Glacier was the third stop on our tour of the northern Rockies national parks. Like a lot of folks, our itinerary included the big three of Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone. We found it surprisingly easy to get time away from crowds here, despite arriving in peak season (early July). Actually, the only places where we really found a lot of people were at Apgar (near the park's southern end), and when we popped in at the classic old in-park hotels to see what we were missing by staying elsewhere.
Nonetheless, we thought it would be fun to head up to a really remote part of Glacier—but one still reachable by car! When the newlyweds on our raft trip said that Polebridge was also home to the world's greatest bakery, we knew we had our itinerary for the next day.
We headed up the Camas Road out of Apgar, which takes you out of the park on to the Outside North Fork Road. It begins as a decent gravel road, and actually turns paved halfway there. It generally parallels the North Fork of the Flathead River, which forms the western boundary of the parks (which is why the whole area is known as "North Fork"). It's a pleasant drive through the woods and meadows of Flathead National Forest, with a couple of nice views across the river.
About halfway between Apgar and Canada, there's a short spur to Polebridge. This small town mostly consists of Polebridge Mercantile, a bakery, store, campground, lodge, with a commune-like feeling, situated in a large meadow about a mile outside the park's western edge. If you want a cheap, bare-bones base for forays into Glacier's northwest backcountry, this is it. Somehow, the whole place gave me the feeling I was back in 1970 (in a pleasant way).
The bakery is as advertised—fantastic! The family that runs this place just dreams up interesting things to make: breads stuffed with cheeses and vegetables, gigantic cinnamon rolls, as well as the usual bakery fare. We ordered a few things for a quick lunch before driving to the Polebridge Ranger Station (size: 125 square feet or so), and back into Glacier for a little meadow hiking.
There's nice views of the Kintla mountains here. We hiked along the Covey Meadow Loop Trail, a level and short jaunt of a mile or two along a mostly open two-track that starts just south of the Ranger Station. We were, of course, the only people on the trails, and as we gazed across at the peaks, felt like we were the only folks in the whole darned park. That feeling alone was worth the trip.
All in all, our expedition to this remote outpost took about half a day. We tried stopping at Huckleberry Mountain Nature Trail on the way back, to join a ranger-led trip over a forested hillside that was badly burned in the 2003 fires. However, an entire family reunion showed up as well, and although they were a friendly bunch, we discovered that we hadn't yet lost our taste for solitude. So we said our goodbyes here to Glacier and headed south to Missoula. Polebridge was a great place to take our leave.
In addition to the Polebridge Mercantile, or "The Merc" (which is home to the bakery and offers lodging in cabins and a teepee located behind the store), Polebridge is also home to the North Fork Hostel and Square Peg Ranch, which operates the Northern Lights Saloon and Cafe.