This trip to Glacier National Park had been a long time in planning so you can imagine my disappointment when I fell and broke my arm just days before we were to go. After the orthopedic surgeon took a look at the x rays, confirmed the fracture, and laid out the treatment plan, my first question was “Can I still go to Glacier?” What a joy for him to give me his approval!
We flew direct from Charlotte, NC to Kalispell MT, rented a car, and headed out on this amazing adventure. Both my daughters had already decided to go along with us on this trip as Glacier was also on their Bucket lists. What a blessing to have them with us, not just to help out with my physical needs due to the fracture but to also share the Crown Jewel of our National Parks with us.
We settled into to our cabin at Historic Tamarack Lodge on the west side of the Park in Hungry Horse, MT and eventually made it into the Park for a sunset tour on Lake McDonald. To enter the Park this year it is necessary to have a “Going To The Sun” entry ticket in addition to your National Park pass. I got our free entry ticket 60 days in advance to our trip. Without this ticket you cannot enter the park at the East or West Entrance, that is unless you want to get up early and get there before the Park Rangers arrive at the gates. You see, the road is open 24 hours a day but the Rangers are only there checking entry tickets between 7:00AM – 6:00PM.
Boat tours with commentary are available at Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Rising Sun, and Lake McDonald. The tranquility of the emerald-hued lake is a must-see as you cruise along Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park . The historic boat fleet in Glacier has been owned and managed by the Burch family since they purchased the boats from the original builder, Captain J.W. Swanson in 1938. The DeSmet operates on Lake McDonald, Little Chief on Saint Mary Lake, Sinopah on Two Medicine Lake, Morning Eagle on Josephine Lake and Chief Two Guns on Swift Current,
Sometimes the best made itinerary just doesn’t work out. And so it was with our Glacier trip. I had planned for us to hike up to Hidden Lake at Logan Pass on our first full day at the Park. However, when we arrived at Logan Pass the parking Lot was full. Glacier National Park is a huge park with over 700 miles of hiking trails, 200 lakes, and 25 Glaciers but very little parking space. So if you plan to hike at Logan Pass plan or arriving there before 6:00AM or arrange in advance to ride the shuttle from one of the visitor centers. Melissa suggested that we dump the itinerary and just do what ever happens. We all unanimously agreed to do just that and our adventure ended up absolutely perfect.
Going To the Sun Road runs 62 miles between the East and West entrance of the Park. Our first stop along the road was to see the Red Rocks just past the Trail of Cedars which remains one of my girls favorite spots. The pools of water were a clear blue green and the mountains were all around.
Next we stopped at the view of Heaven’s Peak which is a little more than a mile high.
Then we stopped to take a look at Jackson Glacier, the 7th largest glacier in the park.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading out on the hike to St Mary’s Waterfall. It is interesting to note that the Park takes a hands off approach to forest fires. The fires are a necessary part of the cycle to rejuvenate the forest floor so it is not uncommon to see views such as were along the hike to the waterfalls.
From the parking area it is about 1 mile to the St. Mary Falls and about another 3/4 mile uphill to the Virginia Falls. The hike to Saint Mary’s Falls is moderate and can be done in about an hour at any skill level.
Continuing along the Sun road I had to stop for a picture of Wild Goose Island.
Just a little farther along the Sun Road we arrived at the East Entrance to the Park. We were ready to check into our lodging at Saint Mary’s Lodge. William and I stayed in one of the mini cabins and Melissa and Stephanie stayed in the Lodge itself. We would stay here for two nights so we would be close to the Many Glacier area of the Park. We had a reservation the next morning for another boat tour and guided hike.
We had about a 45 minute drive to Many Glacier Hotel where we would begin our guided boat trip. Arriving at the hotel we were way more than impressed. The hotel was built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railway. The hotel sits inside the park at the shores of Swift Current Lake and is in a Switzerland like architecture. I had read about the big fireplace and spiral stair case but you really can’t fully appreciate it until you are actually there.
But it is the view outside that took my breath away. We arrived early morning so the moon was still visible.
During our visit to Glacier we had perfect weather. It was cold in the mornings and we would layer up but by mid day we would begin to shed the layers. The days were sunny and according to the guides, all the smoke from adjacent fires had just cleared a few days before. We could not have asked for better weather.
I could not wait to board Chief Two Guns and start our trip across Swift Current Lake. At the other side of the lake we had a short hike to Josephine Lake where we boarded Morning Eagle. After crossing this lake we began our very easy hike up tp Grinnell Lake. I wanted to hike up to the Glacier but I knew there was no way I could even dream of doing the extremely difficult 11 mile hike so I settled to hike to the lake instead. WOW, this turned out to be my favorite area of the Park. I was much happier being at Grinnell Lake looking up at the Glacier and the beautiful waterfalls than being way up at the Top in front of Grinnell Glacier.
We had lunch here soaking up the views and just relaxing. We also hiked up to the hidden waterfall. Glacier did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, we decided that it doesn’t really matter which area of the park you visit or which trails you hike Glacier provides you with astounding beauty. Before heading back to catch our return boat at Josephine Lake we all were jumping with Joy at the marvelous day we had.
I was so happy that Melissa and Stephanie had time together on this trip. It’s nice to see your children spend quality time together.
We decided to stop at the East Entrance Visitor Center before going back to our Lodge at Saint Mary’s. When talking to the Park Ranger I told him I was disappointed that we had not been able to make it to Hidden Lake because the parking lot filled so quickly. He told me a secret on how to go there. He said that if we showed up at the East Entrance, the less visited side, at 7:00 AM we were almost guaranteed to get shuttle tickets. So that is exactly what we did and the next morning we were on the shuttle heading to Logan’s Pass. I was so excited to get to hike up to the overlook to Hidden Lake. Most of the 3 mile round trip hike was on a wooden board walk with lots of steps and elevation change.
Melissa was quite interested in the construction of this boardwalk as she has intentions of building something similar at Sky Ridge Yurts very soon.
Logan Pass is the highest point on Going to the Sun Road. It is actually a triple divide peak Water that falls at the summit can flow either to the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean or the Arctic Ocean. Since we were so high the views from this trail were amazing.
No matter which way you looked there was an amazing view!
Once we reached the overlook we understood why this is one of the must do hikes in the Park. Although Hidden Lake is quite beautiful I will always remember Grinnell Lake as my favorite spot in the park.
Another favorite hike at Logan Pass is the Highline Trail. If you are afraid of heights this may not be a trail for you. I’ve marked with arrows where people are on the trail. I hope you are able to zoom in to see them. Notice the road below too.
The last part of our adventure was closer to West Entrance on the Trail of the Cedars. It’s a very short hike through the Cedars on a boardwalk. You can veer off and go to Avalanche Lake. We did not have the time nor energy to do so but I believe it would be worth your time to see.
Who would have thought you could get married in Glacier? But you can.
After this, our last hike in the Park, we made a dinner stop at the Wandering Gringo in West Glacier.
Once we realized it was a food truck we knew we were in for a treat. This burrito must have weighed a good 3 pounds.
For our last night, William and I stayed at the McDonald Lodge and the girls went outside the Park to stay at Under Canvas. We are so grateful that Melissa and Stephanie traveled with us. Most of the photographs were contributed to this post by them. I do hope they travel with us again soon.
If Glacier National Park is not on your Bucket List it should be. We saw a few animals at a distance but other hikers described up close encounters with moose, bear, and mountain goats. However the views are the real reason you should visit Glacier.