I was super excited to go back to Glacier National Park, despite the fact that the famed Going to the Sun Road was only open for 15 miles and there was only one entrance on the west side of the park open because the eastern entrances, which all lie on reservation land and the tribe decided (smartly) to keep these closed to deter hordes of out of state tourists (such as myself) bring their germs into their community. The last time I visited Glacier two years ago it was kind of the opposite situation- there were forest fires in the center and west side of the park, so only the east side was open… at least this would show me the other half, right? In fact on the previous visit we were supposed to stay in a cabin at Lake McDonald Lodge, which was a fancy splurge for our otherwise camping trip, when the forest fire started to spread, an the morning we were set to arrive we got the call that the lodge area was on fire, so… that was a no go and a major bummer.
Anyway, I rolled into town and found a nice camp spot by the Hungry Horse Reservoir and spent two full days in the park. When I arrived and stopped at a ridiculous roadside attraction (more about this in a later post) I was overjoyed to discover it was my lucky day- just that day almost all of the Going to the Sun Road had reopened! Woot woot! So my whole first day was really devoted to exploring the road and doing a few short hikes along the way.
My mother tells me that this was one of my grandmother’s favorite places on Earth, and I don’t blame her. The little we saw last go round was lovely, but I tend to think that the east side is the winner. The road meanders along Lake McDonald and McDonald Creek, then steeply travels up a zigzag through tunnels, past the Weeping Wall, and to Logan Pass and on to St. Mary Lake to the east of the continental divide.
I stopped at pretty much every other overlook where there was parking available and took five million photos, most of which were overexposed thanks to the lovely sun and thus headed straight to the deleted bin, but what a gorgeous sight those glacial blue creeks, raging waterfalls from the snowmelt, glistening snowcapped peaks, and majestic views were.
After coaxing the van to climb up to Logan Pass, I snagged a parking spot and hiked just about 3/4 of a mile up toward the Hidden Lake overlook because it was mainly covered in snow still. Only a short portion of this trail was open, and the popular Highline Trail nearby was totally closed. This was okay with me since I’d done the Hidden Lake hike (gorgeous though exhausting for the likes of me) previously. What a difference a month makes! Where it had been sunny and dry last time it was slushy and snowy now. Crazy but typical I’m told. I did, however, get to see pretty close some racing big horn sheep and mountain goats around the visitor center which was very cool. Some families with kids of all ages were sliding down the snow on their butts which was hilarious. After a nice lunch of leftover pizza in the parking lot and another unsuccessful scouting for Delaware license plates (seriously, where are you?!?) I continued onward to where the road was closed at St. Mary’s, turned around and decided to stop and take refuge in a parking lot because it started raining a little and I didn’t want to navigate the hairpin turns an inclines in the rain.
Best decision I could have made! Within minutes the rain turned to downpour, and then the downpour turned to hail. Yes, hail in July. Welcome to the mountains in the northernmost place I think I’ve traveled on this trip (I could be wrong and it was Nova Scotia? Not sure an too lazy to look it up). I waited out the weather, took a small nap, and then decided that since I was parked here anyway I should do a little hike to some waterfalls and along the lake. It was only once I’d reached the first falls I realized I’d done parts of this loop before, but it felt good to get some exercise and fresh air after my nap and driving. It was still lovely.
The next day I got up extra early since so many lots had been filled when I arrived at 8am on a Friday I prepared for the crazy a Saturday would bring, and got a spot at the Avalanche Lake trailhead at 7am after leaving my campsite at 5:30. It took that long to go the projected 45 minute drive thanks to the long line entering the park and on the one lane road. Woah! While this is a pretty easy hike it is super beautiful and crowded for a reason. Families can do it, it ends in a gorgeous lake surrounded by waterfalls, and the beginning section leads you through the cedar forest boardwalk trail which is a wonder in itself. So much lovely moss, crazy blue streams, and of course the lake that invites mad photo sessions, myself included.
Afterwards I had a great lunchtime treat of breakfast tacos taking full advantage of a picnic site for water, trash, table, etc. before heading to Rocky Point a little further north along Lake McDonald, which offered beautiful and almost solitary views. The universe sent me a little yellow heart shaped leaf floating over the recognizable multicolored stones as I sat on a log with my feet cooling in the water. Pretty special way to end my time in the park. Love, love, love it here. Each park makes it harder to choose my favorite! Until next time, when hopefully all is normal for a change, Glacier.