Our train was scheduled to depart at 4:30am the next day, so we decided to stick close to Whitefish. We headed into Glacier Park and drove north to explore the area around Bowman Lake. The trip was scheduled to take two hours, despite what appeared to be a relatively short distance on a map. Traffic thinned the further north we went. We passed handmade signs advertising roadside attractions and passed through a portion of the Flathead National Forest. The road gradually transitioned from a two-lane highway into a dirt path.
About 20 miles shy of the Canadian border, we came across the historic Polebridge Mercantile. The building originally served as a post office for an old settlement. Today, “The Merc” is a popular pit stop for tourists seeking bear claws and branded souvenirs. (The bakery is worth the hype and Luke sure does love his new trucker hat.) After a brief stop to admire the quirky collection of yurts, teepees and cabins for rent, we continued bouncing along the dusty road toward Bowman Lake.
Immediately upon arrival, we regretted not exploring this part of the park sooner. For starters, it was quiet. The campsite is one of the few that doesn’t regularly fill up every night, simply because it’s hard to get to. Now, close your eyes and conjure up an image of what you’d expect a national park to look like. Odds are, it looks exactly like the crystal clear water of Bowman Lake stretching deep into an endlessly green mountain valley. It’s the true national park experience most of us spend our lives searching for. And it’s here, hidden in plain sight at the end of a long, dusty road.
I would have given anything for a kayak and one more day in the park. I had to settle for a vow to return very soon.