Hungry Horse Reservoir, Montana, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Montana - Glacier Country -

Hungry Horse Reservoir in Montana’s Glacier Country offers a wealth of recreational opportunities to northwestern Montana visitors. The nearly 24,000-acre lake provides flood control and hydroelectric power to the area as well as being a focal point for recreation within the Flathead National Forest. Completed in 1953, Hungry Horse Dam corrals the South Fork Flathead River, with the resulting lake filling 33 miles of the narrow Flathead Valley behind it. Long in the planning stages, the dam finally created a solution to periodic flooding downstream while alleviating an electrical power shortage that made winters difficult in this remote area.

Hungry Horse Reservoir got its strange name from an actual event. Two draft horses were lost for a month in the winter of 1900-1901 and, when found, were trapped in belly-deep snow and nearing starvation. With care, the recovered horses regained their strength, and the area near where they were found lent its name to the new dam and power project. The area is remote, with the valley ringed by several peaks of the Flathead Range. Few roads intrude into this wild area, and much of the land east of the reservoir is within the Great Bear Wilderness Area. The reservoir provides 10 boat launch points of varying size and several campgrounds. There are no settlements along the shoreline, and the nearest town is Hungry Horse, a few miles down river. The west entrance to Glacier National Park is only about 15 miles to the northeast, and Kalispell is about 20 miles to the southwest. The landscape is rugged, wild and beautiful.

Despite its remote location, Hungry Horse Reservoir is popular among water skiers. Some launch sites along the western shoreline accommodate larger boats. However, water levels vary considerably according to time of year and water release schedules. Although the lake’s average depth is 147 feet, low water levels in late summer can leave boat ramps high and dry. There are no marinas or boaters’ conveniences at Hungry Horse Reservoir, so boating visitors need to come prepared with all of the supplies they think they will need. The reservoir is popular for all types of boating, sailing, tubing, jet skiing and even swimming in a few shallow coves where the water warms nicely. Many bays and coves break the shoreline, creating hidden vistas around every bend.

Fourteen small US Forest Service campgrounds are located on or near Hungry Horse Reservoir. The campgrounds are operated by a concessionaire and have varying levels of amenities. Several of the campgrounds contain day-use areas, often with a boat launch. Some of the larger camping areas are: Doris Creek Campground, Emery Bay Campground, Lid Creek Campground, Lost Johnny Campground, Lost Johnny Point Campground, Murray Bay Campground and Riverside Campground. Most are open between mid-May and September, depending on weather conditions. Some of the campgrounds do not have drinking water available, but nearly all have fire rings and picnic tables. Many provide food storage boxes to thwart any hungry bears. Hiking trails extend from several campgrounds, one of which is the mile-long hike from Riverside Campground to a scenic vantage point overlooking the lake. A few cabins are available for rent by the US Forest Service. The entire area has a wealth of hiking trails of varying difficulty. Trail information is best accessed at one of the nearby Ranger Stations. Reservations can be made for some of the campsites through the concessionaire’s website; 16 days is the maximum stay.

Fishing is a popular activity at Hungry Horse Reservoir. The waters hold cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, rainbow trout, hybrid cutthroat trout, westslope cutthroat trout and a few bull trout. Proper license is necessary and all regulations must be observed. Because Hungry Horse Reservoir is primarily a power generation and snow-melt storage reservoir, the lake is not stocked nor is it managed as a major fishery. Water releases are timed to provide downstream spawning levels for fish and to provide for winter power generation and storage of spring melt run-off. There are still plenty of fish worth angling for, but no efforts are made by the state to enhance the fishery. A wide variety of wildlife and waterfowl can be seen at the reservoir, making canoeing or kayaking a popular method of touring the shoreline and the several islands. Off the lake, Great Bear Wilderness area is home to many natural species. Parts of the area is available to hunting in season.

This area is popular with backcountry hikers who utilize the campgrounds for accommodations for day hikes. Others make use of dispersed camping opportunities for multi-day hikes. Several of the peaks in the area are attractive to more rugged trekking, but hikers should seek the advice of Forest Service staff as to local conditions and optimal routes. This is bear country, so all hikers must take adequate precautions with any food supplies.

Most supplies and services can be obtained at the town of Hungry Horse or Martin City just upstream. The area contains several small hotels, motels, guest cottages, resorts and outfitters along with a few restaurants. Billing itself as “Home of The Huckleberry”, Hungry Horse has roadside stands that sell a variety of goodies and gifts based on these tasty berries. The area is famous as a snowmobiling destination, with snowmobile outfitters renting snow machines and leading guided tours. The many backcountry roads are great for either mountain biking in summer or cross-country skiing in winter. More sophisticated entertainment and nightlife is reserved for the City of Kalispell. The entire area offers an out-of-the-ordinary base for trips into Glacier National Park. So, if your vacation plans include northwestern Montana, make sure you take time to stop off at Hungry Horse Reservoir for some fishing or hiking. Its scenic beauty will fill your dreams for months to come.

Things to do at Hungry Horse Reservoir

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Hungry Horse Reservoir

  • Bull Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Hungry Horse Reservoir Photo Gallery

Hungry Horse Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Surface Area: 23,800 acres

Shoreline Length: 170 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,560 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 3,565 feet

Average Depth: 147 feet

Maximum Depth: 490 feet

Water Volume: 3,468,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1954

Drainage Area: 1,633 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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