In an era when everyone has the entire world in their pocket in the form of a smartphone, it’s refreshing to hear that there are still some places where life is more quaint.
My mind was blown when I heard about the tiny community of Polebridge, Montana, just outside Glacier National Park. A town without traditional electricity? Totally off the grid? Where all power comes from generators? I must visit!
Located 22 miles from the Canadian border, Polebridge consists of a few houses, a cafe/saloon, a hostel/ranch, and the Polebridge Mercantile, the most famous place in the area.
Serving up its famed huckleberry bear claws and other pastries, the Polebridge Mercantile is something of a tourist hotspot, although because this side of the park is off the beaten path, it never really gets too crowded. Don’t pass up the chance to stop by here if you’re visiting the Glacier area.
How Polebridge gets its power
For years, Polebridge was powered by noisy diesel generators and a small solar energy system with 24 panels. Not long ago, 87 new solar panels were added, meaning that solar is now responsible for most of the energy in the town, except for the propane ovens that cook the bear claws.
And put away that phone while you’re in Polebridge, because there is no cell service or wifi. Enjoy the nature all around you instead.
The Polebridge Mercantile
The Mercantile itself was established by Bill Adair in 1914, only four years after Glacier became a national park. There’s a National Register of Historic Places marker outside the saloon explaining how Adair came to settle in the area.
Today, the Mercantile is open everyday, though hours are more limited in winter. The Polebridge Mercantile is typically closed for renovations and holidays from November to March. Don’t show up between those dates expecting to grab a fresh baked bear claw, because you’ll be out of luck!
The renowned bakery offers cookies and other baked goods, as well as basic pantry essentials, hats, water bottles, walking sticks, and tourist trinkets.
Of course, being so close to the border, they accept Canadian currency. Love that silly monopoly money!
To meet the demands of tourists, the Polebridge Mercantile hours change based on the month. During summer (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend), the Merc is open 7 am to 9 pm everyday. In April, May, and the fall, the Polebridge Mercantile hours are 9 am to 6 pm.
Other Polebridge Businesses
If you’re looking for a meal in Polebridge, or a stiff drink, you’ll end up at the Northern Lights Saloon. Open during the summer months, the saloon serves food and booze, including some liquors from the area. It also hosts live music and other events when the weather is nice.
Also in the surrounding area are the Polebridge Ranch and the North Fork Hostel. The Mercantile has its own cabins for rent if you care to stay overnight here. The refurbished rental cabins do not offer running water, so it’s rustic living all the way. As it should be!
Walking around the town, you may come across the Flathead River Interpretive Trail. The entire area offers awesome views of the mountains in the national park.
Staying at the North Fork Hostel
This past summer, I made a return visit to Polebridge and spent a night at the North Fork Hostel. It was a comfortable place to crash and, with its outdoor outhouse, it fit right in with the town’s old-fashioned vibe.
The hostel even has a teepee you can rent if you want to sleep outside (I went with a traditional dorm bed instead.)
I found Polebridge to be more bustling this time around than it was a few years back. I think perhaps the word is spreading that this is a cool place to check out. I grabbed a meal at the Northern Lights Saloon and listened to a live band perform before turning in for the night.
Glacier National Park access
Perhaps the best thing about Polebridge is that it provides access to a part of Glacier National Park that many tourists don’t visit. This side of the park has the coolest welcome sign:
If you follow the winding gravel roads through Polebridge and into Glacier, you can visit Bowman Lake, one of the most stunning parts of the national park. This northwest corner of the park is much less-visited than the crowded portions to the south and east.
You won’t get the full Glacier experience unless you take a detour from Going-to-the-Sun Road to make a stop in Polebridge. Along with Whitefish and Columbia Falls, Polebridge is one of the most interesting towns near Glacier National Park.
Stop by the Polebridge Mercantile bakery if you get the chance for sure!