Big Prairie Ski 2024

Crisp air, fresh snow and endless blue skies were the perfect excuse to head up to the North Fork area of Glacier National Park and ski up to Big Prairie for a lovely Valentine’s Day.

This past summer I drove up the Inside North Fork Road towards Kintla Lake to do a survey for Glacier’s Citizen Science program. As I drove up there, I forgot how beautiful the meadows were and thought, “Kristen and I really need to come up here and ski this in the winter.”

While we’d skied up to Bowman Lake last winter to the gorgeous views of the frozen lake, that ski is a lot of little ups and downs. We’re not the best cross-country skiers and navigating those “ups and downs” is a little sketchy, so when I saw the mostly level ski through the meadows, I knew I had to do it. A quick look at the forecast for Valentine’s Day sealed the deal.

As we left our house, our car told us it was about ten degrees outside which is at the low end of enjoyment when being outside. The further north we drove to Polebridge, the further the temps dropped. By the time we got to the Polebridge Ranger Station, it read five degrees… brrr!

We decided we’d give it a go and turn around whenever we had had too much.

A set of ski tracks in the snow ahead of us let us know that there was one person in front of us. The cold snow was light and fluffy with a crusty base, but overall, not too bad for skiing. We relish every sunny day and this one was top notch. The fresh snow glittered. Bowman Creek flowed over ice-covered rocks. We followed both the skiers tracks and a curious fox that trotted along the road with the occasional side excursion.

As we passed the turnoff for Bowman Lake, we saw the skier ahead of us follow that road, so we knew from here on out, the place was all ours.

An exciting element of fresh snow and the middle of winter is that you get to “see” more animals. While you don’t actually get to see many animals, you get to see that they were there in the last few hours which is super fun! As we approached a beaver pond, moose tracks in the snow let us know that they’d recently been there. There may have been three moose, but two for sure. Along the way we “saw” mice, deer, and squirrels.

Small finger-meadows broke through the forest and passed across the road opening up views towards the park and the majestic mountains of the Livingston Range. Across the North Fork Flathead River to the west rose the wooded mountains of the Whitefish Range.

Occasionally the trail came alongside the slushy river where chunks of ice flowed towards the Flathead Valley. We bounced between forests and meadows and passed patrol cabins, then homesteads. A sign for Big Prairie let us know that we were at the southern end of the aptly named meadow.

At first, it doesn’t appear to be a large meadow as a few stands of trees dot the landscape, but further up, it opens up to the broad grassland. As we came to one of the homesteads with an interpretive sign, a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers chatted back and forth. Feathers on the snow told the tale of a bird that became a meal. Loping tracks of a Wolverine put a tingle in the air.

A bit of jealousy creeped up as we saw a few of the inholdings and homes with windows facing the mountains. What a view! The ice/rock/snow of these mountains with a few clouds clinging to them were jaw dropping.

It was about noon when we looked at each other in the middle of the meadow and figured this would be just about as good a place as any to enjoy the warm soup in our packs, the sun on our face, and the epic landscape surrounding us. After lunch, we turned around and skied back, facing the sun as the temperature had warmed up to a lovely 25.

Meadows along Inside North Fork Road

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