Glorious Bowman Lake and Surrounds

The remote northwest corner of Glacier National Park is a seldom visited, sparsely populated area with beautiful vistas and finger lakes that take your breath away. Today we are driving to Bowman Lake, the third largest lake in Glacier behind Lake McDonald and
St. Mary Lake respectively. We’ll be taking a walk along the northern shore. I have found, however, that the journey to the hike can be just as marvelous as the hike itself. I think you’ll agree today.


To start our journey, we will follow the North Fork of the Flathead River for about 13 miles to the small community of Polebridge. The majority of the trip will be on a packed dirt road so we will be taking our time. Looking southeast across the river we see the mountains we drove over yesterday.


Looking northeast we see the Livingston Range of the Rockies, our destination. Looks like a great day for a hike.


Once at Polebridge, we have about seven more miles to Bowman Lake, but the road gets a bit more challenging–always an adventure. I just can’t get over the beauty of the aspens and other smaller shrubs and ground cover. Peak color is usually mid-October, so this is an unexpected treat on Sept. 20.


We are driving along Bowman Creek, running from the lake to the Flathead River. We are getting closer to the mountains.


What a beautiful turn in the road!


Here’s a surprise! A Red Fox is leading us down the road. Well, I’m doing under 10mph, but let’s stay behind him/her a ways and see if we can get a closer, better picture.


She dodges into the woods on the left, walks the road again, dodges into the woods on the right, always looking back to check where we are and what we’re doing. Suddenly, as I “creep” up on her in the car, there she is. Hiding behind a stick–HA!


That was fun. She zigged and zagged, keeping her eye on us for about half an hour. One more stop along the creek before we start the last uphill climb to Bowman Lake. Here we look back towards where we just came.

We’ve arrived at the day parking, so let’s get our gear and head to the lake and the Bowman Lake Trail. Wow, that is one gorgeous sight!

Bowman Lake is seven miles long, about one-half mile wide, and at it’s deepest point reaches 253 feet. Turn left and we’ll find the trailhead.


Notice the sign saying we are in grizzly country. OK, we’ve got the bear spray, we have to keep talking, clapping, and generally making noise. Many issues between people and griz are about surprising them. So we have to make noise, which of course makes it difficult to see other animals, but safety first!


Speaking of surprises, this is a Wild Strawberry flower, and it is way past the season for strawberries. Must be nice warm spot to still be flowering.


Most plants are in their last fall shades as they spread their seeds for next spring. Very hard to identify plants in the fall. Flower books don’t typically show pictures of the seed pods, berries, or fluff that make up their last horrah for the season. This one, however, I always recognize. This is a rose hip, the seed pod for the beautiful Wood’s Rose, also called Prickly or Prairie Rose. The bush is covered with rose hips, as well as stickers, which stay on the plant all winter providing an important food source for some animals.

We’ve seen thimbleberries along other walks, but here the berries are gone and they are lighting the trail with brilliant yellows.


The trail turns toward the lake and we get a nice view. The color of the water is always stunning, especially with the yellow aspens along the bank.


Here’s a perfect example of a difficult plant to identify. This is a trailing vine, and I’ve seen it on many hikes in the lower mountains–Blue Clematis, also called Blue Virgin’s Bower. Lovely blue/purple flowers that resemble a small lavender-colored paper lantern. Here’s what we see in autumn.


There are still berries around, and here is a Bunchberry, a member of the Dogwood family. The June and July blooms are beautiful four-pedal white flowers that sit in the center of the leaves, where these berries now rest.


Ah, the amazing Western Larch (Larix occidentalis), also called Tamaracks in Montana. I don’t know the reason for this name switch, but true tamaracks are not native to any Northwestern states.

These tamaracks are a member of the pine family but are unique because they are deciduous conifers–evergreens that lose their needles each year. Beginning in mid October, they turn yellow, glowing bright because the needles reflect light. They stand bare all winter then come spring their soft, new needles emerge. For three or four weeks each spring the tamarack’s pale green needles make them stand out against the rest of the forest. These trees can reach 200 feet tall and stand absolutely straight.

Western Larch only live in the northwest corner of Montana, northern Idaho, and portions of the mountains in Oregon and Washington. The tallest tamarack in Montana is found about three hours south in Seeley Lake. It stands 153 feet tall, 22 feet around, and is estimated to be 1,000 years old. As with all pines, the mature larch will lose its lower branches leaving an expanse of clear trunk. Tamarack’s crown is a tall pyramid shape. However, unlike other pines as well as fir and spruce, the tamaracks grow deep roots letting them survive even small tornadoes.


Passing a few stretches with deep mud from all the rain yesterday, let’s hope the trail will continue dry and hard from here on. The colors are beautiful, but let’s take a closer look on the ground.


The Red Clover is pretty with all the small flowers blooming, but it is an invasive species. It is not native and typically is brought in on people’s shoes, clothes, gear, cars or from birds or animals playing host to the seeds from outlying areas. They are not taking over here though, so we will just enjoy them.


More berries. Well, it is that time of year. This is Kinnikinnick (say that three times fast) or Common Bearberry. As the name suggests, bears and other animals eat the berries of this shrub that produces extensive 10 foot long trailing stems. It looks more like ground cover than a shrub. The berries will remain on the plants all winter when other berries are gone, providing continual food for some animals.


This Western Mountain Ash has its berries as well, providing food for many birds and animals. It is a favorite of the Cedar Waxwings. This shrub can look more like a small tree, growing between 3 and 10 feet tall.


Yuck! The trail is getting muddier and narrower making it difficult to get around the deep mud. I already slipped once and got mud up my shoes almost in my shoes. Close call. Not sure this is going to be fun if it keeps up. We’ve walked quite a way, so let’s find a spot for lunch.


This forest is a wonder of moist, shady areas full of mosses, ferns, and mushrooms. I’d love to tell you what this mushroom is, but I don’t know. I just got a book on mushrooms because I’ve been intrigued by their shapes and sizes on many walks, but I’m struggling with identification. I think it might be Floccularia albolanaripes, but don’t hold me to it. They are interesting though, don’t you think? Not eating any–not that interesting.


We walked by a small trail that went to the lake’s edge, so let’s back up a bit and head left at that trail.


What a great spot! A place to sit and I can wash the mud off my shoes and pants. Beautiful crystal clear water. See all the argillite rocks? The red and green rocks are the obvious ones. As we have some lunch, let’s look closer at the mountains across the lake.


Zooming in of course, the first large mound we see is Rainbow Peak. Guess you can tell how it got its name. Its elevation is 9,891 feet, but it does stand above Bowman Lake more than one mile.


Thunderbird Mountain sits at an elevation of 8,800 feet with tell-tale snow from yesterday’s storms. There is a glacier on the back of Thunderbird and a resulting gorgeous lake, but that hike is at least 15 miles one way, so I’ll have to enjoy pictures taken by others for that trip. Maybe you can go on that hike and tell me how wonderful it was?


We have walked a little under three miles one way and it’s time to head back. We have to make it through the mud again, but the views continue to be wonderful and the sun is warm.

Back at the beginning of the lake we savor one more look. It’s time we head down the mountain and drive to Swan Lake where we’ll stay for the night. What a great walk; what a great day!


Until next time . . .

Oh, let me know when you’ll be doing that 30 mile hike too.wink



10 thoughts on “Glorious Bowman Lake and Surrounds

  1. Mindy Turner says:

    More beautiful scenery! Great pics. We didn’t have much rain this summer so our fall foliage isn’t supposed to be great this year.

    • Joy says:

      Thanks Mindy. We had hard freezes a few nights making the color pop, but it was a great surprise to have it happen so early in Glacier. I sure lucked out!

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