So, if you’re visiting western Montana, sitting at the top of the “must do list” is explore Glacier National Park.
The park is HUGE, has miles and miles of trails for hiking, and the views are breathtaking. The NPS website has a neat map that shows all the roads and trails in the park.
There are places to stay and camp within in the park (and they book up well in advance), but we were fortunate to be able to stay with family and drive to the park. We had to pay a $25 entrance fee, but it was good for a seven days of access.
The main entry point from western MT is in West Glacier. The main entrance from the eastern side is in Saint Mary. The road that runs through the park between these two entrances called the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This road has gorgeous views (more on this later) but is not always completely open due to snow at the top. The park makes good use of technology with information about which roads and trails are open on it’s website.
On our first foray into the park, we entered West Glacier and and did a hike near Lake McDonald.
I was worried how our kids would do, especially 3 year old Adam. The cousins were older and used to hiking, but my kids hadn’t had much practice.
I’m pleased to say, they did great! An abundance of snacks and frequent stops helped, but they hiked like champs and logged ~4 miles. Karen estimates that when hiking with kids, we average about 2 miles an hour and we were out for 2+ hours.
The hike was beautiful and shady and the scenery was lovely.
This was the most impressive picture I took on this hike. It was breathtaking.
After we completed our hike, we decided to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road up to Logan Pass.
Logan Pass is the highest elevation (6640ft.) reachable by car in the park. By contrast, Lake McDonald sits at 3153 ft. The drive to get up to the top was slow and winding, but the scenery was unbelievable.
When we were hiking, we were comfortable in shorts and short sleeves. But when we got to the top, it was cold! We did our best to layer up in the parking lot, while enjoying a few more snacks.
We spent a little time in the visitor’s center (to warm up), then headed out to check out the snow firsthand.
These photos were taken on July 28th!
Of course we had to stop and take a picture at the sign. Adam was confused by all the “Logan” talk, since the only Logan he knew about was our dog Logan. He kept saying, “I thought Logan was at home?”.
As you can see from the sign, the Continental Divide bisects the park. I couldn’t tell by looking around that it was The Big Divide, but apparently, it is the dividing line in which water on one side runs to the Pacific, and on the other towards the Atlantic. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any good spot to pour two cups of water and see this principle at work 🙂
On our hike, we were told to be vigilant about keeping an eye out for bears. Bear encounters are not uncommon — trails are frequently closed due to bear activity — and Karen tells us carrying bear spray is a must. It is also recommended that you make a lot of noise while hiking to give the bears a chance to hear you and move away on their own accord. The whole idea of running into a bear was unnerving to Wendy, but thankfully, our hikes were bear-free experiences.
Another animal you are likely to see in the park is a mountain goat. They are plentiful at the upper elevations — there was one in the parking lot while we were at Logan Pass, but I didn’t take a picture. I did see one on our drive out, can you spot it in the picture below?
There are lots of hiking opportunities up around Logan Pass as well, but we just wandered around a bit to check things out and then headed back down.
Speaking of Glaciers …
Since it’s called Glacier National Park, I was curious as to the status of the glaciers. Was all that snow considered a glacier? The answer is no, not really. The park map shows where specific glaciers are, and most are not easily accessible (I think?). The best known and most hiked is Grinnell Glacier, accessed from the Many Glacier area. We did not make it over that way.
I found this bit of information from the National Park Service website interesting:
In 1850, Glacier Park had 150 glaciers. Today there are 26. Since the ice ages stopped 10,000 years ago, there have been many slight climate shifts causing periods of glacier growth or melt-back. The latest warm period, peaking in worldwide temperature as you read this, could be cause for worry. World-wide, glaciers are a fairly good indicator of world-wide temperature fluctuations. Glaciers are being studied in the park to correlate them to the latest global warming trends. What roles do human activities play in the current trend? Could we cope with severe regional climate shifts and rising sea levels? Glaciers in the park may be able to tell us whether we have to answer those questions. If the current warming trend continues in Glacier National Park, there will be no glaciers left here in the year 2020. [emphasis mine]
We returned to the park on another day to do our second hike. This time we approached from the east and entered at the Saint Mary Entrance. Karen did the legwork to find a hike that would doable for our young ones and settled on a relatively short hike to St. Mary’s and Virginia Falls.
This trail was much more crowded, in fact the closest parking lot to the trail was full and we had to park up the road a bit. It was another beautiful hike, and not too challenging (at least on the way out).
St. Mary Falls were only about one mile from the trail head and very nice to look at.
However, hiking just a little further (half a mile) led us to Virginia Falls.
It was MUCH higher than St. Mary Falls and quite impressive.
A short hike up the trail brought you up close to the falls.
Up close, you could really feel the spray!
There were lots of places on the trail where it would have been easy for a careless child to slip in the water.
Signs like this gave me pause and made me pray for everyone’s safety.
The hike was only about 3 miles round trip, but it was tough for one of our kids. She had a hard time finishing strong, but we were proud of her for making it.
By contrast, the three year old was hardcore. He never complained and only asked for help the last quarter mile (I gave him a piggy back ride).
Once we finished our hike, we headed back for home. It was another beautiful day in the park!
Stay tuned for the next part of our trip: Whitefish, alpine slides and rodeos!