Are you looking for a guest ranch experience in the Big Sky Country of Montana? What if it’s located on a gorgeous mountain lake? And what if there were activities to satisfy the most active boomer traveler while still leaving plenty of time to soak in the beautiful mountain scenery?
Guest contributor Jeanine Consoli and her husband were recently invited to experience an adult getaway weekend at Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, Montana. And she’s anxious to share her experiences at this iconic Montana dude ranch so let’s get started with a little history lesson followed by her Flathead Lake Lodge review.
The early history of Flathead Lake Lodge
Les Averill, a bomber pilot in World War II, returned home to Montana and the life he longed for during the war. He jumped at the opportunity to buy an abandoned boys camp built-in 1932 on the shores of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Averill purchases the Lodge and a few dilapidated cabins for around $5,000 in 1945.
The first year, the hunting lodge almost went under. However, when Bugsy Siegel (the mobster who built Las Vegas) showed up and asked Les to take him on an excursion, he enjoyed it, extending his stay for a month.
Word spread, and soon the Averill family lodge attracted other famous guests from dignitaries and generals to celebrities. Many of the men wanted to come back and bring their families because they loved the beauty and spirit of the area.
Les and his wife Dolores built the Lodge’s reputation for warm hospitality and an authentic western experience. Three generations of Averill’s have kept the unique experience of a Montana dude ranch vacation and the value of spending time in nature with family alive. In 1971 Doug Averill, one of Les’s eight sons and his wife Maureen, took over operations.
The ranch became a popular vacation spot, with guests who returned every season. Doug added additional land, expanded the ranching program, and established the Lodge as a military and corporate retreat center. Flathead Lake Lodge has been the setting for the International Fellows, a Department of Defense-sponsored gathering of leaders from 55 countries.
In 2017, Chase and Kate Averill assumed the helm keeping all the great activities and traditions of the ranch while adding chef-driven meals and wi-fi. Future plans include adding more cabins to the property.
Chase wants to maintain the intimate experience (120 weekly guests) but add a few more rooms for some additional visitors (upping it to 150). This is because so many generations return and come as extended family year after year. Adding more options for accommodations allows for that.
Where is Flathead Lake Lodge?
Flathead Lake Lodge is located in Bigfork, in the Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana, about an hour away from Glacier National Park. The nearest airport is Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, where non-stop service is provided in season from cities around the United States on most major airlines (start your flight search here). In addition, the Lodge offers pick-up and drop-off for their guests, a 35-minute drive door to door.
Flathead Lake Lodge review: cozy but luxurious
The cabins at Flathead Lake Lodge are cozy. They like to call it “Luxury Rustic,” and I would agree.
The beds and accommodations are comfortable, and a daily cleaning service is offered to refresh linens. The log cabins (some are stand-alone and some are connected) are one to three bedrooms. Each space has an entry foyer with a seating area and bedrooms off of that.
Inside you’ll find hand-hewn log furniture, rugs over wood floors, and comfy handmade quilts on the bed. Outside you’ll find overflowing flowerpots on the porch. Of course there are log benches or chairs, to admire the lakefront views.
The lodge rooms inside the historic Lodge are located in the heart of the property. You’ll find the Saddle Sore Saloon, the indoor dining room, and the focal point of the Lodge—the enormous double hearth fireplace, where a crackling fire burns daily.
Activities at the Lodge
From horseback riding to nature watching tours, every activity is included as part of your stay. Your job is choosing from so many fun things to do.
Tour the elk preserve
There are 2,000 acres on the property, and within that, a 500-acre private elk preserve you can tour in a vintage Pinzgauer. I enjoyed seeing the elk cavort freely with the older horses this spring; it’s a stunning setting.
I learned that when fully grown, a bull’s antlers weigh about 40 pounds, they shed them each winter which doesn’t hurt, and a new pair grows during the spring into summer. A bull eats about 40 pounds of grass a day, and when provoked, can run about 40 miles per hour.
My husband and I counted 27 bulls, females, and calves. The preserve helps the elk live at least five years longer than in the wild.
Enjoy unlimited horseback rides
With over 100 horses, you can ride as much as you want. There are daily trail rides and longer experiences for advanced riders. In addition, you can take lessons to increase your confidence or sharpen your skills.
Some rides occur early in the morning, where you can head out on the trail to enjoy coffee and a full breakfast and then ride back to the barn. Mid-morning trail rides meander through the elk preserve.
One advanced ride includes a gallop through breathtaking scenery, including beautiful views of Swan Lake and a picnic lunch of chili and cornbread. And, for the Wednesday evening meadow steak fry, advanced riders can opt to ride up to dinner. At the same time, other guests drive to the event in vintage fire trucks for a meal, live entertainment, and dancing.
Go on a guided hike or mountain bike
For a different type of trail experience, you can hike with a guide or mountain bike ride. There are over 10 miles of mountain bike single-track trails for guided tours for intermediate and difficult-level riders.
Or you can take the bikes out to tour Flathead National Forest, which is adjacent to the property. The equipment is from Kona Bicycles, or you can grab a Cruiser to explore the property or downtown Bigfork village.
Learn to shoot sporting clays
Try shooting sporting clays with an expert instructor by heading into the elk preserve. You’ll experience shooting clays from several towers that test your ability.
I was amazed how a few minutes of instruction helped me learn how to zero in on the target and find success immediately. This made the experience fun and exciting for our small group. Of course all the safety aspects were covered before we even got to hold a shotgun.
Have fun on Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake is 28 miles long and 15 miles wide. It is the 79th largest freshwater lake on the planet and one of the cleanest, fed by snowmelt from Glacier National Park, only 33 miles away.
The lake provides so many water activities, it may be hard to choose. Flathead Lake Lodge has kayaking, paddleboarding, and canoes available at the dock.
There are sailboats from 14 feet up to 27 feet Olympic Class Solings. Or enjoy not one but two historic 51’foot Q -class racing sloops, the Questa and the Nor’Easter, built-in 1928 and 1929 as prototypes for the Americas Cup boats.
The sailing staff will take anyone on a sail around the lake on the majestic boats. Want to have fun in the water? Powerboats pull wakeboarders, surfboards, and water skiers daily.
Fishing is big on the lake too. There are huge fish swimming in the glacial water, some as large as eight pounds! You can fish from the dock, the beach, or from a boat. Guided fishing trips are also available.
And don’t forget the heated outdoor pool and the pool deck where you can watch all the fun or catch up on that book you’ve been meaning to read. It’s a great area to relax after an active morning of lodge activities.
Rustic fine dining
For the last three summers, Chef Rob Clagett has enjoyed cooking for guests at Flathead Lake Lodge. He has been wowing them with new culinary experiences while keeping all the favorites on his menu and is constantly perfecting his craft.
Hailing from the South, he added a fantastic fried chicken and rib lunch with favorite sides such as creamy mac and cheese and spicy collard greens. A graduate of CIA, Rob worked in every station in kitchens around the South before enrolling in a professional program.
He considers everyone’s dining preferences, and all allergies are taken seriously. Still, Rob encourages diners to embrace the Montana vibe and western identity of the Lodge.
“You may be served buffalo or other game which is healthy for you. We encourage you to try it.”
There are combinations of plated meals, cookouts, buffets, and carving stations. This summer, an outdoor kitchen with a wood oven and Argentinian-inspired grill will allow Chef Rob and his staff members to cook outdoors. They will move the grill plates close to the flames, re-think heat, and use it differently.
He plans to use native cherry wood from the southern end of the lake to infuse his grilled items with an authentic flavor of Montana.The fruit, vegetables, and some of the proteins are sourced locally, and now so is the wood.
Every item in the kitchen is baked or prepared from scratch, ensuring a whole day’s worth of meals and snacks that are delicious and truly memorable. Add to that a daily 5:30 pm happy hour with hors d’oeuvres that pair nicely with a great glass of wine, local beer, or a craft cocktail, and your night starts out perfectly.
Evenings at the Lodge
Whether dinner is served on the patio, at the preserve, or inside the dining hall, there’s live music, dancing, and S’mores, which is the perfect fireside snack. You will enjoy the company of new friends, or if you are tuckered out, you can sit by the fire in the Lodge or at a pit by the beach to relax with your partner or group.
The cool evenings are made for fireside hangouts. It’s totally up to you. The sun sets later up north, so it’s light out until around 9:30 on summer evenings when the orange and purple rays touch the lake’s glassy surface.
A Lodge with a low-key vibe
It’s your vacation, and the low-key vibe takes the stress out of having to be places or not having to be places. I loved that. If you are a people person, the Lodge is set up to meet great, like-minded folks, and it’s a ton of fun. But, if you want to relax and nap in the sunshine, feel free to do that too.
You can sign up for as many activities as you like, but you may change your mind. It’s not a big deal. Or you might decide to jump in on something you really want to do but didn’t register for on the sign-up day. Just pop into the office, and they will try to accommodate.
If you like to rise and shine, head back to your cabin early after dinner. You can dream of another fantastic day of events or activities like stretching your body on the yoga deck overlooking the lake or galloping on a breakfast ride early in the morning to enjoy a cup of steaming coffee, pancakes, and bacon in the woods.
If you want to take an excursion into town, the Lodge has vans that will shuttle you to the vibrant village of Bigfork and pick you up. The shops and art galleries are lovely, and there are great finds for gifts or souvenirs of your trip.
You can also plan trips further afield for excursions or to Glacier National Park. The Lodge offers trips on more extended stays, but I didn’t want to miss a thing for my long weekend.
Visit Glacier National Park, too!
After our stay, we booked a rental car at the airport and drove into the park on our own. Glacier National Park is home to over one million acres of terrain, breathtaking scenery, and spectacular hiking trails.
No wonder it’s called the Crown of the Continent. I highly recommend staying a few nights in or near the park (research lodging here) before or after a visit to Flathead Lake Lodge.
As active boomers, we thoroughly enjoyed the Lodge, the activities, the other guests, the music, the food, and the staff who treated us like family. We wished we could’ve stayed longer.
I would go back with my young adult children. And if they had kids, we would treat everyone to an extended family vacation.
I did enjoy communing with my fellow adults for this weekend dedicated just to us. But Flathead Lake Lodge offers many different kinds of options. I’m sure if you like this type of vacation, you’ll find one that suits you too.
Disclosure: My husband and I were guests at The Flathead Lake Lodge for the Adult Getaway Weekend. All opinions are my own.