Off The Grid: Friends become neighbors in the foothills of Glacier National Park

By Dr. Leah Carlburg

Our new home, cloaked in Glacier National Park’s vast wilderness and not-of-this-world scenery, has no electrical power, internet, or running water.

How did we get here? In 2020, pre-pandemic, my husband and I looked at each other and asked, “What is valuable?”

We knew remote playtime – a place where there are no distractions from togetherness, family bonding, and you don’t have to fight the digital device battle with the kids several times a day – went a long way in answering that question.

The answer to our value question put us on the path to finding a remote piece of property to camp or park an RV on. In our quest, my hopes were elevated and dashed several times. My Glacier Sotheby’s Realtor – Carrie – knows this about me – I’m very emotional about real estate. I get my hopes up and then get heartbroken when it doesn’t work out.

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The disappointment had me wondering if we should just revert to our days of tailgate camping – or better yet – backpack camping. I loved those multi-day backcountry trips, living on freeze-dried food and rolling up and unrolling all of our gear twice a day. However, when I romanticize those days, I remember I have two young children who are a few years away from appreciating that level of outdoor adventure.

At about the precise moment I was telling myself I couldn’t take the ups and downs of this quest for a piece of land, we were shown a listing for a piece of property waaaaaay up the North Fork, on the Flathead River.

On a blustery early March day, we drove 50-ish miles on a rutted dirt road, six miles from the Canadian border. When we arrived, we found our answer to “What is valuable?” It was love at first sight – a small piece of land, a mile (as the crow flies) across the river to Glacier National Park.

Our personal paradise is surrounded by a patchwork of big private land pieces and bigger public land pieces. We can see a slice of the majestic Livingston Range in Glacier National Park on a clear day. To the north, we can see peaks in Canada. The mountains are interrupted by the pass that leads to Kintla Lake, deep in Glacier National Park. It was just what we had been looking for – scratch that – It was more than we had been looking for. We made an offer, and our friends made an offer on the piece next door. Just like that, we were landowners – and neighbors to our dear friends.

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We intended to camp on our new slice of Heaven for a few years, but a trip to an Amish school fundraiser and auction changed all that.  I had dreamed of having a  tiny house for several years and, well, you know, auctions are exciting! So when a 240-square-foot unfinished cabin went on the auction block, we bid on it and got it!

Since finding our remote land and our tiny home two years ago, we have finished our cabin’s interior and are now working on a bathhouse.

So what is valuable?

We have spent frozen winter days skiing, and the kids have built an entire city of snow forts.

We have spent cozy winter afternoons napping and reading and playing cribbage.

We have spent long summer nights around the campfire and rolling into the cabin, exhausted after a day on the river.

The children disappeared one summer afternoon and returned only long enough to ask us if they could use a hammer, nails, and a hand saw. Later that evening, they came to us, tired and dirty but proud, and revealed Fort Kintla – a surprisingly sturdy structure tall enough to stand up in comfortably.

We have shared our space – well, our outdoor space – with friends and family and forged even stronger bonds with our old friends, who are our new neighbors.

For us, we have answered the question, “What is valuable?” Time and people and being wholly present with those people. Quiet is valuable. Simplicity is valuable. Work and progress and rest and adventure are valuable. We have found all of those things in our little piece of land.

Images via Hope Kaufman Photography

This is an excerpt from the recently released LIVE Montana. Pick up a copy at any Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty location or enjoy the digital version here: