Located in northern Montana just 45 minutes from Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake Lodge has all the dude ranch vacation perks with one big difference: The lodge is located on the shores of a beautiful alpine lake with all of the associated waterfront joys. This Montana dude ranch vacation feels like two different summer trips wrapped into one.
Flathead Lake Lodge is an exceptional place to stay with extended family and friends. It feels like summer camp and it’s impossible not to relax and forget about the woes of the rest of the world in such an idyllic, carefree setting. Family weeks all run from Sunday to Sunday and each day has a different schedule of activities that focus on good, old-fashioned fun in and around Montana’s gorgeous lakes, rivers, mountains and forests.
A very strong sense of family tradition permeates every nook of the guest experience. Owned and operated by the Averill family since 1945, Flathead Lake Lodge is a true Montana family vacation icon. Guest ranches are complicated to run successfully, but the Averill family makes it look easy, as they have mastered creating fun for each and every guest.
We met a family who has vacationed at the ranch together for 12 consecutive years in a row. Talk about growing up with a place! Here’s a look at why families in the know come back to Flathead Lake Lodge again and again.
Flathead Lake Lodge balances individual and independent time beautifully. Dinners are family-style and most of the activities are done as a group, but there are plenty of places to escape for those who want to enjoy the stunning surroundings solo.
This award-winning Montana lodge has been attracting a variety of people from around the country for decades. Some guests save for years while others add the cost without a second thought to the annual vacation budget, but the one thing that happens like clockwork is that guests come to unwind. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do for a living; everyone comes to share the gift of the Flathead Lake Lodge guest experience.
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Traditional wood lodges and individual cabins with one to three bedrooms are spread throughout the grassy, lush setting along the shores of Flathead Lake. The cabins have been updated and all accommodations are immaculately maintained. Families feel at home instantly in the simply decorated, comfortable surroundings. Accommodations aren’t stylish or super high-end, but like all things at Flathead Lake Lodge, they are laid-back and feel just right for the experience. Some units have lovely private outdoor seating.
Flathead Lake Lodge serves family-style comfort food. The menu is set for each meal, but there are always a few choices for lunch and they go out of their way to meet dietary needs. The food is hearty and tastes great. Their baked goods are particularly delightful. A post-Flathead Lake Lodge diet may be required for guests who love dessert!
Kids are given the opportunity to eat lunch and dinner as a group on their own. Families can choose to eat together, but most of the school-age and up kids opt to eat with each other, which gives the parents a great break to enjoy a leisurely happy hour and then dinner at their own pace.
There is a bar, but it’s BYOB for hard liquor and wine. Guests can buy wine at cost from the lodge (a great perk!) or choose to open their own selection without a corkage fee.
Outdoor enthusiasts find heaven in Montana, and Flathead Lake Lodge offers an unbelievable array of water and land activities right on the property. They have their own lagoon and marina stuffed with sailboats, canoes, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and the star of the show for the kids and adults alike: the ski boat. Water skiing, kneeboarding and wakeboarding are offered every afternoon. Guests can take an unlimited number of laps. It’s a truly amazing and a wonderful ranch perk.
There’s a heated lakefront pool with ample lounge chairs, and elsewhere, plenty of other outdoor seating for those who want to take a load off. Sand volleyball, horseshoes and cornhole are other cult favorites.
Guided hikes are available too, as are the resort’s mountain bikes. Everything is included in the base pricing except for massages, the spa and professional yoga instruction offered a few times a day.
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Although it’s hard to tear yourself away from the property, thrills outside the grounds include whitewater rafting and fishing. The ranch can set up excursions (fee-based) on request. And of course, spectacular Glacier National Park is an area highlight, which is only a 45-minute drive from the property.
The summer sun in Montana doesn’t really set until 11p, and Flathead Lake Lodge provides nightly entertainment that makes the most of each evening. From barn dancing with a live band to a singalong campfire, there’s always an opportunity for families to spend the evening together and/or meet and play with other guests. Kids have their own nightly programming too.
Although the “dude ranch” part of Flathead Lake Lodge is strong, it doesn’t define the experience. Adult, teen and children’s rides are offered each day, as well as combo rides where families come together on the trail. Theme rides include the 7a Breakfast Ride for the best bacon ever and the Steak Fry dinner cooked over an open fire in the woods.
Many kids will begin their stay with no riding experience and end the week happily loping around the arena for team penning. Most of the horses are owned by the ranch and are well-behaved and cared for. Trails cross the entire 2,000-acre property and lead to beautiful woods and mountains. Some of the rides offer wonderful views back over the ranch and lake.
The staff at Flathead Lake Lodge is eager to please and go out of their way to make sure guests are having a good time. The Averill family is active at the ranch, and it’s fun to meet and greet different members of the family throughout each week.
Peak summer months are all families all the time. The starting rate for a weeklong stay for a family of four is $10,000 per week. This includes all accommodations, meals, instruction and activities. It seems pricey at first blush, but once you show up and experience all that Flathead Lodge has to offer, it’s clearly a great value. A ranch stay like this should be on every family bucket list!
Editor’s Note: Amie received a media package to update our review of Flathead Lake Lodge. As always, our opinions on Ciao Bambino are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy.
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