Christie's Blog, Glacier

Story Behind the Listing: Lake Five Resort, West Glacier

Ron Ridenour has led a charmed life on the shore of a spring fed crystal clear Montana lake. For the past century, his family has operated the beloved Lake Five Resort in West Glacier. His grandparents originally named the business Retiro Cabins and it operated under that name for the first 44 years in operation. Now, the longtime owners of this legacy property are putting this business and land on the market hoping to attract a buyer who will love it as much as they do. Maybe, even for another hundred years.

Breathtaking views of Glacier National Park and the pristine waters of Lake Five combine for the perfect setting for your exclusive home in the woods on this 17+ acre hideaway. Just minutes to the west entrance of Glacier National Park, this property boasts over 1400+ lineal feet of waterfront on the south shore of Lake Five. It’s rare to have any parcel come to market along this highly desirable lake…take advantage of this exclusive opportunity. The elevation rises as you move from the lake to multiple potential building sites, providing endless options for new construction for the discerning buyer. This legacy property has been with the same family for over 100 years. They have hosted destination vacations, reunions, and weddings, as a place to get-away from the rest of the world! See the listing here.

Ridenour sat down with PureWest to recall the history of this property, and his connection to Lake Five.

I’ve had the best life because of this place. I wouldn’t trade with anybody. It’s been the funnest, the most interesting situation that I could imagine.

My grandparents came to Lake Five having filed on the land as a homestead in 1915. As they cleared and developed their necessary five acres for “proving up” the property, park visitors started showing up to purchase vegetables and flowers from my grandparent’s garden operation. A couple ladies from Great Falls, Montana—doctor’s wives—were staying in the park, on Lake McDonald and after picking their lettuce and potatoes, their strawberries and rhubarb, they walked down to the shore of Lake Five, and saw this pristine beauty. They said to my grandfather, “If you build us a couple cabins, we’ll rent them.” Off it went. That was 1920 or 1921, when the first cabin-dwellers came for my grandfather’s log cabins. As word got out and the demand increased he built more cabins, and then a campsite. In 1932 he built the head quarter’s building, a term used by the park service for their primary public structures. It’s still used as the office 87 years later. Some of the log cabins were built even earlier and are still in use.

Families would come with their kids, so my brother Mike and sisters Marlys and Karen, had built-in friends all summer. We would ride our bicycles and swim in the lake, waterski and roast marshmallows around campfires. When I was little the cabins had wood-burning cookstoves and hand pumps drawing water from sandpoints. The REA had serviced the area with electricity a couple decades before, so most cabins had already been equipped with a refrigerator instead of an icebox and had incandescent lighting. Running water came from the handpump and people in cabins or camping and the day use crowd used outdoor toilets situated conveniently, here and there. Most of these small structures, biffies, were two-holers and there was no privacy screen between those shaped holes. I wonder sometimes how often a dual event occurred—driven by necessity no doubt—those days were different times for sure. We kept upgrading. We started modernizing cabins with indoor plumbing and electric heat, kitchens with running water, a flush toilets and a shower instead of a hand pump and a dishpan, trying to make the place nicer.

When my mother retired after her 30-plus years of running the place with my father, Karen and I took over the operation. The overhead electrical system was becoming inadequate, so I trenched in almost a mile and a half of #4/0 AWG wire in two-inch conduit. With an electrified campground and RV’s parking where tents had been pitched, the business really took off. Like the two generations before me, I try to make things better while keeping the same homey feel. We like to say we’re kind of non-corporate in a corporate world. We accept checks from everywhere in North America.

Day use visitors had the place and beach access for free until the mid-60s, when we started charging a quarter for admission. Before that, my grandparents, for a while my aunt and uncle when they ran the business and then my mom and dad, were just hoping they could sell day use visitors on the beach a hamburger and a coke or a milkshake and a sack of potato chips. A lot of the locals brought their own picnic makings, had a day in the sun and a swim for free and often left their litter. When we started charging a quarter some of the locals were upset and wouldn’t pay for a swim. Others understood why treasure is not always free and gladly paid the fee.

Growing up at a family run resort, every kid in the family had to be involved. Our parents expected us to pitch in and help. Early on, I rented swimsuits to people. For a quarter, you got a bathing suit and a towel and a box with a number on the side for your clothes. A customer would take their box out to the shower house and change and bring the box back in the store where the box slipped into a shelving system. A guy or a gal would head to the beach for a swim and when their day at the lake was finished they would come back in for their box. I wish I still had a couple of those old bathing suits—they weren’t too form fitting, as I recall kind of baggy in the bottom, but fashionable enough for the day. Every suit had Retiro Cabins stamped somewhere in an obvious spot with water proof ink. When I was about 10 my father taught me to drive and my Mike and I were soon going around the camp in a ’51 Chevy hauling the trash. Two or three boys, sometimes a girl would come running or jump on when we went by their camp. You couldn’t have your 10-year-old driving around your resort these days.

My two primary rules for our guests are don’t litter and be nice. My right-hand helper and niece Lindsey and our crew don’t let the tiniest bit of litter accumulate. People come in and say, “This place is so clean!” We kind of expect our customers to pick it up too if they see it and a lot of them do. It’s their place and they get to be a part of it.

I love to swim. It’s the best exercise there is and I’ve never run across nicer water to swim in. Clear and warm—it warms up early—feels like velvet. If you get thirsty, you just take a drink. I’ve swam around Lake Five, I’ve swam across it, I’ve swam over to the island, more miles I figure then anybody in history and anybody who might come along. I try to wake up around 7 or 7:30 in the morning. I do a mountain bike ride with my dogs, so they get their exercise, and then I swim to the middle of the lake and back. The lake is spring fed and the well for the water system is drilled 75 feet into the same system of springs that feed the lake. Just like the days with handpumps in the cabins we don’t add a drop of chlorine and it passes every test. Cold and perfect.

Everyone who leaves, almost, says, “Ron, we had the best time,” and, “This is our favorite place we found for our reunion in over 20 years of having reunions all over America. We’re coming back, and we’re telling all our friends.” I don’t even advertise. We don’t need to.

It’s wonderful when guests realize and feel the harmony and the delightfulness of this place. It is so special that I didn’t know how to really put a price tag on it. How do you put a price tag on magic? That’s why I tried to put an unusual, kind of a magic number up for the price. 1400 feet of magic. Five 14’s.

If you’re interested in property outside of Glacier National Park, please call our experienced local agents, or browse our statewide listing map. Nearby, you’ll also find exquisite Whitefish Montana real estate, Bigfork real estate, Kalispell real estate, and Lakeside Montana real estate.

PHOTO: Lake Five Resort, 540 Belton Stage Road, West Glacier. For more information, contact Barb Riley at (406) 253-7729 or barb@purewestmt.com.

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