When we think of Polson, we first think of our sister’s dog who was named after this charming city on the southern end of Flathead Lake because it was where she and her husband first met (awww). But before that doggie came along, we all knew Polson as the gateway to all the incredible things to do in the Flathead Lake Region.
Why Polson, Montana is Special
Polson has an enviable location on the shores of Flathead Lake and curves around the entire southern border of the lake. As the small city sprawls away from the lakefront, the land changes from beaches into fertile farmland where much of Flathead’s famous cherries are grown.
This mix of agriculture and lake culture plus the city being on the Flathead Reservation makes Polson an interesting and fun place to explore. With so many different things to do in Polson, you can easily while away several days relaxing, doing some adrenaline-inducing activities, or learning about the history of the area.
Top 10 Things to Do in Polson
Boating From Polson
It probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that one of the top things to do in Polson is taking a boat out onto the lake for a fun, leisurely day boating around the pristine glacial waters.
While boating around the lake, there are numerous activities to do. Go water skiing, do some fishing, bring a paddle board and get some exercise, dock at a state park and go swimming, and even visit an island where wild horses live (aptly called Wild Horse Island, located in the southwest part of the lake).
Right off of Main Street in Polson is Sacajawea Park, named after the woman who helped guide Lewis and Clark through this region back in the early 1800s.
Sacajawea Park is a lovely, grassy park located right by the water. It has a walking trail that goes right by the water. You won’t find a traditional beach here, but there are ladders going down into the water from the raised walking trail which you can use to easily access the water for swimming. Docks are also available for boats to park at. Along the path, you’ll come across informational signs, which teach you more about the history of Flathead Lake.
Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on one of the picnic tables spread out around the park. Families will enjoy the wide-open spaces to run around as well as the playground to climb on.
Point Salish Park
If you’re looking for a more traditional lakefront beach, head from Sacajawea to the adjacent Point Salish Park where you’ll find a rocky beach and a long fishing pier.
Spend time on the beach and do some swimming or skip some rocks. If you want to do some fishing, bring your gear or rent some from one of Polson’s fishing outfitters.
Even if you’re not fishing, walk out onto the pier for breathtaking lake and mountain views.
Point Salish Park also has a swimming area, walking trail, and picnic area.
Polson Flathead Historical Museum
A great place to spend some time and learn more about the history of Polson and the Flathead Lake region. Learn about the history of the Flathead reservation, on which Polson is located. The Museum also talks about the time period right after Flathead Indians opened the land to homesteaders in 1910. It shares information and memorabilia about how the town was settled. The Museum has artifacts from this time. Among them are a stagecoach and examples of the home interiors of homesteaders. There’s also a replica of a trading post from the time period.
More recent history is also on display, from antique fire trucks to Nessie, a 180-pound fish some believe to be the famed Flathead Monster.
Miracle of America Museum
There is no rhyme or reason to this museum, other than its mission of preserving artifacts of American history. This is part of its fun. And makes it a neat contrast to the Polson Flathead Historical Museum.
Tip: If you’re planning on visiting both the Polson Flathead Historical Museum and the Miracle of America Museum be sure to get the 2 for 1 ticket to save some money.
Housed within the dozens of buildings that make up the Miracle of America Museum is an eclectic mixture of art and artifacts, old cars, and horse-drawn carriages. You’ll also enjoy more memorabilia from around the country.
After leaving you just may feel like you’ve been to the Smithsonian of the West, which is the museum’s nickname.
Get Some BBQ at Cherries BBQ Pit
This is one of my favorite places to eat in Polson. It’s laidback with friendly counter ordering and both indoor and outdoor seating and — most importantly — the barbecue cuisine is some of the best around. The meat served has been slow-cooked over local cherry wood, which gives it a delicious flavor.
Try some BBQ pulled pork sandwich and customize it with one of the restaurant’s seven types of sauce. The homemade ribbon fries are also delicious (they’re more like fries-inspired chips) and a bag of them is a great snack for driving around the lake.
When I was there they also had huckleberry lemonade as a special drink on the menu — if it’s offered when you’re there, get it! So good and refreshing.
Sip a Locally-Influenced Beer at Glacier Brewery Company Taproom
Try the Flathead Cherry Ale at Glacier Brewing Company in Polson (or one of the brewery’s many other craft brews). While doing a tasting here, you’ll enjoy the rustic decor and can take a seat on one of the comfortable couches inside or in the beer garden full of picnic tables outside.
Sandpiper Gallery in Downtown Polson
Beautiful Sandpiper Gallery is located right on Polson’s Main Street and is a great place to visit to check out the local art scene.
You will also find that Sandpiper has a variety of art mediums on display and for sale. Browse beautiful jewelry, paintings, ceramics, and much more.
Sandpiper Gallery is a co-op run by local artists so you’re likely to meet a local artist just by going into the shop!
Kerr Dam / Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam Near Polson
The Kerr Dam’s name was officially changed to Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam in 2015, but you’ll still often hear it being referred to as the Kerr Dam. Whatever you call it, one thing is for certain, this is one impressive dam.
Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe Dam is a concrete gravity-arch dam that was built in 1938 within the Flathead River. The dam is located about 15 minutes southwest of Polson and it’s important for the entire region since it controls the water levels of Flathead Lake. If you don’t mind heading out of town for a bit it’s easily one of the coolest things you can do during your Polson trip. The sheer size of the dam is mesmerizing and there is a staircase (FYI: over 250 steps) leading down from the parking lot by the dam that takes you to a terrific viewing platform to watch the water cascading over the edge of the dam.
Try Some Local Flathead Cherries
One of Flathead Lake’s claims to fame is the cherry orchards that grow around it. Flathead Cherries are a coveted fruit all around Montana and it’s common to see roadside stands selling Flathead Lake cherries even all the way to Billings.
But the epicenter of Flathead Cherry goodness is in Polson.
If you’re in Polson in July, the place will be buzzing with cherry activities and baked goods since it’s when the annual Flathead Lake Cherry Festival takes place along Main Street in Polson. It’s a fun time to go and you’re sure to get to taste a variety of Flathead Cherry delicacies from jam to pies to chocolate.
Enjoy your time in Polson!
We’re sure you’ll fall in love with Montana’s Flathead Lake area just as we have.