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One of the most remote campgrounds that can be reached by car in Glacier National Park graces the shore of Kintla Lake. Beautiful Kintla Lake lies in the far northwest corner of the sprawling park, about 40 miles north of the park's west entrance and south of the Canadian border. When park brochures state that the lake can be reached by road, they usually add the caveat that access is by 16 miles of rough road; it will probably take an SUV with a higher clearance to reach the lake. For this reason the small campground is seldom full. Those reaching the end of the bumpy, narrow road are rewarded with views on the pristine 1700-acre lake surrounded by picturesque mountain peaks. Kintla Lake is the fourth-largest lake in Glacier National Park.
Kintla Lake is designated a 'no-motors' lake, so the solitude remains unbroken. Fishermen often arrive here with canoes or kayaks, prepared to fly-fish for the cutthroat trout the lake contains. Float-tube use is quickly ruled out as a viable long-term fishing solution, because the water remains very cold and soon becomes uncomfortable. A small wooden bridge crossing a brook also provides the perfect spot for fishing from shore. The lake also contains whitefish. Because there is low fishing pressure in this remote location, the trout and whitefish are eager to take the bait offered, making this a rewarding place for angling. Some hardy souls may try swimming in the lake, but the low water temperature quickly discourages most bathers. Instead, campers and day visitors are content to enjoy the views over the lake filtered through the many trees.
Kintla Lake Campground is not recommended for RVs or trailers due to the narrow, winding road required to access it. The camping area offers potable water from a hand pump during the summer season, and pit toilets are located nearby. The area around the lake has many short trails and is on the path of some long and strenuous trails used by those who enjoy overnight hikes. Because the area holds many black bears and grizzly bears, 'bear poles' for hoisting packs and foodstuffs out of their reach are located along all of the trails.
One of the more strenuous trails passing along the shore of Kintla Lake is the Boulder Pass Trail. This 20-mile trek leads to Boulder Pass and beyond, and requires camping overnight at Upper Kintla Lake in the small campground there. This hike requires considerable stamina as the trail climbs nearly 3500 feet in elevation. Beautiful but somewhat extreme, the Boulder Pass Trail is not for amateur hikers. Information regarding this trail and others in the area can be obtained from the Ranger Station in Polebridge, 16 miles down the road from the lake.
The tiny settlement of Polebridge serves as hub for the Polerbidge-Northfork region of Glacier National Park. From here, visitors may choose more accessible Bowman Lake where camping is available and numerous trails spider out in all directions. The tiny town of Polebridge has attracted a following among Glacier fans with the Polebridge Mercantile as its center. This historic little store offers a variety of excellent home-baked goodies featuring the native huckleberries that grow wild within the park. The huckleberry bearclaws are a real treat. The store also sells camping supplies. Next door, a small saloon and cafe offer meals and entertainment in the form of a 'porch band' on several occasions over the summer. Although not clear from most maps, Polebridge is actually outside of Glacier National Park on the west side and serves as an entry portal.
Polebridge also offers rustic cabin rentals, with other lodgings nearby. There are several bed-and-breakfasts and guest ranches in the area that serve those who would like a more substantial roof over their heads at night while they sight-see at Kintla and Bowman Lakes during the day. Two 'main' roads serve Polebridge: the Outside North Fork Road on the west side of the North Fork of the Flathead River and the Inside Northfork Road on the east. The Outside Road is a more modern road, maintained as an out-of-park road and a bit wider and smoother than the road leading to Kintla Lake.
The Outside North Fork Road leads through scenic meadows with lovely views of the Livingston Range, dotted with historic cabins and small ranch holdings. Horseback outfitters in the area can arrange for horseback rides into the back country and are often the best option for seeing wildlife. Moose, bear, deer, wolves and other animals can be seen. The Inside Northfork Road is more rustic and the only way to get to Bowman Lake, Quartz Creek Campground, and Logging Creek Campground. This is the narrow road that ends at Kintla Lake.
Because Kintla Lake is near the western edge of Glacier National Park, locations for downhill skiing and other winter sports can be located not far from Kintla Lake. The Inside Northfork Road may not be passable in winter, and the campground closes completely from November to May. The road, sometimes called Kintla Lake Road north of Polebridge, is listed as closed in winter. Other locations in Glacier are still accessible but services such as lodgings within the park are all closed for the winter. The trails and unplowed roads are still favorites for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The largest town of any size is Columbia Falls, about 50 miles from Kintla Lake. The Columbia Falls area and nearby Whitefish are popular areas for seasonal homes and vacation getaway cabins. Real estate in the area is often available, and a few properties may be found along Outside Northfork Road. Those with a true love of Glacier National Park and the rugged landscapes of the area are often eager to find real estate here where they can live at least part of the year. If you dream of snowy mountain ranges in the winter and trekking the backcountry for miles in summer, the area near Kintla Lake is for you. Come spend a week or two exploring the area and the trails. Wet a line in Kintla Lake and catch the wily cutthroat trout. Become one with the wilderness - but bring those modern conveniences such as binoculars, camera and a good pair of hiking boots.
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