream on the South Fork.
5). Limited services
There are no convenience stores. No gas stops. No snacks. You bring it with you, or you don't have it.
Now, having written all that, I'd still recommend Hungry Horse as an adventure trip if you're really looking for that authentic edge-of-the-wilderness experience. Drive the road on the west shore for a paved, somewhat more civilized route. The east shore is fine if you're used to Forest Service roads, and how rutted they can be by fall.
And by all means, allow enough time to go as far as the Spotted Bear Range Station, where you can even drive a few miles further right to the northern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Enjoy the twilight on the peaks, the views into the South Fork Canyon above the lake, and some of the best tamarack colors anywhere in Montana.
Just remember, you'll pay for those sunset shots. It's about 70 miles back to civilization.