There really aren’t words. From the second we crossed into Montana I was speechless. I booked a campsite for our first two nights in Flathead National Forest, just outside the western entrance to Glacier because it was cheaper than prebooking in the park and I wanted to have some peace of mind that we at least had a place to stay for sure our first two nights there while we made plans for the third. More on that to come.
So we begrudgingly left Idaho and excitedly drove into the state whose name is literally mountains.
With our side trip through the Palouse and a quick stop in Spokane and yet ANOTHER stupid time change, we got to our campsite a little later than anticipated. We decided to forgo the planned Walmart trip so we could get the tent set up before it got too dark and were were heavily rewarded with an incredible sunset.
I randomly picked this site because it was closest, cheapest and had a site still available a couple of months before we left. I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and quite frankly didn’t even know if the GPS could get us there.
But we made it.
And the next morning we learned that the sunrise was even prettier than the sunset!
And we had to drive over this awesome dam every time (Hungry Horse Dam). America’s awesome.
It was a perfect little spot!
Despite how cold that first lake bath was!
And we were surrounded by fearless deer the entire time.
But anyway, onto the real reason we’re here!
Glacier National Park.
I had the highest of expectations for this one and it proved its worth time and time again.
We got up bright and early that first day to get a backcountry permit (life lessons to come regarding that later in the post so stick around) and after failing that mission set right off for Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the things I was most excited to do!
It’s hard to see the scale of this photo, but this is a giant waterfall flowing down the mountain. The horizontal line in the middle of the picture is the road.
Make sure you budget a lot of time to complete the drive as you’ll want to pull over a lot, especially if you’re the one driving. Every turn is truly more beautiful than any pictures you may have seen.
We stopped at Logan Pass and were lucky to get a parking spot because of how early we were. But even just an hour later the entire area was overflowing with cars. The lot is very small so take advantage of the free shuttles or become early birds like us!
Upon wandering around I realized that Hidden Lake was there, a trail I had heard good things about so we went and got on the hiking boots and headed out. Unfortunately, the second half of the trail was closed because of bear activity but we could still get to the lake overlook.
There was a ranger shoveling snow off of the path on our way up. In July!
The Hidden Lake.
We even met a little buddy!
There were mountain goats everywhere climbing up and down the mountain. It was adorable!
From there we headed back down the other side of GTSR and up into the Many Glacier portion of the park.
I didn’t think it could get any more beautiful than GTSR, but as soon as we came around the corner toward the Many Glacier entrance station I realized how wrong I had been.
We left the car at the Many Glacier Hotel and took off to hike to Grinnell Glacier.
You can cut this hike a little shorter by taking a ferry across Lake Josephine, but being bright-eyed and fresh-legged we decided to go the long way around the lakes in order to get all the different viewpoints we possibly could. A few hours and several miles later, I would be regretting this decision.
However, shortly after taking off around the lake we saw our first wildlife. A moose!
I freaked out, slapping James repeatedly, I was so excited! She didn’t even know we were there though and sauntered back into the woods. We pressed on.
Here’s James and I crossing the bridge near where the ferry let off.
And then that same bridge just a few steep minutes later.
As we continued the hike up, I was continuously blown away by how amazing the color of the water was!
I mean, just look at Grinnell Lake!!
The wildflowers on the trail were beautiful as well.
We also got to hike through a waterfall. And trust me, we really needed it at this point! Kudos to James for capturing the rainbow in this picture too.
And then after an eternity of hiking we passed the checkpoint before the top with a sign that said “Grinnell Glacier .4 miles.” I got a little too cocky and was just so excited to finally be there that I started running. Big mistake. The last .4 miles were definitely the toughest.
But then we came over the top and sure enough, there was the glacier. The whole reason we flew out to Idaho and took off into the Montana mountains.
Approximately 2 seconds went by before I had climbed down to the edge, ripped off my hiking boots and plunged my sore feet into the glacial water.
Spoiler alert: it was really freaking cold!
But I could’ve laid by that water for hours. Because the rocks were touching a glacier, they weren’t hot from the sun and it felt so good in the summer heat after a 7 mile hike up.
The rest of the hike down was rough. I hate going down in general and this was the first long hike I had done in a very long time. And then we had to do the extra 2 miles around the lake because we refused to cheat and ferry. I thought I was going to give up a few times and started welcoming the bears to come eat me. But we made it! And got THE best night sleep that night.
Alright, life lesson time! I’m a crazy control freak who has to plan every second of every single thing I do. I love travelling more than anything, but you bet your ass I have super spreadsheets that I create for basically every trip of where we’ll be each day, where we’re staying each night, when our flights land, when and where we’re picking up the rental car and dropping it off, and sights I would like to see each day. They’re awesome. BUT not the best for national parks.
I knew going into it that I would have to break out of my shell a bit and go with the flow. You never know when weather, wildlife, crowds, etc. might get in the way of your plans in the parks. We got up really early that first day to get a backcountry permit to stay at Lake Ellen Wilson so we could do the Gunsight Pass Trail (a 20-miler that most people do in two days). Alas, there were no permits left when we got there (right at opening, don’t get me started, I still don’t understand). Needless to say I had a mini mental breakdown (remember, this is literally our first experience in the parks. God bless James, he has the patience of a saint!)
This was really only an issue because that was my housing plan for the next night so now we had to figure that out too. But we learned about how camping in the parks worked (something I had never considered for some reason before that) and all it involved was waking up early and grabbing a spot (pshh we were pros at that by now!)
But in this stubborn rage I was hell bent on still doing that hike. I figured we could wake up early, grab the campsite and head out. Twenty miles is far, but if you go slow and have all day, it’s doable. I eventually talked myself off a cliff and ESPECIALLY after those last few miles getting back to the Many Glacier Hotel realized it wasn’t worth it to cram it all into one day. We decided to get our camping situation figured out and just do some shorter hikes. And I think we made the perfect decision.
The first-come first-serve camping situation at Glacier was interesting. And after seeing how efficient it was at Grand Teton, it could definitely been done better. But we figured it out. And I won’t bore you with the gory details so we can get back to the pretty pictures!
So, after getting our site, we went to Avalanche Lake. We’d heard it was one of the most popular hikes so we tried to get there really early, but with the campsite taking longer than expected we were very lucky to get a parking spot at the trailhead! We got so lucky on so many things, but of course all I could think about were the things not going as planned. I’m the worst, I know.
Like I said, this handsome guy was a saint! And that’s him at Avalanche Lake!
The hike there was really pretty. The rocks on the sides of the mountains blew me away everywhere we went.
The hike was also pretty easy so what you can’t see in these pictures is the dozens of screaming children running around everywhere on the beach. So we kept hiking a little further to the other side of the lake for some peace and quiet.
That water color though.
I’ve said it a million times but I couldn’t get over the water here. The lakes were a stunning turquoise and the creeks were so clear!
This is me looking straight down at the rushing water of Avalanche Creek and it’s still clear as day! You can see every single rock on the bottom and it was at least 3 feet deep.
Every part of Glacier was perfection.
Since we couldn’t do Gunsight Pass, this was actually the end of my list of things that I really wanted to see while here. I had wanted to check out St. Mary’s Falls if we had time, but because it was a Friday and we were already noticing the crowds I didn’t feel like heading back to the other side of the park.
So instead we headed to the visitor center to look up easier hikes to do on the western side of the park and found the John’s Lake Loop. We set off for the trailhead and got very lucky again with a parking spot. The trail itself was pretty boring and confusing at the beginning. We didn’t actually know where we were going. BUT we did see a deer come right up to us so that was cool. And then toward the end the trail leads you to cross over GTSR again. I almost said ‘let’s just walk back to the car’ at this point because I was still sore and my feet were killing me, but James convinced me we should keep following the trail. And I am so glad we did.
Because it led to rocks! For those who don’t know me, climbing on rocks is my favorite thing. I could’ve spent all day in this spot. We walked back to the car to get the food we had packed for lunch and brought it back to eat by the rushing water.
James catnapped while I climbed precariously out into the rushing water (while trying to not drop my phone so I could get good pictures).
And then this little mountain climber came running out of the woods.
He was adorable and I’m glad the bears didn’t get him!
We felt pretty accomplished at this point. We had hiked over 26 miles in less than two days and felt like we had truly seen as much as we could have. The last thing I really wanted to do was get huckleberry ice cream. I had heard such good things and it did not disappoint!
And that view!
We decided the last thing we wanted to do was go back up to Logan Pass and take in the sunset. We had awhile until then though so we set up our campsite and explored the Fish Creek area just because it was close and we hadn’t seen what that side of Lake McDonald looked like.
It was beautiful, of course.
Okay, now having subjected you to over 2,000 words on a single national park I will let the pictures speak for themselves for the rest of the post. It was freezing and windy at Logan Pass when we got there, but that didn’t stop us. Eventually we headed back down a ways, pulled over the car, and just watched as the mountains came alive and changed to every color in the rainbow. There’s truly nothing like it.
We cannot WAIT to come back to Glacier National Park. I was worried that I would have worked it up so much in my mind that it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but I was wrong. We’ll definitely come back later in the season next time to avoid more of the crowds and see what it looks like as the leaves start to change. And you better believe I will hike Gunsight Pass! But for now, I couldn’t be happier. I got to touch a glacier before they were extinct. Mission accomplished.
Three Things You Can’t Miss:
- Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Grinnell Glacier
- Huckleberry Ice Cream at Eddie’s in Apgar Village