Visit the Magnificent Bowman Lake and Polebridge Mercantile

For those eager to experience Glacier wilderness and to get away from the crowds, plus have an amazing pastry head to Polebridge Mercantile and Bowman Lake – Montana.

***PLEASE NOTE – Glacier National Park has started requiring a reservation and a ticket to travel the Going To The Sun Road. This will impact your trip. You can check out more details here: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/gtsrticketedentry.htm

When you visit Glacier National Park you will want to add this to your itinerary! If you need help planning your trip, check out our 1, 3, and 7 Day Glacier Guides that include fun stops like these:


Glacier 1 Day Guide Thumbnail
Glacier 3 Day Guide Thumbnail
Glacier 7 Day Guide Thumbnail

Planning a trip to Glacier? We put together a series of digital guides that take the guesswork out of planning. Stop-by-stop itineraries for making the most of 1, 3 or 7 days in Glacier National Park including where to stay, where to eat, what hikes to take and the best driving routes.

We’ve even included links for you to book your stays and buy your park passes. Everything you need in one convenient digital guide. Just download and go!


Getting Here

Getting here you will be going off the beaten path, down dirt roads and tight roads. But it is worth it! Also note cell service most likely won’t work. Be sure to download your GPS map on your phone BEFORE you start driving here.

Map going from West Glacier to Polebridge Mercantile to Polebridge Ranger Station (where you have to pay an entrance fee and depending on the time of year have a vehicle registration ticket.) to Bowman Lake – which is located in Glacier National Park.

Bowman Lake Polebridge MT Polebridge Mercantile map

Click here for an Interactive Map.

Map of road you take when you leave Polebridge to go to Bowman Lake. IT IS NOT THE SAME ROAD YOU CAME INTO POLEBRIDGE MERCANTILE ON. Sorry for the caps – but don’t want you to get lost!

Bowman Lake Polebridge MT Polebridge Mercantile map
Map from Mercantile to Polebridge Ranger Station:
Bowman Lake Polebridge MT Polebridge Mercantile map

Map from Polebridge Mercantile to Bowman Lake. You can see on the map the winding road and how it goes through a forest. This is a tight road – be ready for that!

Bowman Lake Polebridge MT Polebridge Mercantile map

Polebridge Mercantile

Polebridge Mercantile was the outpost for the first explores to Glacier National Park. The building has been around for over 100 years! The building is run on generators and gigantic solar panels and gives you that feeling like you are off the grid in a way that people hundreds of years ago lived.

Polebridge Mercantile in Glacier National Park

At Polebridge Mercantile, they offer some of the best pastries we have tired. Of course with Huckleberry and without if you don’t like huckleberry. Plus fresh picked fruits and vegetables. And a selection of souvenirs. A visit to Polebridge Mt is not complete without a pastry!

We recommend getting a fresh baked Huckleberry bear claw or the cinnamon rolls. Really all of their baked goods are delicious! This tiny community of Polebridge, Montana is well worth the trip.

If you want grab a few things or bring your own packed lunch then get a pastry for desert and head to one of the outdoor picnic tables to enjoy a peaceful lunch.

The Polebridge Mercantile hours vary based on the season so be sure to check their site for their hours. It is about 42 minutes from West Glacier and 53 minutes from Columbia Falls. And is the only town that the North Fork of the Flathead River passes through.

You will drive on the dusty North Fork road which is a gravel road so be prepared for that. Also note you are not in Glacier National Park as you make your way here. You will have to enter the park to get to Bowman Lake but you do not enter the park to get to the Polebridge Mercantile.

Want help planning your trip to Glacier National Park? Check out our post: The Best Glacier National Park Itinerary from 1 to 7 Days.

Polebridge Mercantile Cabins

Polebridge offers rustic cabins. If you are visiting and looking for a true historic experience stay at one of these cabins (they don’t have running water in the cabin!).

Polebridge Outfitters

For those looking for an off the beaten path experience checkout what the Polebridge Outfitters offer. Like mentioned they can rent you the equipment and show you on a map where to go and what to do but after that you are on your own. That is a true northern Montana experience!

Everyone talks about how crowded the National Parks are now a days. This is very true. However Polebridge is a perfect example of how you can still have a unique and not populated experience! Our National Parks are beautiful but just because the boundary says the park ended it doesn’t mean the area around the park doesn’t have a ton of beauty and adventure to offer.

This is the North Fork area and per the Polebridge site they are there to point you in the right direction for an awesome adventure.

Northern Lights Saloon

Let the unique experiences continue! The Northern Lights Salon is located next to the Polebridge Mercantile. It is a one of a kind rustic bar and restaurant. Only open in the summer months – be sure to check their schedule.

Road To Bowman Lake

After filling up on pastries and other goodies in the town of Polebridge, you can get back in your car and head down the narrow and windy dirt road (If you are facing Polebridge Mercantile, it is the road to your left. You do not go back on the road you drove into the Mercantile on.) – which doesn’t look like a road you should be driving on, but it is.

The scenic park roads wind through evergreen and hardwood forests. Just be prepared for the roughness and pothole and it is a long, narrow and windy road. This is also the road to the Bowman campground.

This road takes you to a Glacier National Park entrance where you will have to pay or show your pass. We weren’t expecting this, but since we have a yearly pass it was no big deal. Once you get into the park you go left and follow the signs for Lake Bowman.

Be prepared, this is a 2 lane road that is really about 1 1/2 lanes wide. You will have to pull over at some point to let someone pass. And there are ledges, bumps, and tight spots.

But it is worth it. Stay with it! The road is about 6 miles long, but given the condition of the road it will take a while to get there. We went about a max of about 15mph.

**Take note that larger vehicles are not allowed on the road. It is a 1 1/2 lane road so I can see why.

Bowman Lake

Scenic Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park

Once you get there (you’ll start seeing signs for the Bowman Lake campground) you can find a place to park either by the campground parking lot or the picnic area and then you walk to the lake. You cannot park by the lake, but you can drive down there to drop off a kayak or your family but you cannot leave your car there. You may think no one will care, but a ranger did show up one of the times we were there.

Bowman Lake is beautiful with mountains surrounding it and great recreational opportunities. I wish we had had an inflatable SUP or kayaks to take out on the lake.

Instead we brought a blanket and had a picnic lunch and then jumped in the water for a little while (it was freezing!). Don’t forget your Keens or snorkel gear! The water is super clear for snorkeling!

When we went in early August there were a lot of people there. Nothing like the Logan Pass area or the Trail of the Cedars, but there were a quite few people there. When we went later in the month it was just us and a few other people.

We actually went twice when we were in Glacier for the month of August because we enjoyed it so much! Getting to Polebridge takes you through some dirt roads, but everything was drivable and my sister and her family actually did it in their 21 foot RV.

Playing in the grass at Bowman Lake

After leaving Polebridge, we drove for a few minutes before coming up to Home Ranch Bottoms restaurant. It was a great place to stop and get some dinner before heading back to the West Glacier area.

The food was good and so were the drinks. Plus, the outside picnic table area was perfect with the kids. It was a little pricey which is to be expected when you are out in nowhere!

Camping at Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake is a camper paradise and the campground is located close to the lake. But you have to be prepared. There is no electricity or water at the sites. But there are drinking water spigots throughout the campground and pit toilets.

Also truck and trailer combinations are not recommended at Bowman Lake due to the nature of the long windy roads getting in.

Hiking Trails

This is a 26.2 mile trail that is marked as difficult. It sounds like an amazing trail but you have to be ready to hike 26+ miles!

Click here to learn more about the Bowman Lake Trail. Or here to learn more about day hiking opportunities by Bowman Lake.

Where To Stay

North Fork Hostel in Polebridge would be a unique place to stay.

When visiting Glacier we highly recommend adding the off the beaten path location of Polebridge and Bowman Lake to your list of places to visit!

Also, don’t miss our post on Hiking With Kids in Glacier National Park, Going To The Sun Road and Many Glacier as well as these other fantastic destinations when near Glacier: Whitefish Mountain Resort and Montana Raft!

Check out our Glacier Guides to help you plan your trip!


Glacier 1 Day Guide Thumbnail
Glacier 3 Day Guide Thumbnail
Glacier 7 Day Guide Thumbnail

Planning a trip to Glacier? We put together a series of digital guides that take the guesswork out of planning. Stop-by-stop itineraries for making the most of 1, 3 or 7 days in Glacier National Park including where to stay, where to eat, what hikes to take and the best driving routes.

We’ve even included links for you to book your stays and buy your park passes. Everything you need in one convenient digital guide. Just download and go!


More Posts:

37 Stops For The Best Cross Country Road Trip [Map Included]

Yellowstone Vacation: 12 Day Itinerary for Visiting In & Around The Park

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This lesser known area of Glacier National Park is TOTALLY worth a visit! You don't want to miss the Magnificent Bowman Lake and Polebridge Mercantile.


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22 thoughts on “Visit the Magnificent Bowman Lake and Polebridge Mercantile”

  1. Oh I wish I had dropped into this lovely bakery when I visited in the summer time, looks so good especially if you take it to go and hang out by the lake and just enjoy the amazing views!

    • It really is! I don’t even think you can get back there with a car in the winter. We had friends that went a few weeks after we were there and the road was closed. They get a lot of snow there and the road was questionable driving on it during a nice day. I am sure people have hiked back there in the winter – but it would be a long hike!

  2. We were in Glacier National Park in 2011 but didn’t discover Poleridge! Bowman Lake is truly spectacular.

  3. Those views are amazing. They almost don’t look real. I would have happily also filled up on pastries and laid around looking at the view since the water was freezing.

    • It is about 1 1/2 to 2 hours from the start of the Going to the Sun Road. It is actually on the opposite side of the park from the Going to the Sun Road. So when you enter from the west entrance you go left to get to Bowman Lake or right to get to the Going to the Sun Road.

  4. Glacier National Park is on my list. The scenery looks amazing and it sure does look like a spot that won’t disappoint nature lovers. How far is it from the nearest city?

    • There are multiple cities close by. Which we loved. You head into Glacier and there is no cell coverage and feels very secluded but then 20 minutes from the west entrance you have great restaurants, groceries, etc. Whitefish is a really cute town right by there!

  5. I have only been to the Glacier National Park in Canada never to one over the border. Bowman Lake looks awesome and it is great that it is warm enough to swim and snorkel. Next time we visit Waterton we will have to make our way over the border to check out this area. My son would never leave the Polebridge Mercantile he would love eating all of those delicious looking pastries.

  6. Hi, we will be staying close to east glacier park entrance and i was wondering if we have time in one day to drive the Going-to-the-sun road (also please advice if we should drive west to east or east to west) and visit Polebridge and Bowman Lake?
    We don’t plan doing much hiking

    Thank You,
    ILIR

    • You could definitely do it in one day – assuming you can get started early, it is light late (like if you are going in the summer and the sun doesn’t set until 9pm), and you don’t mind driving a lot. Figure driving the Going To The Sun Road is going to take you over 2 hours. Then it will be an additional 1 – 1 1/2 hours to get to Bowman Lake after that. It is a beautiful drive! If you don’t want to drive back on the Going To The Sun Road you can go out the west entrance and drive around the park – however this will take longer – but it is an easy drive. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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