The Montana Dragon Boat Festival is Back!

Last year, the Kalispell Convention & Visitor’s Bureau had excellent plans for the 6th annual Montana Dragon Boat Festival in Lakeside which was to be held in September. They had carefully prepared everything, even down to every last detail and had an exciting event in store for dragon boaters. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans. Severe forest fires in the area caused unhealthy air conditions, which forced the organizers to cancel the festival.

At the time the decision was made, air quality was categorized as “very unhealthy” by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which is a standard that calls for rescheduling or relocating sporting events and other outdoor activities.

“Our entire community is incredibly disappointed we cannot host the dragon boat teams this year. It is our favorite event of the season,” said Diane Medler, Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau director. “Unfortunately, we have fallen victim to the ravages of Mother Nature, and the air quality in the area has become too compromised to hold the event.” Medler added, “We’ll begin planning right away for the 2018 event that will hopefully provide Flathead Valley’s usual clear skies and beautiful mountain scenery for our paddlers.”

And thankfully, true to their word, the Kalispell Convention & Visitor’s Bureau has, indeed, planned yet another wonderful event for dragon boaters. Along with its 200- and 500-meter races, the two-day festival will include a 2000 meter exhibition race. And this year, the race will launch the Rocky Mountain Championship, an invitational race division showcasing top dragon boat teams from western US and Canada to compete for a championship trophy. Complimentary registration is offered to the first eight competitive teams that sign up and qualify (teams that have placed at or near the top of competitive divisions in regional, national or international festivals are likely to qualify). So, if you think your team might be eligible, complete the short application HERE.

Aerial Photo of Montana Dragon Boat Races

Photo: Gravity Shots

If your team hasn’t considered Montana as a paddling destination, it’s time to take a closer look at what makes the Montana Dragon Boat Festival an excellent option to add to your team’s race schedule.

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.

The crystalline waters of Flathead Lake will once again be the setting for this exciting 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.

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.

Standup paddleboarding, Flathead Lake

Standup paddleboarding, Flathead Lake, Glacier Country. Photo: Donnie Sexton

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 and September is a great month to visit, as it has some of the best hiking, wildlife viewing and panoramic mountain vistas you’ll ever encounter.

SUP paddlers on Flathead Lake

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park. Photo: Matt Gibson

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


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 love 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


So, if you are looking for a well-organized and challenging regatta, as well as 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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