Dragon Boat Racing Destination: Flathead Lake, Montana

Montana Dragon Boat Festival Flathead Lake


If you’re like me, you love the adventure of traveling. When I can combine both paddling and traveling, it’s like an added bonus. Some of my favorite paddling destinations have been places where I can enjoy the race venue, and then spend a little time afterwards exploring the area. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to so many wonderful locations that I might not otherwise have taken the time to check out. When I heard that there was a festival in Montana, I knew I wanted to learn more.

Montana is the Rocky Mountain state that is well known for its sprawling beauty, cowboys and Western hospitality. In the northwest corner of the state, close to Glacier National Park, the dragon boat culture has been growing steadily since 2012 when the Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau first began the festival. More than 7,000 paddlers from across the western United States and Canada have come to dragon boat on Flathead Lake, one of the most beautiful places you can imagine.

Flathead Lake

Photo: http://flatheadlakelodge.com

This year the Montana Dragon Boat Festival is adding a Rocky Mountain Championship Division to its two-day dragon boat races on September 9 – 10. Festival organizers are inviting top dragon boat teams in North America to compete in the inaugural elite competitor races. The crystalline waters of Flathead Lake will once again be the setting for the 200- and 500-meter races, as well as a 2,000-meter exhibition race. The largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi is an amazing destination for paddling and exploring as it is surrounded by Rocky Mountain peaks and the charming communities of the Flathead Valley.

The festival has offered complimentary registrations to the first eight competitive teams that sign up and qualify and I have heard that there are only three spots left. Teams that have placed at or near the top of competitive divisions in regional, national or international festivals are likely to qualify for one of the remaining free registration spots. So, if you think your team might be eligible, complete the short application HERE.

Downtown Kalispell

Downtown Kalispell. Photo: Donnie Sexton

What Can I Expect if I Participate?

In addition to the typical mixed division, the Montana races also offer open, women’s and breast cancer survivor divisions. Even if you are a solo paddler, it’s still worth heading to the races because the festival organizers will help place individual paddlers with teams looking for paddlers to help fill their boat. Make sure you arrive early enough to take part in the Friday evening welcome party hosted by the community of Lakeside where you can enjoy music, entertainment and lots of that famous Western hospitality. The festival will be held in the idyllic village of Lakeside, just 10 minutes from the small city of Kalispell. And, in addition to great dragon boat racing there will be lots of local food and beverage vendors, plus a variety of on-shore activities which everyone can enjoy between race heats.

Aerial Photo of Montana Dragon Boat Races

Photo: Gravity Shots

What Are Some Adventures I Can Have in The Area?

Once you’re in the Big Sky State, it is certainly worth adding a few days on to your trip to explore the region. Kalispell is a picturesque Western town with a historic downtown full of shops, galleries and, of course, a local brewery (though you might want to save that for after the races!). The west entrance to Glacier National Park is only 32 miles from downtown. September in the park has some of the best hiking, wildlife viewing and panoramic mountain vistas you’ll ever encounter. And if you can’t seem to get enough paddling in, you’ve got an endless supply of options: raft the whitewater of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, paddleboard on Flathead Lake or the alpine lakes of Glacier, or kayak the Wild Mile of the Swan River (not for the faint-of-heart).

Whitewater Rafting in Montana

Photo: https://www.wildernessriver.com

SUP paddlers on Flathead Lake

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park. Photo: Matt Gibson

How Can I Get to Montana?

Getting to Northwest Montana is easier than you might think. In September, Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell offers direct flights from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Denver in the west, and from Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago in the Midwest. If riding the rails is more your style, you’ll find some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line which runs between Seattle and Chicago and stops right in Northwest Montana. The Whitefish Depot is only 10 miles from Kalispell. And if you are into road trips, Kalispell is only a day’s drive from Seattle, Portland, and Salt Lake City and just over 5 hours from Calgary, Alberta.

Train in Montana

Photo: http://www.glacierparkinc.com

So, if you are looking for an amazing destination for paddling and adventure, make your plans, gather your gear, and get ready for some fabulous racing in a wonderful state.


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7 Discussion to this post

  1. Douglas Schmitt says:

    Thanks for posting this!This is my home lake & the scenery is beautiful.The Festival is great! People from outside Montana that come to race say this is the most beautiful Dragon Boat Venue in North America. And they are right! Come join in the fun in 2017!

  2. Wendy Rose Davison says:

    Here is an exciting event for you then Paddlechica. Every two years the Kunnunurra Dragon Boat Club, Western Australia runs a 55km paddle down the Ord River. The Ord River Marathon is from the Dam Wall at Argyle (near the diamond mine) down river to Kunnunurra and flows along through some of the oldest and most spectacular country you will ever see. I can recommend this event as one of those opportunities that you are talking about…sightseeing while paddling. And yes there is enough time along the way to take it in turns to pull your paddle out to take a photo!

    • Helen says:

      WOW! That would be stunning. My club runs a 27km paddle down the Grand River in Ontario as the finale to the season – half the distance, but we do it every year. I’ve done it 3 times and each time I wonder about my sanity – and promptly sign up to do it again! 6 to 8 teams are crazy enough to join us.
      Wendy, how long does it take you to cover 55kms? We reckon on approx 5 hours for 27kms, including a potluck lunch about 2/3 down the route.

    • Paddlechica says:

      Sounds like fun!

  3. Rita says:

    Do you have to organize a whole team to Montana or can you sign up to participate individually?

    • Paddlechica says:

      Rita, the organizers can help place you with a team that is looking for paddlers, so you can participate individually, or with your entire team if they are able to attend the race. I hope you’ll consider going!

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