Wild Horse Island is considered by many locals to be the best watchable wildlife area in the state. Its tremendous wildlife population includes bighorn sheep, full-curl rams, trophy mule deer bucks, eagles, osprey and a few wild horses. Occasionally, visitors will also spot coyotes, black bear and mountain lion. The island also boasts a beautiful wildflower display in the spring and summer months, as well as a variety of hiking trails to match anyone’s physical ability.
The Island has a very interesting history. Legend has it that the local Salish and Kootenai Tribes would hide their horses on the island to prevent the raiding Blackfeet war parties from stealing them. The Tribes would swim their horses out to the island in the summer and cross over on the ice in the winter. When the first white European settlers came to the island, they found the Indians hidden horses, and hence the island’s name arose.
Wild Horse Island was a main mid-lake stopover point for the steam, paddle wheel and big lake boats that used to cruise between Port Polson on the south end of the lake, and towns such as Big Fork, Somers, and Demersville on the north end. Many people got on and off these passenger boats at the Hiawatha Lodge, which was located on the east shore of the Island.
Wild Horse Island was also home to early settlers who had farms, ranches, fruit orchards, and cattle operations on the island. By the 1930s, most operations were abandoned due to the end of the era of moving merchandise and passengers up and down the lake via boats. Gradually, the MacDonald family consolidated ownership of the island. They, in turn, re-divided and sold off some one-acre lots for vacation cabins. Fortunately, for the public, an agreement was negotiated between the MacDonalds, State and Federal fish and wildlife personnel, and the Nature Conservancy to make over ninety-eight percent of the island a primitive state park
Wild Horse Island can be accessed from Big Fork via Pointer Scenic Cruises / Wild Horse Island Boat Trips. Call (406) 837-5617 for information.