Slowing down in the Flathead Valley.
As you drive along the shores of Flathead Lake, it can be hard to enjoy its beauty, given the steady stream of cars on Hwy. 93. Beyond the traffic, the number of folks out on the lake is overwhelming. Unless you can ditch the crowds via boat, elbow room is hard to find, and public shorelines to relax on are few and far between. While the lake draws the masses and the turbulent atmosphere that comes with them, the rest of the valley enjoys sleepier tendencies. If you’re looking for a quieter, more remote Flathead experience, head to Dayton and turn northwest toward Lake Mary Ronan State Park.
Seven miles west of the Flathead bustle lies placid Lake Mary Ronan. The majority of the water is surrounded by private land, but the 120-acre state park has 25 individual campsites, a group site, and a boat ramp. While the campground sees its share of visitors, plus there are two private lodges close by, the tempo is a stark 180 from the Flathead flurry down the road. At your leisure, go for a hike or ride in the woods, on bike or horse, and when the day heats up or the fish start rising, head for the water.
Lake Mary Ronan is home to a bounty of fish. You’ll find rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, and sunfish. You can catch them from shore, off docks, or from a boat. Speaking of boats, if you don’t have one, call one of the lodges for a rental. Available are crafts from canoes to kayaks to paddleboards to pontoon boats. Of course, a vessel will help with fishing, but it's also a great way to check out the lake’s bays and inlets. You may even stumble upon a great rope swing on the west side. With the right boat and water conditions, the lake can be great for waterskiing, tubing, and wakeboarding.
Beyond time on, in, and by the water, the trail systems are worth checking out. The campground offers roughly three miles of relatively flat, meandering paths—great for a walk in the morning or a stroll after dinner. If you’re looking for some extra trail time, you’ll find good access to the north in the Flathead National Forest. Make sure to consult a map for details. You can also hop on the West Shore road and loop the entire lake in under 10 miles.
Lake Mary Ronan is a place of serenity, and that serenity will likely vanish when you re-enter the chaos of Hwy. 93. So take it in. Breathe in the quiet lull, enjoy the calmer waters, and take an extra minute to watch the sunset over the lake. And when you leave, carry the park's tranquility back with you to Bozeman, helping us all to remember how refreshing it can be to slow down.