The southern half of Flathead Lake is surrounded by the Flathead Reservation, home to a mixed population of Flathead Salish and Kootenai peoples as well as nonindigenous people, who make up around 80 percent of the reservation’s population. The large reservation covers a 1.3-million-acre area, roughly 35 by 65 miles, hemmed in by the Mission and Cabinet Mountains. Apart from a few small towns, it’s mostly prairie and riverside wetlands.
The largest of these towns, Polson, at the bottom end of the lake where the Flathead River flows south, is a predominantly white retirement community, with 24-hour gas stations, the area’s only ATMs, a Safeway supermarket, and chain motels. Polson is also home to the deluxe lakefront Best Western KwaTaqNuk Resort (49708 US-93 E., 406/883-3636, $205 and up), owned and operated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, with two pools, an on-site casino, a boat dock, and direct access to the lake.
Just two miles south of Polson along US-93, the bizarre but fascinating Miracle of America Museum (406/883-6804, daily, $6), which calls itself “Western Montana’s Largest Museum,” displays kitchen appliances, toys, antique motorcycles, tractors, armored tanks, and framed newspaper clippings to give a unique, to say the least, view of America’s industrial, military, and cultural history. If you’d enjoy things like a motorized toboggan or a collection of tractor seats, count on spending an hour at least—twice that long if you also like music, because the museum doubles as the Montana Fiddlers Hall of Fame.
South of Polson, US-93 has been realigned and widened in an eco-sensitive wetlands-friendly fashion, with native plantings, wildlife crossings, and a new name: the Peoples Way.