With the melting of snow off the Rocky Mountains and the returning warmth, summer in Montana brings rise to the waters of rivers like the Swan River and Flathead River, both of which flow to the shores of Flathead Lake, where the small town of Bigfork sits.
The summer air also brings rise to something less abundant than water to Bigfork—population.
Within the last 20 years, the population of Bigfork has quadrupled as more people decide to become full-time residents after falling in love with the natural splendor of Bigfork.
As of 2018, the population reached approximately 4,600. In the summer, those numbers nearly double as people from all over the continent come to spend time on the lake, hike, or just relax amongst the lush forests and blue waters of the Flathead Valley.
Along with the increase in people, new developments like restaurants, bars and hotels have followed—what was once a small farming town on the eastern banks of Montana’s largest natural lake has become a destination known across the country.
Through these changes, however, Bigfork has maintained its communal soul—one that prides itself on genially and hospitality.
“There are more people, but Bigfork hasn’t changed all that much because of it,” says Denise Belt and Denise Lang of National Parks Realty. “The friendliness is still here; the small-town charm is still here; and, of course, the natural beauty is still here.”
Living in Bigfork
Montana is one of the least populated states in the country but the fourth-largest in terms of size, which means copious amounts of real estate space. Properties in Bigfork can come with multiple acres of prized land, some even including shoreline.
While there is a wide range of architectural styles across the area, many homes feature cabin designs with strong wood accents, oversized windows and rustic finishes.
Amenities are often linked to the recreational lifestyle, meaning houses can feature large garages for storing boats, docks or rip-rapped stabilized shorelines.
Less-removed homes on smaller plots are grouped along more suburban neighborhood streets that offer more of a communal and less isolated experience.
The Bigfork real estate market
The population isn’t the only thing that’s risen in Bigfork. According to Zillow, home prices have increased by 30.4% in just one year to $599,045 as of July 2021.
For that price, buyers can expect a two-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family home or condo.
Lower price points consist of smaller condos located off the lake and hover around $300,000.
Large homes located on the shore make up the most expensive properties in Bigfork—prices can reach $10,000,000.
The Bigfork vibe: Close to town, closer to nature
Lang has a line about living in Bigfork: ‘Close to town but closer to nature’. “It’s a great small town where you get amenities like fine dining and galleries and a playhouse, and yet everything you could want to do in nature is all around you, just a short drive or walk away,” she explains.
For a small town, Bigfork offers a wide range of dining options. These include Echo Lake Cafe, a local breakfast spot in business for over fifty years; Bigfork Woods Bay Wine, which offers flights of wine and a bottle shop in a casual environment; and El Topo, a cantina offering Mexican fare.
Activities and events are regular in Bigfork like the Bigfork Festival of Arts. This almost fifty-year-old annual event offers work from local artists and vendors as well as entertainment, food and crafts.
What to know about Bigfork’s school system
Students attending public school are served by the Bigfork School District 38, which consists of Bigfork Elementary, Bigfork Middle School, and Bigfork High School.
In 2018, 65% of students at Bigfork Elementary scored proficient on Reading/Language Arts testing scores compared to the statewide average of 50%.
Bigfork High School, which has a student body of about 320, also scored well above the state average on Reading/Language Arts test scores with 57% proficiency compared to 40%.
For private schooling options, students can head to nearby Kalispell, Montana, home to St. Matthew’s Catholic School, Montana Academy, and Stillwater Christian School.
Getting to know Bigfork’s surroundings
Whitefish, a popular ski-resort town on the Rocky Mountains, is less than an hour away, and a little more north is Glacier National Park.
A hundred miles to the south is Missoula, and continuing on US-93 gets you to Butte.