The date was New Year’s Eve, 1880, when Thomas Edison’s first electric street lamps illuminated the sidewalks of Menlo Park, New Jersey. Flash forward more than 100 years and well, Edison would be surprised to see the many ways electricity is created and used in the 21st century. From our refrigerators to our radios, electricity powers all our lives, minus those in the outpost community of Polebridge, Montana. While most of America generates power via natural gas, oil and fossil fuels, this small mountain town supports local businesses on a few simple generators.

Photo courtesy of Graham Styles via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Graham Styles via Flickr

“So,” you may be asking yourself, “what’s the appeal? Why visit or live somewhere without man’s common inventions like WIFI and toaster ovens?” The answer:  Because more than 90% of adult Americans own a cell phone, that’s why. That’s millions of people updating profile photos, watching TV, or Halloween costume shopping for Sparky on Amazon.com. Once you find yourself in Polebridge with zero cell service, your only option is to surrender to the wilderness that surrounds you. Press “disable notifications” on your phone, get out of your car, and begin connecting with the world from the other side of your windshield.

Located about 20 miles from Canada, a mile from Glacier National Park, and three hours north of Whitefish Range, Polebridge is a town of fewer than 50 people. They are tough, self-sufficient, and totally cool with mail arriving only twice a month. Polebridge residents reside in rustic cabins on dirt roads, some without running water! If they need supplies, human interaction, or a huckleberry bear claw, they pop into the local Polebridge Mercantile or the Northern Lights Saloon—both powered by generators.

 

 

Minus the propane that bakes the breads and pastries, the Mercantile leans lightly on the support of some solar panels and batteries to keep the lights on. Especially when they start rolling out pastry dough at 4:00AM! The entire town seems to be frozen in 1914, the date Polebridge Mercantile was established. (Only four years after Glacier Park was named a national park back in 1910!) The Mercantile has also been declared a National Register of Historic Places.

Photo courtesy of anniemullinsuk via Flickr
Photo courtesy of anniemullinsuk via Flickr

While some may consider these electric methods unreliable or unacceptable, more businesses like Polebridge Ranch and the North Fork Hostel remain booked and bustling with explorers looking to fully experience a rustic way of living and discovering a new-found respect for the sun. Polebridge is proving that you can still live well without damaging nature by digging holes for power line posts.

Photo courtesy of Meadowview via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Meadowview via Flickr

There’s no challenge that awaits you in Polebridge, but rather the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with nature and your human instinct to explore new territory. Just remember, take a right at the hand painted, wooden exit sign, and continue down the dirt road for about 30 miles until you see the red paneling of the Mercantile. Pack a rechargeable flashlight and leave your 4G hotspot at home. There’s no daylight to waste!

Photo courtesy of b-duss via Flickr
Photo courtesy of b-duss via Flickr

Does an electricity-free community sound like your kind of adventure? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Whether you’re in front of a rustic fireplace or spending the weekend in the Montana wilderness, our Antique Archaeology enamel camp mug is a must-have!

slide-camp-mugs

48 Comments

48 thoughts on “Polebridge, Montana: The No Power Mountain Town”

  1. Jeanette Fallon

    Families work together and play together. Communication with each other is essential. The members of the family really get to know each other.

    Reality- This would be difficult for anyone after living with all these electrical distractions. Don’t you ever notice when going out how often everyone is looking at their phones and not each other?

    We could start an electrical device revolution and try an experimrnt. Try not using phone when you get home at night after work. Keep tv off. Talk to your kids, your spouse. I think the world would be a better place.

    1. Joseph Householder

      I agree Jeanette. I wouldn’t mind just having a land line and answering machine again. The money I could save not paying those high cell bills. I think the Barter system would be a nice change of pace.

  2. Eunice Saloman

    Hi
    Thank you so much for sharing ,if I was younger this would be the place to be. Just watching the video slows your mind down
    Brings to mind good memories of growing up in the Catskills.

    Thank you
    Eunice

  3. mike watson

    I grew up in the 50’s and 600 in northern mississippi. About 20 miles west of tupelo, and about 12 miles outside our local town on a gravel road. For the longest time, I can remember, we had no water or electric. We hauled water in the house via a 2 gallon bucket. Even more when it was bath time, to be heated on a wood stove. The only electric I remember till I was in 4th grade, was at the school. We never had no freezer. All our meats hung cured in the smokehouse. Great time.

  4. Kurt Warner

    I lived in a cabin in Summit County Co. for many years. No electricity, no running water other than the stream outside. Propane lights and refrigerator for the summer months. Over time developed a gravity feed water system to a jacketed wood stove for warm showers.
    The quality of life was incredible! I miss it and would be willing to do it all over again.
    The residents of Polebridge understand and live a quality way of life away from the rat race.

  5. Valerie

    I always wanted a log cabin /life. But a grand Earth-lodge may be warmer there. (love those!). That place looks refreshing and may get overwhelmed with land seekers. Dont spoil that place….please.

  6. Dave B

    Happened across Polebridge while visiting Glacier National back in 2011. The whole family enjoyed the stop and the Mercantile Store – especially the delicious backed goods!

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      That had to the best family vacation ever….(and we know you meant “baked” Dave. Not a problem. We all do some silly stuff when we start thinking about bread and sugar…)

  7. Ivan Ricci

    Would love to wake up there and get busy living! Seems like here I’m getting busy dying. I think I got 5 pounds of undigested red meat in my bowels. I gotta eat straight from the ground. Wish I could buy me something small over there and plant myself a little garden and live life the way they used to.

  8. Nancy Bode

    I would love to spend at least a year there learning how the residents live. They know all the things that our great-grandparents knew about how to live without plumbing, electricity, refrigeration, and so forth. I am totally fascinated by that. I agree with David – Polebridge looks like a little piece of heaven.

  9. Susan

    Most certainly would be a piece of heaven on earth for me . Am so tired of the shallowness permeating our culture today.
    Give me the peace and quiet and of course oodles of books :)

  10. Lisa Ensign

    Too bad health issues keep my husband and me “civilization” bound. This sound like the perfect place to put down roots. If only we had done so when young and healthy and the kids still at home!!!!!!!!!! We cut out what we could by homeschooling them and teaching them about respecting our world………I do wish we had taken that last step and just walked away from it all. Hindsight. Thank you for sharing this wonderful little paradise if only to fill my mind with what could have been.

    Lisa Ensign
    Alabama

  11. Loretta Bloodworth

    What a wonderful step back in time, so far removed from the hustle and bustle of Nashville,TN where I live. We all need more serenity in our lives today…

  12. Geri McMurdie

    What?? No Facebook filled with political crap, No endless political ads on TV, No TV commercials that are longer than the actual show you are trying to watch, No piles of junk mail delivered everyday??? Yummm, sounds like heaven!! Can you imagine the stars in the night sky??

  13. Joseph Householder

    I would have to agree with David. I’ve always wanted to live in a small town it just didn’t work out that way. It’s unfortunate that the rural areas we
    try to live in keep growing. I’m not a fan of population and living in Puyallup, Wa it’s become far to crowded. I’ve got some property near the Canadian border myself in a similar kind of area just waiting for the right time to make the move. I will have to make the time to visit Polebridge. Along with see some awesome scenery.

    1. Lainsie

      dont wait too long. the times are getting more difficult to even think of this lifestyle. If you have land near the canadian border, consider yourself blest. Just make sure you have access to a nearby medical facility within reason in case of emergencies. go for it! Don’t wait!

  14. John

    I have been to Glacier park a few times and Whitefish, Kalispell. I like the area and I do not mind the off grid life. I could set up my own solar system, but I do have a lot of big machines that would require a large system. Cell phones do not work where I live here in CA so that is not a problem. That area is beautiful.

  15. R Wellborn

    If only we could preserve this lifestyle and at least live more simply. A life like Polebridge sounds so attractive to me. Whether I could live it or not, I’m not sure… but it sounds so good to me. As a kid, I would stay with my Gramma, who lived a pretty austere life like this one. She had electricity but no hot water, heated her home with a wood stove, and cooked on a kerosene stove, for which we had to walk to the nearest store with cans that had to be refilled. During the day we walked in her woods, tended her garden, and at night we played Bingo or Monopoly and ate popcorn. We made our own rock candy, and there was no TV. Best. Life. Ever.

  16. Bambi Gibson

    In September I was in your store and bought a lot of things and was promise 2 photos I was in the store September 11. And I had to go to the post office and get a self address Envelope And Postage paid. Someone said when they get back they will send it out to me. Well I never receive any Photos of Mike
    I’ve been home now over a month and never got anything. Your Friends And Fans Bambi and Mark Gibson

  17. Catherine Eichelsdoerfer

    This summer we were on a 3 month road trip in the rv. Stop in Iowa to visit the store and then continue on to the west. Visited Polebridge and yes had the bear claw and few other baked goods. Continue on the dirt road (thank god we had a jeep) for about 4 miles and you come to Bowman Lake. You feel like you are the first person to discover it. Another must see in that area.

  18. Zerlinda Tar

    We went to Polebridge in June 2014 while on a road trip to Montana. I didn’t realize that their power was from generators and solar. It was a very peaceful place. I could have spent hours there. We sat down on some benches between the store and the bar. The bar wasn’t open yet but it was fun to see some of their signs and other decorations. There were some hula hoops there for whoever wanted to hoop for a while. If you ever get to go you MUST visit the open air restroom. There are great decorations on the walls. I took several photos in there.

  19. Nancy Bode

    I would love to live there for a year and learn everything I could from them. Actually, I would just love to live there, period! I’m definitely putting this town on my Places To See list.

  20. Thom

    Five fellows went fishing and exploring in Polebridge last year! We had a great time! Being off the grid was relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. We stayed about an hour from the Mercantile, in the wilderness! Highly recommend a visit to this part of Montana. Don’t forget to stop at Home Ranch Bottoms for some great food and entertainment, mountain style!

  21. Ric

    The Forth of July is a fun time to visit. The parade goes back and forth on the “street”, more people joining in all the time. Fun and beautiful place to spend time. Remember, it is the home of grizzly bears, so don’t think it’s Disneyland. Also, if you want to move to this area, you can’t eat the scenery. Tough place to make a living.

  22. Jennifer Dombrowski

    Polebridge is my favorite place on earth (that I have been to so far and I’ve traveled as far as Africa) my parents own a resort in West Glacier since 2001 so I’ve been visiting Polebridge since then. My very first visit I video taped because I couldn’t believe where I was! It just makes you feel as one big family when you are there. You sit at the picnic tables and you visit with people from all over the world (while eating a huckleberry bear claw) but yet you feel like you are enjoying lunch with old friends and family. My dream is to one day own Polebridge and continue its legacy! When I think of heaven on earth Polebridge is what I imagine!

  23. Travis

    I love it! My wife and I decided, at the age of 30, that our retirement goal is to live on the North Fork. I want to be able to take morning bike rides to the Merch and have huckleberry bear claws for breakfast and enjoy a fine PBR at the saloon for dinner! Since then we’ve moved from Milwaukee to Philly but it puts us closer to our long term goal.

  24. Heather

    It was wonderful to raise my boys in this town. Polebridge has gone the way of technology, now. Although, the majority power is provided by solar. You will find all the modern conveniences in the area, now. Including wifi. People are glued to their devices and media here, just like anywhere else, these days. Sometimes more, I found. As there is far less opportunity for social outlets. Also, being outside of Glacier Park, this little outpost attracts 1,000’s of visitors a day during peak seasons. Only north of the area can one find the peace and quiet that once used to prevail. In addition, being just shy of the Canadian border, this town and the surrounding area is ripe with law enforcement and intense monitoring from many overlapping jurisdictions. Unlike the years prior to the two most recent owners, the Mercantile and the Saloon are completely closed to the public the majority of the winter season and focus their efforts on being a tourist destination, now. Breathtakingly beautiful, anytime of year, to be sure.

    1. Bambi Gibson

      Happy New Year to all of you Danny D Luaren
      Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz.We are still your Friends
      And Fans Always Bambi and Mark Gibson
      Also I have 2 Star Wars Doll of Princess Leia For
      Sale and never been out of the Box

    2. Tammy

      I’m saddened to hear of all the changes. I visited Polebridge in tbe mid-90s and thought it was heaven on earth. I’ve always wanted to return for a visit.

  25. Lainsie

    An observation: The winter must be very cold. I live on a mountain in the Adirondacks, and use about 6 or 7 cords of wood per winter. Where do the people get that amount of wood to keep warm, as I know your winters have got to be harsher than mine. Eventually you’ll run out of trees on your own property. Just wondering?

  26. Dave Hochstetler

    We found Polebridge on our visit to Glacier in ’10. On the trip we saw, bald eagles, black bears and a grizzly crossed the road in front of the car. The mud was grimmy and the place was like the Old West.

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