Welcome to Polebridge, Montana, the Town Without Traditional Electricity

polebridge-mercantile

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.

polebridge-cafe-saloon

There’s no garbage pickup in Polebridge. 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.

There are more grizzly bears than permanent residents in this part of the country. It is one of the most remote places in the continental U.S., and that makes it appealing to folks who want to escape the chaos of city life.

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 used to create the mercantile’s baked goods.

polebridge-welcome-sign

The Polebridge Mercantile

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.

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.

polebridge mercantile

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.

polebridge-mercantile-interior
Lots of goodies at the Polebridge Mercantile bakery!

Of course, being so close to the border, they accept Canadian currency. Love that silly monopoly money!

accept-canadian-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.

The Merc has a landlide phone for emergency use, and it has a computer with internet access if someone really needs to connect for a couple minutes.

Stop by the Polebridge Mercantile bakery if you get the chance for sure!

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.

northern-lights-saloon

montana-spirits

polebridge mt outdoor-stage

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!

polebridge-cabins

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.

flathead-river-interpretive-trail

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Staying at the North Fork Hostel

This past summer, I made a return visit to Polebridge on a road trip from Chicago to Banff National Park. I 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, although I went with a traditional dorm bed instead.

north-fork-hostel-montana

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:

entering-glacier-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.

Some local residents are not pleased with all the attention the town has been getting lately. It’s understandable that folks would feel protective of their community. But in today’s world, it’s also inevitable that any place which is unique and different will be highlighted and shared on social media.

If you do visit Polebridge, be respectful of the community. Spend some money at the Merc, pack out your trash, don’t act like a spoiled tourist, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the North Fork area, because that’s a big part of what makes the town special.

14 thoughts on “Welcome to Polebridge, Montana, the Town Without Traditional Electricity”

  1. You don’t live there… you don’t have a right to promote a place others call home to the detriment to their community. There’s not much “leave a small footprint” in your style. You suck.

    1. This isn’t 1950. Places in today’s world that are cool or interesting are inevitably going to be discovered by everyone. You are entitled to believe that more visitors to Polebridge would be a detriment, but that is not the view of many in the community, nor is it the view of Montana State Tourism, which invited me to visit for the purpose of writing about the area.

  2. We stopped at Polebridge on our way to Kilita lake ( not sure if I spelled it right ). Great place to stop and relax for a few. Great pastries and nice things to look at.

  3. Been to Pole Bridge just once and it was not on the night they do pizza. Do they still do that? I have heard it is really good.

  4. We camped at Bowman Lake in 1961. We bought gas in Polebridge. It was hand pumped into a glass cylinder to measure the gallons. I’m sure that place is gone. I’d love to go back one more time.

    1. I hiked the most beautiful trail on Bowman lake after entering the park through Polebridge last fall. All of GNP is spectacular in October colors!

  5. What if I was looking to temporarily resettle and get my metalsmithing or writing done. No internet period?
    Welcoming locals? Build or rent a cabin?

  6. Thanks for telling the world I m a local I d like to keep it quiet we don’t need any more people to come and visit

  7. Been there 3 or 4 times. And each time they still won’t sell me the cement car on the porch….. So we buy goodies and head for Bowman!

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