Bigfork, Montana, is one of the most picturesque places on earth and home to an unparalleled national treasure: the Flathead Lake Lodge. For nearly eight decades, guests the world over have been flocking to stay at this family-owned lodge and ranch to appreciate all that the Bigfork area has to offer.
Covering over 2,000 acres, the ranch offers visitors sweeping views of beautiful Flathead Lake and the Mission Range. The spectacular views and historic lodge serve as a backdrop to the memories that families have been making here for decades.
Starting with a boy’s adventure, the Flathead Lake Lodge grew into a man’s dream and a family’s legacy. For three generations, the same family has operated the ranch, welcoming guests, and hosting them in the natural beauty that surrounds Bigfork.
A Boy’s Adventure
In 1934, at the age of 14, a boy named Les Averill set out alone on a 30-mile wilderness trek in order to get his Eagle Scout Award. This was well before Montana had a developed trail system, so the adventure sounds like it could have been plucked right out of a Mark Twain novel. Equipped with only basic supplies and little food, Averill began his journey across the wilderness of the Flathead Lake area of Montana.
Feeding himself off of fish and other game that he caught and killed, the young man witnessed some of the incredible nature that the area had to offer during his week-long journey. The experience forever touched him, and history was set into motion.
A Man’s Dream
By World War II’s end, Les Averill had lived a life fuller than most do in a lifetime. Before his time as an enlisted man, he had learned to fly airplanes when was recruited by Pan American Airlines, becoming their youngest commercial pilot at only 20 years old.
During the war, Averill put his skills flying planes to use as a bomber pilot, touring multiple continents including Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Though Averill had traveled the world during his time serving in World War II, he decided that he had never encountered a place quite like that around Flathead Lake, so he set out to create a place where people from around the world could come and appreciate it as much as he did. Finding the perfect place in the form of an abandoned boys' camp, Averill took out a loan to purchase the property in order to help see his dream come to fruition.
What would become Flathead Lake Lodge was located on 2,000 feet of Flathead Lake shoreline and came complete with two spacious buildings constructed from locally sourced pine.
During the Lodge’s first year of operation in 1945, it did not attract much attention and had few guests. In fact, the venture almost went bankrupt. Then, a bit of Las Vegas luck visited the property.
Seeking out a new adventure, infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel hired Mr. Averill to be his guide around the area. Siegel fell in love with the Lodge and made it his home away from home for the better part of a month. Upon his departure, Siegel became an “unofficial spokesperson” for the Flathead Lake Lodge, its popularity skyrocketed, and the dream of offering this beautiful piece of Montana to the rest of the world became a reality.
A Family’s Legacy
Les Averill built the Lodge’s reputation on the spirit of family, ensuring that each visitor felt as if they were not just a customer, but were members of an extensive family. He and his wife, Doloris, continued to run the ranch by this principle for the next several decades, overseeing the Lodge as it became a popular destination.
In 1971, their son, Doug, took the helm. While under his direction, the Lodge flourished. More surrounding land was acquired, extensive ranching activities were added, it became a corporate and military retreat, and more flexible lodging facilities were added.
Carrying the torch for the better part of five decades, Doug and his wife raised their own family in the same tradition he was raised in, and their son, Chase, became the next Averill in charge of the Lodge in 2017.
Though Flathead Lake Lodge has undergone many changes over the years, one thing that has never been altered is the strong sense of family-driven purpose it was based upon.
An enduring legacy
Today, the Flathead Lake Lodge offers an all-inclusive guest ranch experience that is unparalleled.
In order to promote a sense of familiarity amongst visitors, guests may only book one-week stays at the Lodge, from Sunday to Sunday. Visitors begin and end their stays together, ensuring that they have a chance to take in all the Lodge has to offer and to get to know fellow guests.
Unlike similar guest ranches, visitors can have very individualized experiences, as they are not restricted to a strict activity schedule and have full access to the Lodge’s facilities and amenities at their leisure. From horseback riding, to fly fishing, to hiking and mountain biking, there is no end of great, nature-based activities to fill your time.
Guests will want to work up an appetite because another point of pride for Flathead Lake Lodge is their made-from-scratch menus. Featuring locally sourced meats, the chef-created menus show off the best Montana has to offer when it comes to dining.
The unique experience offered at the Flathead Lake Lodge has made it one of the most popular guest ranches in the country, with over half of its visitors returning at some point.
The History of Flathead Lake Lodge: Three Generations and Going Strong
An adventurous boy turned into a man with a dream who raised a family that has built a legacy as the proprietors of the Flathead Lake Lodge.
From traditional ranch experiences like horseback riding to more modern activities like spending a warm day poolside, the Lodge continues to offer its guests a unique experience nestled in the beautiful Montana countryside three generations after its inception, and its rich history simply adds to its splendor.