Kalispell’s West Valley provides many options for walking, hiking, birdwatching, cycling, photography, stargazing, and other outdoor activities. Recreational use of state land usually requires a Montana State Land Use permit.
Do you have a favorite place to watch birds, hike, or do some serious forest bathing? Please let us know.
Here are a few places to explore.
- The Kuhns Homestead
Located in the Ray Kuhns Wildlife Management Area on Farm to Market Road, this area is open to the pubic between May 15 and December 1, and closed during the winter for wildlife conservation. Long pants are advised as the area around the homesite is thick with thistles. (Try saying “thick with thistles” five times quickly.) See The Kuhns Homestead on this site for more information.
- The Pig Farm State Trust lands
Located across from the Ray Kuhns Wildlife Management Area on Farm to Market Road, the Pig Farm State Trust land is open year round for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, mountain bike riding, and horseback riding. Snow mobile use is permitted in the winter. It’s a great spot for birdwatching (especially woodpeckers), wildflowers, and picking up the occasional antler shed. Several orchid species may be found here. A Montana State Land Use permit is required for use. Wear orange during hunting season. This area is logged from time to time and some sections or roads may be closed temporarily.
- Happy Valley State Trust lands
The Happy Valley State Trust offers good opportunities for birdwatching, walking, mountain biking, and trail running, along with a large diversity of wildflowers, birds, and insects. It’s a great place to look for pileated and three-toed woodpeckers. It’s located east of Highway 93 and trailhead parking is available on Primrose, Elk Trail, and Bowdish roads. Wetlands with a seasonal pond provide a good place to look for waterfowl and other birds.
- The Potholes
The Potholes is a series of four ponds, all on private land, which can be accessed from West Valley Road by turning east on Clark Road. Accessed from this direction, the ponds are unofficially numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4 for reference. The road is not maintained and can be quite rough around ponds 1 and 2. It’s a superb spot for birdwatching, especially for migrating waterfowl. Look for eagles in the summer as they fledge and congregate around the ponds. Please respect the private property on all sides of the road.
- West Valley Wildlife Viewing Area
Established in 2018, the West Valley Wildlife Viewing Area is a wonderful spot for birdwatching, especially during the spring and fall migrations of sandhill cranes and other waterfowl. The link above will take you to a comprehensive article from the Flathead Audubon Society, including directions to the site.
- Rhodes Draw
At the intersection of Rhodes Draw and Grande Vista Drive is a small wetland area which often attracts great blue herons, dowitchers, and other waterfowl. It’s private property, so stay on the road for viewing.
- Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area
Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area is a great spot for bird watching, as well as fishing and picnicking. Take MT Highway 2 west to Kila, or ride your bike down the paved Rails to Trail path along Highway 2. You’ll see a wide variety of raptors (ospreys and eagles included), sandhill cranes, geese, ducks, killdeer, blackbirds, and more. Bluebirds (mountain and western) often nest in the bird boxes along the dirt road that circles the lake on the south.
- Owen Sowerwine Natural Area
The Owen Sowerwine Natural Area is a 442-acre parcel of state trust land that is maintained by the Flathead Audubon Society and Montana Audubon as a natural habitat for native birds, plants, and other wildlife. It’s an important nesting area for native birds and features some guided trail walks. Foot access only, no pets allowed, and a Montana state land use permit is required. Parking is limited.