Heading to Glacier National Park? Don’t Miss Doing a Side Trip to Polebridge, MT
Polebridge, Montana is basically about the bear claws. And we don’t mean the kind you need bear spray for. But before we get into those bear claws, let’s discuss where exactly Polebridge is in the great state of Montana.
A visit to Polebridge often gets lumped in with a Glacier National Park itinerary, but it’s not actually located within the park borders — though you’ll likely drive through part of the park to get there via North Fork Road. This highway is typically less busy since it’s NOT Going-to-the-Sun road, the famous 50-mile drive that cuts through Glacier National Park to connect the west side to the east side and crosses the Continental Divide along the way.
Polebridge is located near the northwest corner of the park, so if you’re going to Polebridge from the west entrance, you’ll do so via Camas Road from Glacier National Park’s Apgar Village, which then connect with North Fork Road.
What is the Drive to Polebridge From Glacier Like?
To get to Polebridge from Glacier National Park, you’ll start from Apgar Village and take Camas Road to North Forks Road until you get to Polebridge, which takes roughly an hour. You can also take Inner North Forks Road, which takes longer and has rougher road conditions.
The North Forks Road drive might not have the epic scenery of some of Glacier National Park’s other drives, but I find it so mesmerizing!
This part of Glacier National Park was ravaged by a fire in 1988. Over the past 30+ years, the forest has rebuilt itself and it’s both cool and slightly eerie to see the way the new trees are growing beneath the barren and charred trees towering above them. It’s beautiful in its own way and reminds you of the powerful forces that make up nature.
Much of the drive is by scenery like this, with some open valleys and views of creeks and rivers. After you leave Glacier National Park’s borders, you’ll drive through private property and get glimpses of ranches and landscape that looks like it belongs out of an old western — complete with the ominous “no trespassing” signs.
Once you’re in Polebridge, it’ll be pretty apparent you’re there thanks to the bright red siding of Polebridge Mercantile, where you’ll find those aforementioned bear claws.
Polebridge Mercantile has been in business since 1914 when it was built by its original owner, Bill Adair, and it has long been a beloved Montana institution. Originally called Adair’s, the name was eventually changed to Polebridge Mercantile. The Polebridge Mercantile has changed ownership a few times over the decades (Travel Montana Now team member, Jackie, even went to college with someone whose family owned it for a time) but its roots are still Montanan — the current owner is from Kalispell, Montana.
When you walk in, it immediately harkens to an era where small town general stores were the place to shop. The line (there is nearly always a line during peak season) wraps around the store and takes you past the souvenirs t-shirts, Montana made artisan pieces, drugstore items like shampoo and deodorant, and a little display for kids with books and stuffed animals.
The line to the food and drink counter seems to go fast since you’re so busy looking at all the other fun items in the store!
As for that food and drink, you must get the bear claw — the Polebridge Mercantile Huckleberry Bear Claw to be exact. Fruit pastries aren’t usually my first choice of treat, but the huckleberry bear claws you’ll find at Polebridge Mercantile are in a different stratosphere. No gooey fruit chunks or overly sweet breading. Instead, the pastry part is soft and bread-like, which blends perfectly with the sweetness of the huckleberry that’s just the right consistency.
I was most definitely a fan!
My daughters got cookies and I sneaked a bite of my youngest’s sprinkle sugar cookie and can attest it was also delicious.
Polebridge Mercantile has plenty of places outside to enjoy your treats and even has a little playground area for the kids. Though my daughters were more enthralled with the bear statues on some of the benches. Bathrooms are located separately on the grounds behind Polebridge Mercantile (close to where the playground is set up).
Along with the pastries, there is pizza you can order. For drinks, Polebridge Mercantile has drip coffee and espresso, plus cold bottled beverages like juice and soda.
If you want something stronger, head next door to the Northern Lights Saloon.
Polebridge Saloon: Northern Lights Saloon
The Polebridge Saloon was the original home of the Adairs. Today, it’s the Northern Lights Saloon where you can go for some country cuisine and a pint of beer or other drink.
The “saloon” in its name may hearken to a wild west era, but don’t worry — this place is family-friendly and welcoming. Bring the kids and settle into one of the picnic benches outside or opt for a table indoors if the weather is less than favorable.
Polebridge’s Northern Lights Saloon is surrounded by big leafy trees and of course those gorgeous Rocky Mountains.
Bowman Lake Near Polebridge
If you want to make the drive to Polebridge for more than just yummy pastries, then consider adding in Bowman Lake to your itinerary for the day. Bowman Lake is often considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in Glacier National Park and its remote location along a dirt road in northwest Glacier National Park provides a pristine setting.
Bowman Lake is located northwest of Polebridge Mercantile. To get there you’ll get onto Inside North Fork Road and take it to Bowman Lake Road. Be warned that Bowman Lake Road is a dirt road full of dips and bumps and will feel like an off-roading adventure at times. If you’re in an SUV or even a cross-over you should be fine. And smaller cars might be fine, too, just have someone you’ve arranged to check in with at a certain time who knows where you’re headed and what time you’re planning to be back. Cell phone reception is extremely spotty or (more likely) non-existent along the road.
It takes about 30 minutes to get from Polebridge to Bowman Lake.
Accommodation in Polebridge
As you might expect, a town as tiny as Polebridge doesn’t have much in terms of accommodation. But you will find some rustic cabins right next to Polebridge Mercantile. These remote cabins let you experience the beauty of Polebridge after the crowds leave and also provide quick access to Bowman Lake so you can visit this breathtaking lake before or after the busy time of day for the area when all the day trippers have headed back down to West Glacier or the east side of the park.
Anything Else to Know About Polebridge?
Plan on getting gas before you leave West Glacier to head to Polebridge since there is no gas in Polebridge or by Bowman Lake.
There is no cell service or Wi-Fi in Polebridge. There is a landline inside of Polebridge Mercantile for emergencies so you can breathe easier knowing you’re not completely off the grid.
And don’t forget to try those huckleberry bear claws!