The Swan and Blackfoot Valleys
The Swan Valley is not as large and broad as the valleys to the west, but with two rivers and many lakes, the Swan Range shooting out to the east, and the Mission Mountains stacking up high in the southwest, it is quite beautiful. Being between the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas, it is a popular vacation spot for Montanans, but it doesn’t draw the crowds that you’ll find around Flathead Lake, Bigfork, or Glacier National Park.
Even an amateur geologist can pick out the signs of the glaciers that formed the Swan Valley. Drive down Highway 83 and look up at the jagged peaks and high cirques of the Mission and Swan Ranges.
Visit the Morrell Mountain Lookout and see some of the glaciers that remain on the Mission Range.
Notice the distinctive pothole lakes southeast of Salmon Lake. And the big lakes—Seeley, Salmon, Alva, Placid, and Inez—all were created when glaciers melted 10,000 years ago.
Wildlife viewing is a special attraction of the Swan Valley and its many lakes. Although a canoe is probably the best vehicle for nature watching around the lakes and rivers here, keep your eyes open while you’re driving or biking Highway 83; there are several designated wildlife-viewing areas, mostly featuring waterbirds.
Toward the southern end of the valley, Salmon Lake, Seeley Lake, and Lake Alva are nesting sites for loons. These large, white-necklaced, solid-boned birds are known for their eerie wails and their diving abilities. (Loons have been reported to dive as deep as 200 feet, although typical dives are much more shallow.)
During the loons’ nesting period (May through mid-June), it is important to stay well away from the nests, especially while fishing on the lakes. The presence of humans can cause the loons to abandon their nests.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition