by Joseph A. Sprince – Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The Glacier National Park Travel Guide is a resource for those planning to tour Glacier National Park and/or Canada's adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park. The adjacent national parks are typically visited at the same time and offer a variety of experiences. Both parks offer outstanding opportunities to view wildlife.
The remote northwest corner of Glacier National Park, the area drained by the North Fork of the Flathead River, offers the adventurous visitor a chance to enjoy a wilderness experience away from the tourist crowds. The North Fork features forests of lodgepole and ponderosa pine with a series of small scenic lakes: Logging, the Quartz Lakes (lower, middle, and upper), Bowman, and Kintla. The jagged peaks of the Continental Divide form spectacular backdrops on the eastern ends of the lakes. Wildlife is abundant is the area. It is prime grizzly bear habitat. Fishing is available at all the lakes (our experience was small cutthroat trout).
There are three semi-primitive campgrounds: Quartz Creek, Logging Creek, Bowman Lake, and Kintla Lake. It is a recommended area for tenters as the area is not suitable for large RVs or trailers due to the difficult access roads. Cars can make it but the park service suggests high clearance vehicles. (The access road to Bowman Lake is very rough.)
Activities include camping, hiking, fishing, and boating. The smaller lakes are conducive to float tubing, kayaking, or canoeing. Motorcraft are prohibited at Kintla Lake and limited to 10hp at Bowman. For backpackers, backcountry campsites are readily accessible at each of the lakes. There is access to the Continental Divide Trail from Bowman (22 miles) and Kintla Lakes (31 miles) but it’s a long walk.
Our experience was camping at Bowman Lake, hiking the three mile trail to small Lower Quartz Lake, and fishing for trout from the shore. Larger Bowman Lake would be more suitable to fishing from watercraft. There were many tame deer in and around the campground. The woods were very dense, and a notice at the trailhead advised making noise due to the bear presence.
Access to all of the campgrounds and lakes is via the Inner North Fork Road from the Apgar Village area. The road is mostly rough, and the going is slow with a speed limit of 20mph. If you are heading to Bowman or Kintla Lakes, you can take the paved Camas Road and the Outer North Fork Road as far as the Polebridge townsite. The historic Polebridge Mercantile is located on the inner road near the ranger station. It offers limited supplies and food, as well as rustic cabins for rent. Some areas along the way were burned in the fires of 1988 and 2003, creating a different environment. Good wildflower displays are possible in the burned areas.
The North Fork would make an extremely long day trip. An overnight stay at one of the campgrounds would be advisable.
Polebridge & North Fork of Flathead River
- Park Boating Regulations.
- Park Fishing Regulations.
- Trails in North Fork Area. (Interactive Flash Map – Place mouse on numbered black dots for more info.)
Services in Polebridge & North Fork
Food and Lodging
- Polebridge Mercantile and Cabins. Open year-round. This unique outpost is located on the Inner North Fork Road, en route to the remote lakes of northwest Glacier National Park. Polebridge is located just outside of the park. The historic mercantile offers groceries and supplies, as well as fresh ground coffee and a variety of home-baked treats. Very rustic but expensive "camper cabins" are offered with propane stoves and refrigerators, wood heating, and propane lights. Good way to access very beautiful and less traveled part of the park. 406-888-5105
- Logging Creek. Early July to mid-September. Small, primitive campground offers wilderness like experience. Seven sites, RVs not recommended due to difficult access road. On Inside North Fork Road, a long difficult dirt road. Located south of Polebridge. No drinking water, pit toilets.
- Quartz Creek. Early July to early December. Small, primitive campground offers wilderness like experience. Seven sites, RVs not recommended due to difficult access road. On Inside North Fork Road, a long difficult dirt road. Located near Polebridge. No drinking water, pit toilets.
- Bowman Lake. Late May to mid-September, Primitive (no water): Mid-September to end of October. Semi-primitive campground in a beautiful locale adjacent to pristine Bowman Lake. Campground has 48 sites, RVs not recommended due to difficult access road. On Inside North Fork Road, a long difficult dirt road, 32 miles north of West Glacier. Located north of Polebridge. Drinking water, pit toilets, shady sites. Nice fishing, boating, kayaking, and hiking. Area is buggy. Be sure to pack bug repellent or headnets. Nice off the beaten path place. Semi-tame deer in campground during last visit.
- Kintla Lake. Late May to mid-September, Primitive (no water): Mid-September to end of October. Most remote car camp in the park. Primitive campground in a beautiful locale adjacent to pristine Kintla Lake. Campground has 13, RVs not recommended due to difficult access road. On Inside North Fork Road, a long difficult dirt road, 40 miles north of W. Glacier. Located north of Polebridge. Drinking water, pit toilets, shady sites. Nice fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking. Motorcraft prohibited from Kintla Lake. Very remote location.
Nearest Visitor Center
The Apgar Village Visitor Center is open daily May to October and on weekends November to April. The visitor center has exhibits, brochures, and a bookstore/gift shop. Rangers are present to answer questions, issue backpacking permits, provide emergency assistance, etc. The Polebridge Ranger Station has maps and publications for sale, and is open intermittently, June to September.
Other services in area
Food services, general stores, and gift shops at Apgar Village.