Montana is Indian country, home to eleven tribes and seven reservations. Take a day to explore the Flathead Indian Reservation and be treated to a beautiful long look at Flathead Lake on your way.
Flathead Reservation tour177 miles
The 1.2 million acre Flathead Indian Reservation, situated in the southern half of Flathead Valley, is home to the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend D'Oreilles tribes of Montana. The tribes are dedicated stewards of their beautiful lands.
To Get There: From the Whitefish KOA Kampground head North on US Highway 93 to its junction with Montana Highway 40. Take 40 East through Columbia Falls to Hwy 206. Go South on 206 until it ends at the junction with Montana Highway 35 and there go left on 35. Highway 35 will take you past the village of Bigfork and down the Eastern shore of Flathead Lake to Polson.
Approximately one half of the way down the scenic "East Shore Road" you will enter the Flathead Reservation. The Southern half of Flathead Lake is owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who share management of the lake with the State of Montana.
As you come to Polson you will also come to Highway 35's intersection with US Highway 93. Go left onto Highway 93 and continue south 6 more miles to "The People's Center", or "Sqelixu Center", at the town of Pablo.
The People's Center is dedicated to the preservation of Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d'Oreille lifestyles and to giving you, the visitor, the opportunity to learn about the tribes from their own perspective. You will find opportunities to participate in native games, arts, and crafts, visit the museum (which is specific to these tribes), and browse through the gift shop featuring traditional arts and crafts.
"Native Edventure," the reservation's official tour group, is based at The People's Center and provides a wide range of group and individual reservation tours based on visitor interests. The tours are conducted by native guides who will explain things and answer your questions. You can visit culturally and historically important spots, go on a pow wow tour, or a take a hiking, fishing, or camping tour. (Tipi camping is available too.)
The National Bison Range provides a beautiful glimpse of the Mission Valley in its natural state, looking much as it did before the encroachment of non-Indian settlers. You can readily see large herds of grazing buffalo as well as elk, antelope, and other wildlife. The visitor center provides informative displays about the bison as well as the ancient relationship between the buffalo and the tribes. There are two self-guided auto tours of the range. The Red Sleep Mountain tour takes about two hours to complete, while the Buffalo Prairie Drive takes only 20 minutes or so. To get to the Bison Range drive south on Hwy 93 from The People's Center through the town of Ronan and then 5 miles further to the junction of State Highway 212. Go right on 212 and follow it about 12 miles through the town of Charlo and on to the entrance of the Bison Range at Moiese. Stop at the visitor center to get your visit underway.
From the Bison Range, return to hwy 93 and continue south along the feet of the dramatic Mission Mountains toward St. Ignatius. About three miles before you come to St. Ignatius, you will see The Four Winds Trading Post. Built in 1870, this is the oldest continuously operated trading post in Montana and local Indians still come here to buy their traditional supplies. A visit to The Four Winds Trading Post is like a trip back in time. You will find beads, face paint, dance bells, deer and moose hides, real sinew and porcupine hair roaches as well as a selection of old and new books on local Indian history.
A few miles further south on the west side of Hwy 93 you will find Doug Allard's Flathead Indian Museum and Trading Post which houses an impressive collection of native art, crafts, and supplies. On the same site you will find The Huckleberry Jam Factory, a general store and casino, as well as Allard's Buffalo Ranch Cafe, a great place to stop and have lunch.
A minute or two further south past the town of St. Ignatius and just off Hwy 93 on the east side, you will find historic St. Ignatius Mission, established by Roman Catholic Jesuit fathers in 1854. Under the direction of the missionaries, the mission church was built by Native Americans from local lumber and bricks made of local clay. Inside the church are 58 murals hand painted by Italian Jesuit Brother Joseph Carignano who served the mission as cook and handyman, painting the church murals in his spare time. Two other small buildings on site contain exhibits of Indian arts and crafts, early artifacts, and other historical items.
This is where you will turn around and head north again, retracing your path up Hwy 93 to Polson. If you have had enough for one day, you can turn in for the night at the Polson KOA and return to Whitefish in the morning. Whenever you are ready to head back to the Whitefish KOA, follow Hwy 93 through Polson and continue northward along the western shore of Flathead Lake. The western shore is very different from the eastern side, but every bit as beautiful. There are several lovely state parks along the way where you can take a break to relax and stretch your legs.
When you get to Kalispell, continue on Hwy 93 through town and on home to the Whitefish KOA.
Pow Wows and Celebrations
If your visit corresponds with times listed below, you can attend a pow wow for an exciting visual/musical feast. You can watch dancers in wildly colorful, artistically wrought dance outfits. Decide which of the accompanying singer/drummer groups is your favorite. Try some frybread and Indian stew. Buy some beadwork to take home with you. Watch teams compete at the ancient "hand game," (also known as "stick game") a game of power and chance.
Fourth of July Celebration at Arlee, Mt 15 miles south of St.
Ignatius on Hwy 93
June 29 - July 4
This event, hosted by the Flathead Nation, is entering its second century.
Standing Arrow Pow Wow at Elmo, Mt about 45 miles north of St.
Ignatius on Hwy 93, on the western shore of Flathead Lake
July 14 and 15
This is the Kootenai Tribe's celebration, hosted by the Flathead Reservation.
Native American Awareness Week at The People's Center-Pablo, Mt
September 19, 20, and 21
The theme for this event is the Salish meeting of Lewis and Clark. Enjoy the the tribe's crafts, history, demonstrations, and exhibits. Participate hands-on in traditional activities. Sample fry bread and traditional dry meat.