Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

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Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby KatiS » Mon Jul 31, 2017 2:36 pm

I've read numerous references to rental car companies generally prohibiting their customers from taking the car on the road from Polebridge to Bowman Lake. I've also read numerous forum posts about people visiting Bowman Lake, so logic would dictate that at least some visitors *are* driving a rental car up there. I'm a little risk-averse to blatantly disregard a rental agreement prohibition, but also really attached to the idea of spending some time at Bowman during my trip in August (and especially the chance to paddleboard on the lake).

I've thought about contacting the rental car location for their advice, but I don't particularly want to signal in advance an intent to drive to Bowman if that's what I end up deciding to do. Are there any workarounds/options for getting to Bowman that I'm missing, here? Do rental companies allow it under certain circumstances? Or do out-of-towners visiting Bowman just take the chance, go rogue, and cross their fingers that nothing bad will happen to the rental car during the drive?
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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby brindledog » Mon Jul 31, 2017 7:05 pm

I have never been advised not to drive from Polebridge to Bowman Lake in years of renting cars. However, my last few rentals have originated in Bozeman, and maybe they don't think of that road.

We have driven the road. It is narrow and winding and, as I recall, there is a lot of brush/roadside growth. You have to be careful and take things slow, but most folks share your trepidation and will be driving cautiously coming from the other direction.
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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby daveparker » Tue Aug 01, 2017 10:12 am

Most rental car companies have rules against taking their cars off road, in other words off the pavement, which can be difficult in this area, we have a lot of non paved roads, most of the North Fork is not paved. If you are careful and pay attention to what you are doing, you are not going to damage a car, but when you get reckless or drive to fast on some of the roads around here bad things can and do happen.

I am not telling you to do it or not, but if you do, I would make sure your auto policy has coverage, or buy the loss damage insurance from the rental company, just in case something does happen.
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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby Jay w » Tue Aug 01, 2017 11:13 am

The road north of Polebridge (when I've driven it) has ridiculous wash board. The road from the ranger station to Bowman...well, I'm glad we've had a Subaru with all-wheel drive. It has a fairly steep climb with pot holes and wash board. This is not an Iowa gravel road. Even the "flatish" section into the campground has some big water filled pot holes. On the other hand, I got an Outback with two broken lugs (on one wheel) in and out of there, and plenty of people drive "regular" cars in there. So it's doable. It helps if you're not in a hurry.

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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby wnysteve » Tue Aug 01, 2017 12:14 pm

Back in the day when I would have to fly out to Glacier, I would rent a passenger car and routinely drive the Inside North Fork Road. I don't honestly recall if there was a contract prohibition on doing that or not, but I tended to not read those agreements carefully. Anyway, I never had any trouble or damage to a rented car.

Trouble began when I started taking my own vehicle out. It was a van, and it was loaded down with supplies and equipment. My first time driving it on the OUTSIDE North Fork Road, the road was so washboardy that I damaged the ball joints and had to replace them. Another time, I blew out a tire on the road up to Kintla. I later realized that I should have upgraded the tires to Light Truck grade to allow for the heavy load I was carrying. Anyway, that tire exploded in a grand finale (Pete: remember seeing that tire up at Kintla that year?)

Another time I returned from a backcountry trip to where the van was parked at the Boulder Pass Backcountry lot at Bowman. Several cars next to mine were covered in tar. It seems that an asphalt truck had tried to turn around there and started tipping. My van was just out of the line of fire. That had nothing to do with the road-worthiness of the vehicle; it just demonstrates that "Things Happen".

I think the advice to go for it and purchase the damage insurance that the agency offers (or if your credit card company provides coverage) is what I would do.
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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby dpratt » Tue Aug 01, 2017 12:33 pm

I've only driven a rental to Bowman once. That was in June of 1997 so the info is quite dated. It was a sloppy spring and we trashed that poor car. No issues returning it.

More currently, just a few years ago I rented cars on several occasions while house hunting. While I never drove them to Bowman, I did drive them up the North Fork and a plethora of other bumpy gravel roads (including the one I now live on). It was never a problem and I never saw anything spelled out on the contract stating gravel roads were a no-no. That kind of policy would be difficult to enforce in Montana given that there are arguably more miles of gravel than paved roads. Bowman and Kintla get a lot of attention because they are in the park, but there are roads in much worse condition in the area that are open to the public.

I believe my rental contract stated "no off-road driving" as Dave mentions, but a gravel road is still a road. Some of them may push the limit on that, but that is subjective. As I've adjusted to rural Montana living, my opinion of a good road has changed considerably. :wink:
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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby daveparker » Tue Aug 01, 2017 5:54 pm

dpratt wrote:
I believe my rental contract stated "no off-road driving" as Dave mentions, but a gravel road is still a road. Some of them may push the limit on that, but that is subjective. As I've adjusted to rural Montana living, my opinion of a good road has changed considerably. :wink:


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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby PeteE » Tue Aug 01, 2017 6:45 pm

wnysteve wrote:...Anyway, that tire exploded in a grand finale (Pete: remember seeing that tire up at Kintla that year?)....


Hey Steve!
Yeah!! :)
Now that you mention it, I do remember. Y'all were camping out at Kintla Lake.
What I don't remember was why I was out there that day! LOLOL!

Remember the Angelwing hike with Toddnick, Kathy and the "Spanish Guy"?
Y'all need to come again, but don't come till after Labor Day.
The place is crazy right now.

pete :wink:

PS

KatiS

I see lots of rentals out at Bowman and Kintla. Do be careful. Drive slow.
Be especially watchful for oncoming traffic on the blind turns and up/down parts of the road.
If you can go really early in the AM(0600-ish), all the better to avoid traffic.
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Re: Bowman Lake in a rental car--options/workarounds?

Postby wnysteve » Wed Aug 02, 2017 9:34 am

PeteE wrote:Hey Steve!
Yeah!! :)
Now that you mention it, I do remember. Y'all were camping out at Kintla Lake.
What I don't remember was why I was out there that day! LOLOL!



You drove out from Whitefish all the way to Kintla to tell us that you would be unable to meet us for the Kishenehn hike the next day. Sallye and I thought that was a really class thing to do.
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