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Ashley Lake is a special treat in Montana's Glacier Country. Several miles of gravel road are required to get to the lake's shore, so it is never overcrowded. The nearest large town is Kalispell, 16 miles away. The 2,850-acre lake is an amazing shade of turquoise blue when the sun hits it in the afternoons. The water is clear and inviting. Set amid a forested area replete with Douglas fir, ponderosa and lodgepole pine, the snowcapped Salish Mountains frame a spectacular view. Located just a few miles from Glacier National Park, Ashley Lake is an attractive residential destination. It is no wonder many local residents work hard to keep it a closely-held secret.
Ashley Lake is a natural water body fed by five principle streams: Cottonwood Creek, Benard Creek, Wade Creek, Rand Creek and Fish Creek. Ashley Lake forms the beginning of Ashley Creek which flows to the south over a small dam. The dam was built by Ashley Irrigation District. Today the dam is controlled by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Water levels are reported to be about two feet higher than historical levels. Although logging still occurs in the surrounding forests, much of the former logging property has been sold to private owners who have built their cabins, cottages and homes along the 14-mile shoreline. Although much of the shore of Ashley Lake is considered developed, the residential properties are nearly all single-family homes well spread out from their neighbors on attractive treed lots. Large stretches of lakefront are still held by either logging concerns or as part of the Flathead National Forest. The Ashley Lake Property Owners Association works to monitor water quality and encourages all lake users to maintain healthy lake practices.
Ashley Lake is perfect for boating and water sports. Sailing, water skiing, jet skiing, tubing and pontooning are all enjoyed by lakefront residents. Although a public boat ramp is maintained by the US Forest Service along the north shore, the ramp is only serviceable for small and medium boats, so few non-residents can access the lake with larger boats. Three areas are maintained as public access by the Forest Service. Ashley Lake North Campground holds five unimproved campsites and a campground host space. A vault toilet, picnic tables and fire rings are provided here, along with a small gravel boat ramp suitable for launching canoes and kayaks. Ashley Lake South Campground is smaller, holding only two campsites, a vault toilet, picnic tables, fire ring and a hand-carry canoe and kayak launch site. The Boat Ramp site has only four campsites, one a walk-in only. The area boasts a natural beach and grassy area that is popular with day-use visitors. Only a few day-use visitors' vehicles can be accommodated in the small parking lot. The campground host stationed at Ashley Lake North Campground supervises all of the camping. None are set up for trailers or RVs, and no drinking water is available on-site.
This pristine lake is ideal habitat for coldwater fish species such as trout. Cutthroat trout and rainbow trout hybrids are stocked annually. Kokanee salmon, yellow perch and pygmy whitefish reproduce naturally in the lake, although they were originally intentionally stocked. To protect this wild reproduction, all incoming streams are closed to fishing year-round. Ashley Lake is well-known as a fly-fishing destination, and several area outfitters can accommodate treks to the lake to entice the trout to bite. The pygmy whitefish are seldom caught as they tend to stay in the deeper areas of the lake with colder water. Ice fishing is somewhat limited due to ice safety: the lake has underwater springs in some areas that prevent it from forming safe, solid ice. Cold winters often produce safe ice in the coves.
All of the roads in the area are gravel or dirt, so mountain biking, hiking and nature observation are easily accessed. Public roads are open to everyone, but logging company roads are only open when permitted by their individual owners. Luckily, the custom of allowing public access to timberlands usually holds true, so there is additional access to the water's edge. A series of gravel roads encircles the lake, so it is possible to drive around to view wildlife. Mule deer, whitetail deer, mountain lions, moose and black bear frequent the general area. Loons use the lake for nesting, and all water users are encouraged to give them and their chicks a wide berth. In winter the roads are available for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with some snowmobile access. Several small wetland areas rim the lake, the largest being near the east end.
Few services are available on the lake; most necessities must be brought in from Kalispell or the convenience stores along the main roads. Some bed & breakfast facilities are located overlooking the lake, and a number of private rentals serve as lodgings for those lucky enough to spend some time here. Although the residences along the lake have historically been used most frequently as summer cottages and vacation homes, an increasing number of owners are improving their properties with higher-end homes. There isn't a great deal of real estate turnover on Ashley Lake, but some existing homes and building lots are usually available for sale.
First-time visitors to Ashley Lake will want to drive to Kalispell and see some of what the small city has to offer. The restored Conrad Mansion is located in town and is beautifully appointed with period furnishings and costumed guides well acquainted with the tales and lore of the Conrad family. Although much smaller, some have compared the Conrad Mansion to Biltmore Estate. Little Hockaday Museum of Art displays some of the best local art from the past 150 years. A current exhibit focuses on female artists depicting the glories of Glacier National Park. South of Kalispell and not far from Ashley Lake, Wild Horse Island State Park at Flathead Lake offers a delightful place to hike and observe wild horses and bighorn sheep. The island can be accessed by commercial boat tours. And, Glacier National Park is only a few miles to the east.
If you manage to visit Glacier Country and want to spend some time fishing, swimming and enjoying lakefront living, then a visit to Ashley Lake is in order. Pick up a Montana fly fishing license and arrange for lodgings where you can fish by day and enjoy a campfire on the beach at night. You'll quickly come to see why Ashley Lake residents value their lake's solitude and remote atmosphere.
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