Pull up a map of the Flathead Valley, and splashes of blue dominate all corners. While Flathead Lake, and to a lesser extent Hungry Horse Reservoir, Whitefish Lake and Lake McDonald, are clear attractions when summer heat rolls around, the crowds can often feel claustrophobic.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other options, including Lake Mary Ronan, located eight miles from the town of Dayton. Dwarfed by the valley’s eponymous body of water, Mary Ronan is an overlooked 1,500-acre body of water, large enough to offer substantial habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife, as well as numerous recreation opportunities for visitors looking for a calmer, more secluded getaway.
The lake is home to a robust population of kokanee salmon, one of the only broodstocks of the fish in the state, making it a popular destination for anglers and those seeking the iconic red flashes of spawning salmon in the fall.
Much of the lake is bordered by private land, but the east side is taken up by Lake Mary Ronan State Park, a 120-acre stretch of public land that includes a campground and boat ramp. Like most state parks, Lake Mary Ronan saw a huge increase in visitors in 2020 — 50% more than 2019, the 10th highest percentage growth of the state’s 55 parks. However, that only amounted to 34,625 visitors, which makes it among the bottom half of state parks in terms of popularity.
The state park’s campground offers three miles of meandering trails, a paved campground road and spurs leading to 25 individual campsites, a recently improved group camping area and boat trailer parking.
For a less rustic experience, visit one of the lodges that dot the lakeside. The Lodge & Resort at Lake Mary Ronan recently reopened under new owners, and offers six stylishly rustic cabins. Executive Chef Joe Bartlett runs the dining room and crafts everything from wood-fired pizzas to sous vide salmon served over asparagus and basil veloute fettuccine.
Further south along the lakeshore is Camp Tuffit, a fishing resort started in 1917 by Charlie Thomas, who built and rented out fishing boats on the lake. The Thomas family has operated the resort’s two-dozen hand built log cabins for three generations.
If a break from the water is necessary, Shore Road makes for a nice bike ride around the lake, or head north to the Flathead National Forest for some hiking.
How to Get There: From Kalispell, travel 30 miles south on U.S. Highway 93 to Dayton. Turn right on Lake Mary Ronan Road and follow it six miles to the lake.