Wild Horse Island

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Wild Horse Island
View of Flathead Lake (14540687703).jpg
Flathead Lake with Wild Horse Island visible in the distance
Wild Horse Island is located in Montana
Wild Horse Island
Wild Horse Island
LocationFlathead Lake
Coordinates47°50′43″N 114°12′54″W / 47.84528°N 114.21500°W / 47.84528; -114.21500Coordinates: 47°50′43″N 114°12′54″W / 47.84528°N 114.21500°W / 47.84528; -114.21500[1]
Adjacent bodies of waterBig Arm Bay
Total islands1
Area2,163 acres (875 ha)[2]
Highest elevation3,749 ft (1142.7 m)[3]
United States
Indian ReservationFlathead Indian Reservation
Additional information
Official websiteWild Horse Island State Park

Wild Horse Island (Montana Salish: Čt'išeʔém, Kutenai: kwiⱡq̓anqmi[4]), approximately 2,164 acres (876 ha) in size,[2][5] is the largest island on Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Montana.[6] Protected as a state park since 1977, the island near Big Arm Bay is home to abundant wildlife including bighorn sheep, mule deer, waterfowl, and bald eagles. It is managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and lies within both the Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County, Montana.


For centuries, the Salish-Kootenai used the island to pasture horses and keep them from being stolen by other tribes. The island was part of the Flathead Indian Reservation from the reservation's creation in 1872 until 1904, when the island was divided into individual plots of land. A number of attempts were made towards agricultural development, but none succeeded.[7]

Between 1910 and 1915, homesteaders on the island cut down much of the old growth trees and introduced non-native grasses and other plant species. These species have competed with and overtaken much of the short-grass prairie that herbivorous wildlife need to survive.[8] This short grass prairie is one of the last remaining in Montana,[7] and various animal species are controlled to preserve the grasses from over-pasturing and extinction.

Two Bighorn sheep were introduced in 1939. As of 1987, when two bighorns were brought from Lincoln County, a total of ten sheep have been relocated to the island.[9] In 2014, the population was between 160 and 200 sheep, and Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks worked to relocate 59 sheep to other herds in Northwest Montana.[10] Three of the top five bighorn sheep recorded by the Boone and Crockett Club during the three years 2015-2018 came from Wild Horse Island.[11]

As of 2013, the wild horse population was five mares and one gelding.[12]


The island was formed by the Cordilleran Glacier, giving the island a varying topography. Its shores are 2,900 feet (880 m) above sea level. The glacier caused the six summits in the center of the island, ranging in heights between 3,277 and 3,745 feet (999 and 1,141 m), to be formed into rôche moutonnée, with rugged northern faces and rugged southern cliffs. Meadows sprawl the western and southern shores, while grasslands cover the southeast. The northern side of the island has forests of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees.[13] The highest point is at 3,749 feet (1,143 m),[3] which is 853 feet (260 m) above the island's shores.[3]


A study conducted over a 25-year span has shown the average yearly precipitation on Wild Horse Island to be 15.7 inches (400 mm). The average daily temperature ranges from 24 to 66 °F (−4 to 19 °C), with spikes sinking below 5 °F (−15 °C) during colder months and afternoons above 90 °F (32 °C) during the hotter months in dryer years. Overall, the island experiences below freezing temperatures about two thirds of the year.[8]


Access is by boat only and for day-use only.[2] There are 56 private lots on the island,[2] about an acre (0.4 ha) each.



  1. ^ "Wild Horse Island". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  2. ^ a b c d "Wild Horse Island State Park". Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2015. Although 56 privately owned parcels still exist along the shore areas, most of the island (2,163 acres [875 ha]) is now a state park.
  3. ^ a b c "Wild Horse Island High Point, Montana". Peakbagger.com.
  4. ^ Adam N. Johnson, Regina Sievert and Michael Durglo et al. Indigenous Knowledge and Geoscience on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Northwest Montana: Implications for Place-Based and Culturally Congruent Education. Journal of Geoscience Education. Vol. 62(2):187-202. DOI: 10.5408/12-393.1 https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1163600.pdf
  5. ^ Philley, M. Peter; McCool, Stephen F. (1978). Wild Horse Island Recreation Study. p. 1. OCLC 884564441. Retrieved March 14, 2015. The Island, comprising 2,165.09 acres [876.18 ha], is in Lake County, Montana, and also within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation.
  6. ^ "Flathead Lake". Montana Office of Tourism. Retrieved August 19, 2015. Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi in the lower 48 states, with over 200 square miles [520 km2] of water and 185 miles [298 km] of shoreline.
  7. ^ a b Tipton, Diane (2001). "Wild Horse Island". Montana: The Magazine of Western History. 51, No. 1 (Spring): 70–71. JSTOR 4520301.
  8. ^ a b Kautz, Darrell R. (1981). "Range and Wildlife Resources of Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, Montana". Ann Arbor. ProQuest 1124937366. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ McLaughlin, John (March 10, 2022). "Mountain lions likely trimmed island sheep herd to lowest number in decades". Daily Inter Lake. Retrieved March 18, 2022.
  10. ^ "Wild Horse Island bighorn sheep capture operation completed" (Press release). State of Montana. February 27, 2014. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  11. ^ Johnson, Wes (May 3, 2019). "Boone and Crockett records are a 'barometer' of game species' health". Springfield News-Leader. Springfield, Missouri. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  12. ^ Scott, Tristan (April 23, 2013). "Oldest horse on Flathead's Wild Horse Island dies". Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. Retrieved August 19, 2015. The old horse's death leaves five mares and one gelding, a population that still outweighs what is technically allowed by Wild Horse Island State Park's management plan – a maximum of five wild horses to run free on the island's 2,164 acres [876 ha].
  13. ^ Schneider, Robert H. (1965). A summer art school for Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, Montana (Undergraduate thesis in architectural design). Montana State University. OCLC 41737400.

Further reading[edit]

  • McCurdy, Edward B. (1975). Wild Horse Island, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Polson, Montana: Treasure State Publishing Company. ASIN B000730F64. OCLC 41721811.

External links[edit]