West side Glacier is more forested and typically, has more precipitation. We woke up to cloudy skies but had a clear vision of where we wanted to explore on June 15, 2018.
Kintla and Bowman Lakes are well known for their spectacular, pristine, mountain-studded waters that draw hikers and kayakers from all over the world. Our GMC Vandura conversion van is not four-wheel drive and we had read reviews that warned of the rough and pothole-filled roads, so decided against pulling a trailer with kayaks. In the future, we will be bringing an inflatable kayak so that we can enjoy the views from a different perspective.
On the way to the mountain lakes, we stopped at the Polebridge Mercantile… out in the middle of wilderness. We fell in love with this endearing little store/community, which has something for everyone; books written and photographed by local authors and people from all over the world who have been smitten with the beauty and grandeur of Glacier. They also have a bakery and you can buy a variety of sweets and “sandies” (their own version of subs/sandwiches) that are SO delicious! In-season, organic produce, along with healthy smoothies and other nutritious snacks are available. A quaint little tavern is also on the premises.
After negotiating many miles of washboard and crater-filled roads, we finally made it to Kintla Lake. Our eyes were immediately drawn to a large, bright-yellow sign that warned of recent bear activity in the area. Mosquitoes swarmed us not two seconds after leaving the comfort and safety of the Vandura. Less than 100 yards into the hike, we saw a tree with bark ripped off at about the six-foot mark… did a bear do this?? Phil and I were beginning to get an uneasy feeling about this hike.
A backcountry campsite was six miles out from the parking lot and our goal was to hike there, then turn back towards the van. After an hour-and-a-half of walking through thick vegetation with no views and being devoured by mosquitoes any time we slowed down, we decided we’d had enough. We had seen several piles of bear scat and other signs of bear activity and our senses were on high alert the entire three hours on the trail.
We decided to drive to Bowman Lake since we were in the area and drove six miles down even ROUGHER roads, but the view of that gorgeous, pristine lake was worth it! The mosquitoes were not nearly as bad and we relaxed, took in the incredible panoramic views and just enjoyed the scenery.
After taking a short siesta in our Vandura’s soft and cozy bed, we drove back to Polebridge for their amazing, home-baked pizza and a mouth-watering, hot ham and cheese with pineapple and BBQ sandie. So satisfying!
The staff at the Mercantile are friendly, laid-back and down-to-earth. The owner showed up as we were eating our dinner with two wooden, chain-saw-carved statues of a bear and a mountain lion. He had traveled to Oregon to pick them up, and he explained to us that artists gather the fallen redwoods that drift down rivers and create all kinds of beautiful art from these ancient trees.
June 16, 2018, was a grocery shopping day, so we drove into West Glacier, then Columbia Falls to pick up some necessities. Afterwards, we decided to do a short hike; the John’s Lake Trail. A beautiful, old-growth cedar and pine forest with enormous moss-covered boulders surrounded the trail. The McDonald river ran alongside and the trail brought us to a bridge that spanned the gorgeous cascading falls.
Satisfied with our travels and explorations for the day, we drove back to our campsite. Dinner that night at Fish Creek Campground was pulled pork tortillas with dill pickles and chips. Phil started a fire in the pit and we soaked up the warmth, recapped our day of adventures and began to plan our next wilderness excursion. Lights out at 10:30pm… the last remaining, colorful remnants of the sunset hung dimly in the sky.