One of the best (maybe even THE best) places we visited this past summer was Glacier National Park. The maps in this post, unless otherwise noted, are from the park’s website. The photos are mine – but I wish they were better! My camera skills just couldn’t do justice to absolutely incredible beauty I saw all around me!
We stayed about 20 minutes away from the West Glacier entrance at Columbia Falls RV Park. We were impressed with this motor home “resort”. It was well taken care of, had a nice area for dogs to run around in, and was right in town. Just down the street was Montana Coffee Traders Columbia Falls Cafe, which served a great breakfast and fabulous coffee. Most of the time, we cooked dinner in the RV, but one night after a day of hiking we stopped at Glacier Grill & Pizza in Coram on our way home. We overheard a park employee talking about how great it was and we weren’t disappointed. One other establishment worth stopping at was Perfect Cuts which was a butcher shop practically right next door to the RV park. It sold all kinds of specialty meats and I bought elk burgers and a tri tip bison roast that turned out to be absolutely delicious – view HERE 🙂
From Columbia Falls, we drove north on Highway 2, to the town of West Glacier and followed the signs to the park entrance.
The Apgar Visitors’ Center has a huge parking lot. It could accommodate a large motor home, and we saw several parked there. Inside there are hiking maps and rangers to answer questions about the park. The transport buses originate from here as well.
The buses follow the Going-to-the-Sun Road (the red line in the map above) and, with several stops and a couple of transfers to different buses, tourists can get from Apgar all the way to the Saint Mary Visitor Center. A ranger talked us into this, but heed this warning – it takes ALL day round trip. However, it was nice to have someone else do the driving because the road is hair raising. There is NO WAY a motor home of significant size could handle it, and although we had the jeep, I wouldn’t want to drive it past the Lake McDonald stop.
Another mode of transportation are the iconic red buses that have been in operation since the 1930’s. However, people have to reserve tickets for them way in advance, so we didn’t get to experience that bit of park history.
Some of the bus stops along the road have parking areas, but a peak times it can be hard to find a spot.
On one of the four days we spent exploring the park we took the Avalanche Lake Hike. It begins at the Avalanche bus stop which is just about 16 miles from Apgar.
We picked up the trail head from the boardwalk of the Trail of the Cedars which is right by the Avalanche parking area.
Once we were on the trail, it just goes up and up in a moderately gently sort of fashion. Even if someone didn’t want to do the whole thing, it is worth it just to begin it. The rock formations in Avalanche Creek are evident almost immediately.
The creek has carved out almost a mini gorge. Although there had been earlier bear sightings, I think a bigger danger is the temptation to get too close to the edge in order to shoot a better photo.
Along the way there is an area where huge boulders sit among the trees.
For a short while the forest is pretty dense.
Then we walked out from being surrounded by huge trees and saw this huge view!
Intermittently, the icy blue waters of Avalanche Creek ran along side of the trail.
Finally, we got to the big payoff: Avalanche Lake.
From there, we could have continued going on, but instead turned around and walked back down the way we came up. The tricky thing about riding the park shuttle bus system is that we had to always be mindful of the time, so we didn’t miss the last bus that came to any certain spot. On this particular day, we just missed the second to the last bus, and had to wait a little more than 15 minutes for the final one of the day.
Map from: https://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/national_parks/glacier_waterton_97.pdf
We had heard that Many Glacier was especially lovely and the hotel was worth seeing. To get there, we decided to drive all the way around the park, instead of trying to navigate Going-to-the-Sun Road and then having to go farther beyond it anyway. Since Roy always drives the RV, I try to give him a break and man the Jeep while we sight see. Driving to Many Glacier gave me thrills I could have lived without; parts of Highway 89 were just as much on the edge of the mountain as the road that runs through the park.
The road approaching Many Glacier is in really horrible condition, but the scenery is beautiful.
Many Glacier Hotel was being renovated so we didn’t get to see the legendary lobby which Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge is supposed to be modeled after.
We did eat some really good bison chili in the restaurant and afterwards walked all around the hotel.
The back of the hotel overlooks Swiftcurrent Lake.
It was a cold day for a boat ride but several people were brave enough to do it anyway.
On the way back after visiting Many Glacier, we stopped at the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier. Inside, it did look like a lot like Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge.
The day we took the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, it was windy and cold. It starts right behind the Logan Pass Visitors’ Center and is also the type of hike that goes up and up with a huge reward at the end.
Logan Pass is the highest point in the park and we weren’t prepared for how cold it was up there.
I was so cold and miserable that I kept telling myself that once I got to a certain point, I’d just turn around and go back. But each time I got to a designated spot, I mustered up the resolve to go on another bit father. This cute Columbia Ground Squirrel walked along side of me for a little while. I think the little guy was trying to encourage me.
It was pretty; there were wild flowers and little waterfalls throughout the meadow part of the hike.
As we climbed higher, the landscape got even more spectacular.
We could see a sliver of the lake so,
I didn’t get fooled into thinking the small pond above was the lake.
Finally, we got to Hidden Lake.
It was gorgeous – even more so than this photo shows.
I loved how close the clouds looked.
On the way back from Logan Pass, we got off the bus at the Lake McDonald lodge.
The inside of the lodge looked similar to the other two park hotels mentioned above. We snacked on the charcuterie board which included bison pastrami, elk salami and duck brisket.
The park lodges were built by the The Great Northern Railroad Company to increase tourism and give people a reason to ride the train there. The hotels were modeled after Swiss chalets because the area was promoted as the American Alps.
The back of the lodge followed the formula of having a lake right behind the building.
The Lake McDonald Lodge was actually my favorite of the three. It seemed to be the smallest one with the prettiest seating areas facing the lake.
We loved Glacier National Park and realized that four days just gave us a quick overview of all it had to offer. We had more ground to cover though, and moved on to Yellowstone…
Just for fun, here are some links to some other Yates social media sites: