North Fork Lakes

Kintla Lake
General location: The extreme northwest section of the Park. The lake is 15 miles from the Polebridge Entrance on a dirt road. Plan on a 40-minute drive to the lake.
Maps: USGS Glacier National Park; Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, p.83 
Fishing conditions and species: bull trout, cutthroat, kokanee, lake trout, rainbow trout, and whitefish.
Special restrictions: No motorized boats are allowed on Kintla Lake. (Bowman Lake allows motorized boats with no more than 10 horsepower outboard motors.) Kintla Creek between Kintla Lake and Upper Kintla Lake is closed to fishing, as is Upper Kintla Lake.

Kintla Lake fishes better than Bowman Lake, offering bull trout, westslope cutthroats, lake trout and kokanee, as well as the ubiquitous mountain whitefish. The best fishing is from June through September. Hiking away from the campground provides better fishing. Upper Kintla Lake is closed to fishing, but hiking the Boulder Pass Trail to the Kintla Lake backcountry campsite provides good fishing for those hikers who want to get away from the vehicular hum and drum found at the outlet campground. Bring a lightweight pair of waders. Temperature readings can change quickly, and in most places you will need to wade out a distance to reach the deeper water and allow yourself some back casting room.

Glacier offers advanced reservations, if you want to make plans ahead of time. You may, however, go to the Backcountry Office in Apgar Village at the West Glacier Entrance and sign up for "first-come" walk-in permits, or you may reserve a backcountry site 24 hours in ad-vance for $20. The problem of dropping in and taking what is available is that it is almost impossible to plan a loop hike or even a sequential hike to the next logical stay. I had called ahead and found that the Bowman Campground at Bowman Lake rarely fills up, they had a corral for my donkey, and there was a good chance of getting a backcountry campsite at Lower Quartz Lake. Oh, the questions I should have asked while I had that Park employee on the phone....

Both lakes are reached following the North Fork Road out of Columbia Falls, or by taking the North Fork Road in the Park beginning at Fish Creek Camp-ground. The road outside the Park is considered the best choice, unless you are traveling to Logging Lake or want better access to the North Fork of the Flat-head. The road out of Columbia Falls is paved to the Camas Creek Entrance. From Camas Creek to the next Park entrance, Polebridge, is approximately 35 miles of potholes and washboard. Most of the land adjacent to the North Fork of the Flathead is posted, so wade fishers must be content with bridge crossings and the occasional National Forest access. One of the best primitive access points to the river is the Goal Banks, which is 5.8 miles north of the Camas Creek Park En-trance.

When I researched the North Fork area, I was pulling an old four-horse trailer that I had converted into an RV Donkey Trailer. For the first time in my life, I became concerned about driving on a bumpy road, as I am sure Buddy did as he sucked in the dust and braced himself at each jarring hole. When I pulled into Polebridge, a country store and a saloon, I stopped to ask for directions. When I got out of the truck, the trailer was draining 20 gallons of water out the door. My 20-gallon water tank had shifted, snapping a plastic water pipe. To add to the problem, I had part of Buddy's packsaddle on the counter top, and all the jostling had flicked the pump switch. Needless to say, I immediately remembered that I was going to brace and block the water tank. Alas, haste makes waste!

Bowman Lake, Akokala Lake and Quartz Lakes
The road from Polebridge to Bowman Lake Camp-ground is a six-mile, winding, narrow, bumpy road. Later I would learn that the literature describes the road as primitive. The Park's goal is to maintain a backcountry campground limited to small trailers and tents. The real reason, one of the volunteer Park rangers surmised, was budget restrictions. If you are pulling a small trailer, plan on a 30-minute drive from Polebridge to the campground. The road from Polebridge to Kintla Lake is 15 miles and it, too, is rough, particularly the last two miles, although the driving time is only 45 minutes. The views, however, make the driving worthwhile. A few years ago a bridge washed out on the Canadian side of the border, so the road from Kintla Lake no longer serves as an entry into Canada. Discussions about reconstruction and financing have yet to be resolved by the Canadian government.

Arriving at Bowman Lake, pulling my monstrous RV conversion, I met the Bowman Lake ranger. She walked me down to the corrals and told me I could camp at the corrals with Buddy, if I thought I could make the turns. Looking down at this cute, 23-year-old ranger with her blonde braids dangling down from her Smokey-the-Bear hat, I said, "No problem, Little Lady," in my best John Wayne drawl. "Why, there's no trail or road that I can't maneuver this rig."

Sacrificing two little fir trees, the first two sharp turns down the rutted and overgrown road were less than perfect. When I got to the corrals, I knew I was in trouble. The corrals were straight ahead. To the left a few feet away was the outlet creek. The "turn-around" had a stock ramp to the right. It was not a place for a 21-foot trailer. How could I have miscalculated? Backing out through two turns was a nightmare. Later, the pungent smell of a burned clutch lingered as I crawled into my bed, exhausted and shaken.

Bowman Lake
Although it provides a spectacular backdrop of glacial mountains, Bowman Lake offers only fair fishing at best. The best fishing opportunity is trolling from a boat or searching out deeper spots on the sides of the lake. Fishing is said to be good if you are willing to hike to the head of the lake, or camp at the designated backcountry campsite, Bowman Lake HD, a distance of 7.1 miles. The foot of the lake is very shallow. The outlet, Bowman Creek, offers decent fishing for 7- to 12-inch cutthroats.

Akokala Lake
Akokala Lake provides an-other fishing option and backcountry camping site. The trailhead begins right in the Bowman Lake Camp-ground. The steep 5.8-mile hike is often plagued with blow-downs, but the rang-ers clear them as soon as they can. The 23-acre lake provides good fishing for small cutthroats. The best fishing, however, may be found in the three Quartz Lakes above Bowman Lake.

Lower Quartz Lake
The next day Buddy and I headed up the trail to Lower Quartz Lake. The loop to all three lakes covers 12.7 miles. The trailhead begins just east of the picnic site on Bow-man Lake. Looking up the lake at the imposing Numa Peak to the west and Rainbow Peak to the east, Cerulean Ridge appears much less intimidating to hike. Crossing over the outlet bridge, the trail passes a ranger cabin about a half-mile from the campground. Shortly after the cabin, the trail forks. The trail to the right leads to Lower Quartz Lake, a distance of 3.6 miles. Taking the left fork leads the hiker up Cerulean Ridge through a heavily-forested trail towards the crest.

From the crest hikers may observe the natural reforestation after the 1988 Red Bench Fire. From the fork to Quartz Lake covers a distance of 6.6 miles, offering spectacular views. The backcountry Quartz Lake Campground offers glacial beauty and a small beach. From Quartz Lake Campground to Lower Quartz Campground is approximately three miles, passing by the smaller Middle Quartz Lake.
Taking the right fork to Lower Quartz Lake, a popular day hike, the trail climbs steadily up many switchbacks to Quartz Ridge, where hikers can see Quartz Lake, nestled at the base of Vulture Peak and Square Peak. The trail is quite steep, but it is shaded almost the entire length. Huffing and puffing up the mountainside, I was forced to take a breather when Buddy's pack slowly worked itself off to the side and then plopped on the ground.

While I was struggling to re-adjust everything, I heard the rhythmic synchronization of two hikers in locomotion. "Hey, bear!" the engineer shouted out. "Hey, bear," the fireman repeated three steps later. Two college girls steamed up the switchbacks with full packs, while Buddy and I marveled at their progress. When they were two switchbacks below me, I yelled out, "Just give me a second and I'll get out of your way. I'm almost finished," as I adjusted the sleeping bag riding on top of Buddy's sawbuck.

Not a wheel slipped in this locomotive, nor was there the slightest pause as the engineer's forearms shot out in a piston-like motion and the train steamed up the trail from one switchback to another. "Hey, bear," said the engineer, and exactly three paces later the fireman answered, "Hey, bear!" If someone above us looked down upon Buddy's twitching ears, they could have marked the locomotive's ascent. Rounding the switchback near us, the engineer frowned as she broke her cadence.
"Does he kick?" yelled out the engineer.
"No," I replied, and before I knew it, they had passed, forfeiting any opportunity to say hello, or where are you heading?
"Hey, bear!" shouted the engineer as they disappeared around the bend. I took hold of the lead rope, clicked my tongue (the command for go), looked at the switchbacks in front of me, and, like the little steam engine, said, "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can."

If you bring in stock, be sure to pack in your animal's food, as there are no spots to graze. Be cautious in crossing the small bridges over spring seepage; some of them are quite rotten. The area is thick with underbrush and trees right down to the water's edge. All of the backcountry sites have a hanging pole and an outhouse. Lower Quartz pro-vided a three-week-old sports section and the classifieds of the Missoulian for those whose daily constitution requires a more sedate regimen.

I fished the outlet creek first, which flushes a surprising volume of water from the lake down to the North Fork. Every fly fisher regales with nostalgia those stories of fish caught on every cast. I have added another such story to my 45 years of trout fishing. Unfortunately, nary a single fish measured over 5 inches! I fished 300 yards in beautiful water. If I didn't catch a fish on each cast, I flipped one across the riffle or missed one, sometimes two. It reminded me of my personal best day with a client, Sam Laurence, the founder of Budget Rental Cars. Sam caught 97 trout in one day floating the Bitterroot River with me as his guide. In those days my outfitter required his guides to keep a mechanical counter.

Of the 97 trout Sam caught that day, not one exceeded 9 inches, and most measured 5 to 7 inches. Guinness should have a record for most dinks in a day! That evening, however, I caught a number of fat cutthroats wading out in the lake. Although none of them were big, a number of them were around 12 inches.

After sipping hot chocolate the following morning, and watching the steam slowly rise and dissipate above the emerald reflection of Quartz Ridge, I re-adjusted my attitude after a night of painfully swollen knees. Buddy minded his manners and proudly crossed the outlet with nary a prodding, swearing or cajoling. With just a few months training, he packed like a veteran.

Inside North Fork Road
The road is primitive and poorly maintained. Pick up the road at Fish Creek Campground, which is just a couple of miles from the West Glacier Entrance. From Fish Creek Campground, Polebridge is 27 miles, Bowman Lake is 33 miles, and Kintla Lake is 43 miles. The speed limit is 20 mph, and you will find yourself rarely over that limit. It took me a full hour to reach Logging Lake Campground.
Camas Creek: 6.7 miles
Crossing: Camas Creek holds small cutthroats; however, one of the rangers I spoke with said that a half-mile upstream there are some large beaver ponds, which provide good fishing for larger cutthroats. From Anaconda Creek to Logging Lake is closed to hiking or entry as some gray wolves have set up a den and need isolation to raise their young.

Logging Lake: 18.6 miles
General location: Above the West Glacier Entrance on the Inside North Fork Road
Access: From the Logging Creek Ranger Station, take the Logging Lake trail 4.4 miles to the lake.
Maps: USGS Glacier National Park (ISBN 0-607-32671-9); Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, p.83
Fish species: bull trout, cutthroat, lake trout, and whitefish
Special restrictions: Logging Creek between Logging Lake and Grace Lake is closed to fishing.
Logging Lake offers fair fishing for cutthroats, but like most of the lakes in the North Fork drainage, fishing from the shore is difficult. Serious fly fishers will pack in a float tube to reach the deeper waters. From the trailhead to the lake is 4.4 miles. The first backcountry campsite is five miles. The hike is rated easy.

19.3 miles: Access to the North Fork of the Flathead River
20.5 miles: Quartz Creek Campground
21.1 miles: Winona Lake (Mud Lake)
The lake offers fair fishing for small cutthroats in a mos-quito-infested haven.
27 miles: Polebridge, Montana
Be sure to stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for freshly baked goodies!

By David Archer