In the warm air of the summer, a rough dirt road takes you to the sparkling shores of the bustling Bowman Lake. In the winter, however, the road is gated and only those on skis and snowshoes make it to the lake. The sparkle of the water is replaced by snow and the noise of the summer visitors is replaced by the quiet of the remoteness in the winter. On a chilly February Tuesday, Kristen and I headed out to a lake we enjoyed all to ourselves.
Cross-country skiing to Bowman Lake in the winter has been on our bucket list for a while. While there have been some amazing days of cross-country skiing in the area, many days have featured icy, crusty snow. The forecast called for some overnight snow followed by a clear day, and we had a free schedule so we woke up on Tuesday, February 14th and headed up to Polebridge.
Snow depths varied on the drive up getting to maybe 6 inches of new snow, but by the time we parked at the Polebridge Ranger Station, it appeared that the North Fork area got about an inch. That would be enough for skiing with no effort of “breaking trail”. We were excited to see no other cars parked and knew that we’d have the place all to ourselves. We put on our skis and headed through the gate, making a left to head north.
We cruised along the Inside North Fork Road, crossing over Bowman Creek that made occasional appearances through the ice that had formed and held snow on top. A short distance and we were turning right onto Bowman Lake Road and climbing up onto the bench. As we leveled out, we enjoyed the views looking south as well as west back out of the park to the North Fork area. Bowman Creek trickled below us as we worked our way up the road, sometimes coming right alongside the road.
As we bounced between lodgepole forest, burned areas, aspens, and dense spruce forests, we spied animal tracks of all kinds and had forest birds such as Ruffed Grouse and Red Crossbills paying us visits. We tried to figure out what had walked in the road that morning. The grouse tracks were easy to determine as were the tree squirrels. We were pretty sure we were following a fox that we never got to see. At one point, we came across the lower section of a deer leg that the fox was either carrying or was very curious about.
The further we went, the denser the forest got bringing us more chickadees and sunshine. We spooked a few whitetail deer and just enjoyed the exceptional day we were having. The road navigated the last few ridges before the lake, switchbacking around with some short climbs and descents before coming to the large meadow before the campground. I went over, took a few photos and continued on.
The trail leveled out and we passed the Bowman Lake Campground where the picnic tables had 18 inches of snow. An American Three-toed Woodpecker flicked off pieces of bark looking for overwintering insects. Her pecking, some chirping tree squirrels, and the wind blowing through the trees were the only sounds we heard as we glided to the shore of the lake.
While there was a breeze at the lake, thankfully it wasn’t a howling wind (which it certainly can be!). That being said, it was a cool lunch, but one we had all by ourselves. The lake appeared to be completely frozen over with an even layer of snow. The mountains, as majestic as always, glimmered as the sun broke free from the clouds.
After we ate, took some photos, and enjoyed the serenity, we hopped back on our skis and headed back to the car.