July 5 – 10, 2016: Next stop: Glacier National Park.
FUN FACT: Glacier National Park is ½ of the world’s first International Peace Park. In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada was combined with Glacier National Park to form Waterton Glacier International Peace Park. This park is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and biosphere reserve.
We entered via the West Glacier entrance in Flathead National Forest, strolled around glacier carved Lake McDonald, and spent the first night at Fish Creek campground.
With the recent media attention on bear attacks near Glacier National Park, I have to admit to being quite skittish; increasingly so after our campground host shared a tale of a man woken in our very campsite by a grizzly nudging his hammock. However, not much to be done other than follow precautions: we carry bear spray and remain alert.
Our second day in Glacier was rainy so we spent much of the day driving instead of hiking. We drove the Going to the Sun Road as far as the well-known switchback point The Loop before turning back to our Avalanche campsite. We later realized that the weather wouldn’t be changing anytime soon; much of our time in Glacier was in dreary, overcast weather.
Unfortunately Michael threw out his back on our third day. He must have been in a lot of pain but somehow still forced himself to join me on the Avalanche Lake hike (2.3 miles one-way; 500 feet elevation gain). We walked to the trailhead from our campsite (parking is a limited in the high season so walk or take the shuttle and save the environment whenever possible) and enjoyed the varied scenery on the hike. The trail winds through a mossy forest (a scene I adore; like the Fern Canyon hike in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, California), past a lovely creek, and terminates at a glacier formed lake. Behind the lake are beautiful mountains: they are snow-capped and complete with multiple waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside.
We spent the rest of the day revisiting the Going to the Sun Road and drove it in its entirety. We stopped at pull-outs and the Logan Pass Visitor Center, walked a short path at Sunrift Gorge, photographed the iconic tiny Wild Goose Island, and unexpectedly got up close and personal with mountain goats at Logan Pass and Oberlin boardwalk.
NOTE: Stay 25 yards away from mountain goats to avoid being rushed by the goats!
Our fourth day covered ground from our Avalanche campsite to the east entrance in Saint Mary (we planned to stay in a campground outside the park with hookups and showers). We stopped at the Logan Pass Visitor Center again but, rather than going inside, we traversed a short portion of the Highline Trail which crosses nearby. The trail provides access to Hidden Lake on one end and Granite Peak Chalet on the other end. We headed towards Granite Peak Chalet, walking a section of the trail that hugs the cliff above the road and has cables attached to the rock face to grasp for balance. The trail had recently been closed due to a rock fall in this section and rangers were still working to chiseling the boulders and clear the debris. Talk about hard work!
The next stop was a bit beyond the Saint Mary Falls parking area. Here we hiked to Saint Mary Falls (1.2 miles, drops 260 feet) and beyond to Virginia Falls (0.6 miles further, gains 285 feet) before turning back. The hike starts out descending through a field of beautiful wildflowers that are a stark contrast to the burnt forest they sit within. I found this portion really beautiful and unique. Saint Mary Falls has gorgeous turquoise water but keep going – you’ll walk through a more forested/bush area, pass a series of cascades over red, yellow, and green rocks, and eventually will reach another falls with a larger drop (Virginia Falls). This is also picturesque and worth the additional hike.
Whilst driving the remainder of the Going to the Sun Road we spotted a grizzly! It was foraging around on the hillside next to the road. Wouldn’t want to meet him on a trail but it was cool to see one while we were safe and sound.
We re-entered Glacier National Park on day five via the Many Glacier entrance. This entrance provides access to a separate section of the park containing a nine mile road, hotel, inn, campground, and many hikes. We had planned on taking in the sights in this section of the park and then departing the Glacier National Park area. However, we hadn’t anticipated that the campground would have one available site as it’s typically full all season long! So we decided to extend our stay and quickly nabbed the campsite.
This afforded us the opportunity to do a longer, amazing hike. There were two hikes we had our eye on: Grinnel Glacier (5.3 miles one-way, gains 1600 feet; shortened to 3.6 miles one-way when using the boat from Many Glacier Hotel) and Iceberg Lake (4.8 miles one-way, gains 1200 feet). Given the state of Michaels’ back (still thrown out and painful) we decided on the Grinnel Glacier hike with use of the boat. However, we soon found that only the first two miles of the trail were passable and travel was not recommended beyond that point due to the snow. This, coupled with the rainy weather, deterred us. We headed over to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn to check out the store and decide upon our next move. When we exited the store the sun was out!
Reinvigorated, we decided to start on the Iceberg Ptarmigan Trailhead near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. This trailhead will take you to Ptarmigan Falls after 2.7 miles and 700 feet elevation gain. It is also the starting point for the Iceberg Lake hike. We figured we’d go to the falls and see how Michael was feeling. The hike is in major grizzly country so bear spray, talking, and loud clapping is a must.
The hike to the falls was pretty with steeper sections upfront followed by a walk through wild flowers and forest. The falls themselves were pretty as well; very clear water with beautiful colored rocks. All along the hike, not just in the waterfall, are these beautiful rocks of green/blue and red hues. Once we reached the falls we decided to continue. Onward we trekked. Again we went through meadows and forests but we now also had amazing views of the mountains and the hanging valley (to which we seemed to be headed). It had started to drizzle but nothing too bad.
Then, after passing some scary grizzly claw marks on a tree, we arrived at Iceberg Lake. The lake is located in a hanging valley, surrounded by mountains, and does indeed have icebergs! Even the photos don’t do it justice. The setting is simply magical.
After admiring the views, just as we started to head back, the rain came pouring down. Every so often there was a break in the rain – the sun shone through the clouds and illuminated the mountains. Magic.
We woke the next morning, after a beautiful night, to clear skies and sunshine.
Not yet ready to leave, we headed back to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn for a short hike. We hiked to Redrock Falls (1.8 miles one-way, 100 feet elevation gain). The falls were pretty but more amazing was our brief detour to a nearby lake. In the lake we saw two huge moose! We had binoculars with us and spent time watching them frolic in the water.
All in all, despite the weather and Michael’s back injury, we had an amazing time in Glacier National Park. A place with such beauty can not be tarnished.
We ended our Glacier National Park adventure just outside the park in Babb, Montana with a late lunch at the Two Sisters Cafe complete with huckleberry pie. Yum!
- Fish Creek Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana, United States
- Avalanche Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana, United States
- St. Mary / East Glacier KOA, St. Mary, Montana, United States
- Many Glacier Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana, United States
TIP: If you’d prefer to book in advance or don’t want to camp, check out these other accommodation options in the Glacier National Park area.