Photo courtesy: Seeley Lake Chamber
Seeley Lake is flanked by the peaks of the Mission and Swan mountain ranges and is situated along one of the most scenic drives in Montana. Beginning at the charming village of Bigfork on the north and ending at Clearwater Junction on the south, this 91-mile stretch of road is commonly known as the Seeley-Swan Highway. Montana Highway 83 provides a scenic route between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Those who love water and the great outdoors will discover excellent camping, boating, fishing, and hiking opportunities at Placid Lake State Park and the Salmon Lake State Park.
Folks visiting Seeley Lake have many outdoor recreational opportunities from which to choose. During winter, a snowmobiler will discover more than 350 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in this area and guided snowmobile tours are available. Seeley Lake also boasts a world-class Nordic ski trail system.
During spring, summer and autumn, folks can enjoy birding, wildlife viewing, fishing, camping, boating, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding or mountain bike along hundreds of miles of trails and roads. You can also canoe the Clearwater River Canoe Trail. This easy 3.5-mile canoe route along the willow-lined river provides excellent opportunities to see many types of birds, including bald eagles.
Prior to settlement by European Americans, the Seeley Lake area was populated by Native American people, primarily Salish and occasionally Blackfeet. The beginning of European settlement in this area was by Jasper B. and Elmer Seely in 1881, who had a contract to furnish ties for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The modern day spelling of Seeley Lake was due to a misspelling of Mr. Seely's name.
Early homesteaders made their living from timber and fur. The first logging near Seeley Lake took place in 1892. In 1896 J.B. Seely was the first ranger at the Lewis and Clark Forest Reserve now the Seeley Lake District, part of Lolo National Forest. In 1896, the Forest Service offered the first timber sale at Seeley Lake. It was purchased by the Big Blackfoot Logging Company. World War II increased demand for lumber and another round of sawmill operations began. The demand for lumber continued after the war and so did the timber industry in Seeley Lake.
The Forest Service began to put the logging roads to broader use by encouraging recreational activity in the area. In 1915 the Forest Service started leasing lots around Seeley Lake that were acquired by families from Missoula and other cities around Montana. The MacLean family was one of these. Reverend MacLean raised two sons, one of whom, Norman, later wrote about family and fishing the Blackfoot River in his novel A River Runs Through It. By 1926 there were 35 summer cottages on Seeley Lake. The semi-remote location of the Seeley Lake area combined with the abundance of fish, game and large tracts of undeveloped wild country encouraged the development of Seeley Lake as a resort community.
Reminders of Seeley Lake's rich past are still evident in area homesteads, schoolhouses, camps, dude ranches, recreational facilities and logging operations. The historic and cultural resources of the Seeley Lake area contribute greatly to what makes this place special.
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