Seeley Lake, located in the Seeley/Swan Valley, is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Located in the heart of western Montana, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a boring day here.
For outdoorsy folks, this is the number one best place to spend your summer vacation, and there’s no lack of exciting adventures waiting for you and your kids!
A tiny mountain village whose population more than doubles during the summer months, Seeley Lake is a top vacation destination for Montanans. Many people across America love vacationing in Montana, but Seeley’s the place where we Montanans vacation. As you travel across the state toward Seeley and friendly folks ask you where you’re going, watch they’re reaction. Watch them close their eyes, breath a prolonged sigh, and smile longingly as they reverently whisper, “Seeley Lake . . .”
I’m not kidding. Seeley is the best of the best and you definitely want to plan a good week to spend here.
Is Glacier National Park is your destination? I’ve got good news for you! If you’re coming by way of Helena or Missoula, you’ll drive right through Seeley Lake (Highway 83) on your way up to Glacier. The drive through the Seeley/Swan Valley is beautiful—a proper gateway to prepare you for the glories of Glacier.
The Clearwater Canoe Trail is one of the funnest things to do in the area on a summer afternoon. It’s very affordable because the only cost is that of renting canoes—it’s an unguided trail and amazingly easy. My number one recommendation for canoe rentals are the good folks at Clearwater Towing & Repair. They’ll haul the canoes down to the ranger station and outfit you with life jackets and oars; their service is typical small-town friendliness and helpfulness with a dash of wild!
If you’re anything like my family, you should make some great memories getting acquainted with maneuvering the canoes as a team and figuring out how to stop zig zagging from one muddy bank to the other and back again. It’s beginner-level, safe, and fun—and you can’t get lost.
The views, too, are absolutely stunning. Follow the Clearwater River as it snakes calmly through the forest and marshes and treat yourself to the sights and sounds of the Rocky Mountains. Look for bald eagles, tamaracks, bear grass, and plenty of deer (depending on how noisy and enthusiastic your group is!).
The final part of the canoe trail is the north end of Seeley Lake itself—a beautiful blue refuge pooled in the shadow of the rugged, stony peaks of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It’s a ceaselessly enchanting view—even for those who live here all year.
Another fabulous outing your entire family will enjoy is swimming at the best beach in Seeley—River Point. As you swim or relax on the beach not far from the outlet of the Clearwater River, enjoy a spectacular view of the Swan Range (so close you can almost touch it) on the other side of the lake. The River Point swimming area is free and has bathrooms, and there’s also a decent (paid) campground if you’re into camping. There’s nothing better than spending an afternoon swimming in the cool mountain water on a good beach.
My mom took my siblings and I to the lake a good three times a week during the summer months. We’d swim and she’d sit on the beach and look at the views—which, by the way, you must see for yourself in order to fully understand why Seeley Lake is called the Last Best Place.
Something my family has done multiple times is visit Morrell Mountain Lookout, where you can climb the old lookout tower (in which a U.S. Forest Ranger actually lives during the summer months) and see the stunning views from a height of over 7,500 feet above sea level. The Ranger will let you come into his seasonal home, see the view above the trees, look for fires through his binoculars, and give Smokey Bear paraphernalia to the kids.
From the top one can look down at Seeley Lake, a tiny puddle surrounded by emerald smudges one knows must be pines. At this special place, you find yourself atop one of the three highest mountains around, and gazing at the mountains rippling in every direction as far as the eye can see is an unforgettable sight. The best time to take this trip is in June—after the snow melts off and before the wildfires cloud the view with a perpetual smoky haze.
The way up to the lookout tower is a narrow dirt road with very steep drops next to it in some places; but nevertheless, if you drive with perseverance and maneuver around the rare vehicle you’ll meet coming down the mountain, you will eventually zig zag all the way to the top—and you might even see a black bear cub lumbering off the road, stuffing his face with wild huckleberries, as I have. Life just doesn’t get much better than Seeley Lake, Montana!
Speaking of which . . . another super fun, free activity for the kids is “huckleberrying.” Just get on any dirt road (believe me, they aren’t hard to find: mostly all you have to do is turn off Highway 83—aka Main Street—drive five minutes or less, and bam! You’re on a dirt road) and look for the easily recognizable huckleberry plant. The berries are abundant in July and August, and after a while of feasting on them, they begin to taste even better than their domestic relative, the blueberry.
It won’t take your kids long to acquire eagle-sharp eyes that recognize the smooth, oval leaves and rich, dark berries a mile away. If you happen to have a Ziploc bag or other suitable storage container on hand, bring home a quart or two for a huckleberry upside down cake and ice cream (sprinkled with fresh huckleberries).
My siblings and I used to go huckleberrying as kids, and when we weren’t too busy staining our mouths deep red with the berries, we’d be loading as many containers as we could to take home for hot huckleberry upside down cake.
Just be sure to let your kids know about the mild stomach aches that result from gorging in these delicious berries as eagerly as the bears do. It takes a long while to get a stomach ache from eating too many, but it is in the realm of possibilities when you’re young and faced with loads of tempting berries.
Also, you’ll want to bring good bear spray along (available at Rovero’s—Seeley’s all-purpose store characterized by an extremely friendly service team, cleanliness, the aroma of hot pizza, and a museum of taxidermy), because the bears (both grizzly and black) enjoy these berries as much as any child.
Spending a week in Seeley Lake, Montana is an exciting, unforgettable experience. If hiking, fishing, boating, camping, hunting, mountain biking, four-wheeling, or horse-riding are your things, you’ll be delightfully overwhelmed in trying to get all your favorites in. Just stop in at key places and talk to the locals for suggestions for more great places to visit. The grocery store (yes, the only one, Cory’s Valley Market) is a great place to stop in and ask uber-friendly locals any touristy question and receive heaps of suggestions. Also, anyone at Clearwater Towing & Repair, recommended above, will be able to provide plenty of great advice from the viewpoint of those who have been born and raised in this paradise in the Rocky Mountains.
Take your happy campers and hit the (dirt) road!
Disclaimer: I do not work at any of the recommended businesses—their small-town service is simply too outstanding not to mention!
Liberty is a southern girl recently-turned Wisconsite. She wrote a free eBook for busy moms showing how easy it is to professionally clean your family’s teeth for less than the cost of a new crockpot.