BY CLINT WALKER
PHOTOS BY CLINT WALKER AND GRAVITY SHOTS
Sitting atop a beach blanket, our family assembled together tightly like human puzzle pieces. We are gathered here with dozens of other campers to watch the Fourth of July fireworks over the calm lake. In the distance Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” can be heard. The air is silent with the exception of small waves lapping on the shore. The scores of children heard laughing and frolicking on this once-chaotic are are now all tired and sun-washed, and look on anxiously as we all await another aerial display. Welcome to Lake Five – the place where time stood still.
For nearly 100 years, families from Montana, Canada and all across the country have been coming to Lake Five Resort to escape the trappings of the world and reconnect with their families and make new friends.
Originally operated under the name Retiro Cabins, the resort’s humble beginnings date back to 1915 when James H. Ridenour and his wife Oni Maude filed for a homestead along the shore of Lake Five. The couple built a modest log home from the woods to allow space for their farm and gardens. They continued to improve the settlement with a barn and other outbuildings and their garden produce soon commanded the attention of visitors to Glacier National Park. It wasn’t long before people began touring the immaculate gardens. Two families visiting regularly from Great Falls became infatuated with the Ridenour Gardens and tranquility of the pristine lake. Eventually the families petitioned the Ridenours of their interest to contract for summer lodging if accommodations were built. Jim obliged by building two additional cabins along the lakeshore and in 1922 Retiro Cabins was born.
Over the past 90-plus years the modest retreat expanded its cabin and campsite offerings that today includes a total of 12 cabins, three tipi sites, eight campsites and more than 40 RV sites and a general store. The enterprise has been passed down from generation to generation and today the great grandchildren of Jim and Maude still operate the resort with perhaps the biggest change being the name – now Lake Five Resort.
As with many lakes steeped in history, Lake Five holds its share of mystery. Perhaps the greatest mystery of all is found in its name. As the story goes, Lake Five originally got its name by early area settlers who thought that the lakes shape resembled the number 5. Of course, this was before flight and as time went by and pilots could peep an aerial view, they realized it didn’t resemble the number 5 at all. It doesn’t resemble the Roman numeral V and it’s not the fifth lake in the chain. The real reason for its name remains a mystery, which only adds to the quaintness of the tiny retreat.
Lake Five today represents not only a destination for the families that make the annual pilgrimage from near and far, but it also represents a testament to a family’s hard work and determination to avoid the lure of modern development, celebrating the simple things in life and sharing that experience with others.
Indeed for our young family, through Lake Five we have been fortunate to experience the magic of this special place. Where, packed into our tight camp, a group of strangers becomes a community of people. Where a simple trip to the General Store can lead to a discussion about tolerance, adaptation and a simple message that resonates as an invaluable life lesson.
If one is seeking to unplug from the world and reconnect with self or family, Lake Five is the place to do it.