Summer is here and we just completed another road trip through this incredible country we call home. This summer we drove a little farther than normal – from Southern Arizona all the way to Northern Montana. It was a looonnnggg drive and the highways through Nevada and much of Idaho are crazy straight. A drive I definitely wouldn’t want to do alone. We learned a lot and had a lot of firsts. First time driving for three days in a row. (It was painfully long.) First time camping for two weeks straight. First time living out of a cooler for two weeks. (We didn’t realize we’d need an ice budget.) Once I finish recapping the trip I’ll write up our lessons learned.
Glacier National Park is jaw dropping gorgeous. Our original plan was to spend a week in the park – four nights on each side. Glacier is pretty spread out and it takes two to three hours to get from one side of the park to the other. We ended up cutting our trip in Glacier short but got to see quite a bit in our three full days in the park.
Glacier is very family friendly and has activities for every age and fitness level. With activities like hiking, boating, swimming, driving, ranger programs, and the Junior Ranger program you can’t go wrong. My kids love anything that ends in water. Hikes to waterfalls, hikes to lakes, boat rides, walks to the waters edge. Water is what they want and we try to indulge them as much as possible. The Apgar Nature Center is also a great place for kids. They have all kinds of fun activities as well as skulls and skins of all the animals in Glacier. We stopped there to turn in our Junior Ranger packets and listened to an interesting ranger program on the importance of natural disasters.
The first thing we did was drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. Going-to-the-Sun connects West and East Glacier and is absolutely incredible! The 50 mile one way drive takes two hours. The road goes up through the mountains to Logan Pass and back down the other side. There are vehicle size restrictions so be sure to check that out before you go. Also, the road is only open a few months out of the year. You can check out the park service page through this link for more information on size restrictions and opening and closing dates.
There are pull outs along the road so you can take in the incredible views and take pictures. The only downside…when the pullouts are full some people stop their cars halfway in the road just to get a picture. Be sure you wear your patience hat when you start the drive. It will make your drive so much more enjoyable.
The road peaks at Logan Pass where there is a visitor center and hiking trails. There was still snow when we visited and we loved getting to play in the snow. The snow was a little dirty but that didn’t stop of us from having a snowball fight. Highs in our hometown were 110 – 115 the weeks before we left on vacation, so we welcomed frozen fingers and dirty snow.
One of our favorite parts of the drive was the Weeping Wall. Waterfalls are abundant all along Going-to-the-Sun but at the Weeping Wall the falls are wide and splash the road. Little Miss and I were on the passenger side of the car and had our windows down. We were both quite surprised when water dumped in our windows. We laughed about that for quite a while. The lesson here – roll up your windows or prepare for a splash.
Any trip to Glacier would not be complete without a drive on Going-to-the-Sun.
There are over 700 miles of trails in Glacier and I’m fairly certain there is no bad trail. We hiked to Avalanche Lake and it is one of the most gorgeous hikes I have ever done. I love the desert but there is something so wonderful about hiking amongst trees and next to running water. The hike starts out next to a roaring river and continues up the mountain through a gorgeous green forest. Once near the lake the trees disappear and you will be in crazy thick bushes. The reward for this gorgeous hike is a stunning lake. One that is surrounded by a mountain that has five or six waterfalls flowing down the front. It doesn’t get much better than this, friends. The water in Avalanche Lake is crystal clear and ice cold! There is no shade near the lake so standing in the lake felt good for brief stints.
Avalanche Lake is really popular so I would suggest starting early to avoid the crowds and to find a parking spot. Also, since there is no shade at the lake it can be rather warm.
Glacier is in bear country. Both black and grizzly bears. When hiking in bear country be sure you know your bear rules, like always hike in a group and make noise as you hike, and always carry bear spray. You can purchase bear spray online or in stores near and in Glacier. Glacier Outfitters in Apgar Village rents bear spray, which is what we did. You can reserve it ahead of time or walk into their store. The only downside to renting is that it has to be returned to the store in Apgar Village, which is in West Glacier.
If you are not comfortable hiking by yourself or do not want to carry bear spray, there are many ranger led hikes in Glacier. More than I have seen at any other park. Rangers always have bear spray and you will be in a group – all pluses when in bear country.
There are so many lakes in Glacier. Six of which have either public boat docks or boat launching ramps. Motorboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards are available for rent all throughout the park. Guided boat tours are also an option. We visited two of the lakes during our stay.
Bowman Lake is in the northwestern corner of the park down a dirt road. Supposedly the lake is only accessible with a 4-wheel drive vehicle but we saw several cars at the lake. The drive to Bowman Lake was gorgeous and we hardly saw anyone else on the road. It was a nice change from the craziness that was Going-to-the-Sun Road. The town of Polebridge is just outside of Bowman Lake. There is a restaurant, bakery, gift shop, and it appeared there may be gas. I’m not positive through so I would suggest filing up before heading out this way.
Bowman Lake is gorgeous. More crystal clear water. The kids loved playing in the lake and especially because they could see the bottom. That’s not something we are accustomed to here in Southern Arizona.
On our last day in the park we rented a motorboat and spent time on Lake McDonald. There are several shops in Apgar Village that rent kayaks but there is a shop right on the beach with motor boats. The kids really wanted a canoe but The Husband and I decided we could cover more territory with a motor. The guy that helped us with our boat was super friendly and gave us tons of great tips for our ride.
There are cabins along the edge of Lake McDonald that are actually private residences. According to the boat guy, these cabins were built prior to the area becoming a national park. The families are allowed to pass the property down to other generations but they cannot be sold. If they run out of family members the forest service takes it over. I just checked and several of these cabins can be rented, but are pricey. If you are looking for a one of a kind experience and have extra cash to spare this is the way to go.
We had a lovely boat ride and being out on the lake was a lot of fun. Since the kids wanted to try paddling we killed the engine and let them use the oars. This lasted for only a few minutes. Good thing we opted for the motorboat. 😉
Our most favorite part of the day was getting to see a bald eagle!!! We’ve never seen one before so this was so special. Bald eagles happened to be nesting near the edge of the lake and the boat guy told us where to look. We could see the nests from the lake and could even hear birds chirping, but we did not see any bald eagles. We continued on our merry way and swung back by on our way back to the dock. Best decision ever. As we were sitting there looking at the nests, a bald eagle swooped in and landed in the nest. He stayed for a minute and then flew to a different branch. After that he flew away and over to the lakes edge. We only had our cell phones so the pictures are pretty terrible. I was so in awe of what was going on that I couldn’t even take a picture. I was trying but after looking at the pictures I think I was just pointing the phone in the air and pushing buttons while watching what was going on with my eyes. Sometimes though, that is the best.
We spent four nights at the Fish Creek campground in West Glacier. Fish Creek is on the shore of Lake McDonald. Read: lots of mosquitoes. That was the only downside to this campground. We had a gorgeous site that was very wooded.
Just before we left for Glacier I picked up a hammock on clearance at REI and it was perfect for this campsite. Every morning I drank my coffee while sitting in the hammock listening to the birds. Morning coffee with a side of nature is my favorite way to start any day. Add a hammock to the mix and you have perfection.
Fish Creek has free showers in Loop A for Fish Creek campers only. The downside is that there is no parking. The ranger told us we had to walk from our site all the way to the showers, which is quite a walk. We figured out that if you park at the amphitheater the walk is much shorter as there is a path that connects the two. While Loop A has the showers, it was not as wooded as Loops B, C, or D. We chose to stay in Loop C because generators are not allowed. Our campsite was on the outer edge of the loop near the lake and seemed to be a little more private than those on the inside of the loop.
Laundry facilities are available at several of the campgrounds outside the park. We stopped at the San-Suz-Ed Campground. They were very friendly and we had a great time doing laundry. We sat outside at one of their picnic tables playing cards and swinging in their swings. They have the fastest washers and dryers we have ever used at a laundry facility. Dryers, in particular usually take forever but our clothes were dry in 30 minutes. Crazy.
The Glacier newspaper does not have the hiking trails listed in it. We were rather surprised by this because every other park we have been to has the information listed in their park newspaper. They are listed in a separate hiking brochure, so if you plan to hike be sure to ask for this when you get your park newspaper.
We hardly had any internet connection in the park or outside the park. Actually, our phones hardly worked in Montana in general. We have AT&T but I heard that Verizon has pretty good service in the area. I learned that I like to be disconnected on my terms, which this was not. We changed up our plans at the last minute and had a really hard time arranging the new plans because we could not get service anywhere. Either we weren’t looking in the right place or it just wasn’t there. Either way…you are warned.
Overall, we had a great time in Glacier. I’d love to go back one day and explore the east side of the park. There are so many trails I’d love to hike. Have you been to Glacier or are you planning to visit Glacier? What are you favorite activities?
SUMMER ROAD TRIP 2016
This post is one of several from our trip this summer. Visit these other links to read about the rest of our travels.