If you don’t know already let me reiterate it for the nth time, I LOVE mountains. I thought I was a city girl, but now I feel like I can live in a small town provided there are mountains. Life would be SO different and it may not be all rosy but I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than the sight of waking up to mountains. Since that is not happening anytime soon in the future, I am going to revisit my trip to Glacier National Park, which has gone up in ranking in my list of favorite National Parks in the US.
Glacier NP in Montana is absolutely breathtaking, it has everything I would want to see, mountains ✓, wide open prairies ✓, alpine lakes ✓, waterfalls ✓. If I have left something out, you will definitely find out soon as you read along.
- Best to visit: mid- June through mid-September.
- Closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport, (Kalispell); Missoula International Airport, (Missoula).
- Lodging is available inside the park, gateway towns (West) Kalispell, Whitefish; (East) St. Mary, East Glacier Park Village, Browning. Suggested – Kalispell Hilltop Inn & Mountain Pine Motel.
- CAUTION Bear Safety: Glacier NP is bear country (black bear & grizzly) so a bear spray is an absolute MUST. You can rent or purchase them from the visitor centers and make sure to ask a ranger the proper way to use it and for other tips in case you encounter a bear.
Going to the Sun Road, with a name like this, who wouldn’t be intrigued? If it is your first time here then driving on this road is the perfect introduction to GNP. This 50 miles long road is an engineering marvel that winds around mountainsides and treats you to some jaw dropping vistas. You may have seen a glimpse of it in the opening credits of the film The Shining, where Jack Nicholson drives up this road passing through a tunnel.
The road runs west to east from West Glacier to St. Mary and you can drive from either direction. It is about a 2.5 hour drive each way but it will easily take you a day while pulling over to the scenic overlooks and covering few hikes on the way. Here are some of the highlights of Going to the Sun Road. Tip: You can skip driving and take the Glacier Park Red Bus tours from both the east and west sides of the park.
We stayed in Kalispell the first night, which is very close to the west entrance, so naturally we drove from the west side of the park and the first stop was Lake McDonald.
Glacier NP is home to over 700 lakes so you cannot see them all, but this one is the largest among them. It was a beautiful morning when I got there, the water so clear that you can see a variety of colored pebbles just below the surface. Surrounded by mountains and the clouds hovering so low, it looked so unreal. The mountain air so crisp and fresh, if I were to imagine my happy place; this would be IT.
Next stop at Trail of the Cedars, where you walk on a boardwalk that passes through cedar trees, some of which are 500 years old. This is a flat and easy trail and feels more like a leisurely short walk in the forest. About half way through the trail, you will come across Avalanche Gorge where the water flows down a narrow chasm and appears to be this beautiful shade of blue contrasting against the wet shiny red rocks.
There are some smaller pullouts like the Bird Woman Falls, Haystack Falls and the Weeping Wall that you can easily get down from the car to see them.
Just after Weeping Wall, is this turnout called Big Bend, where you HAVE to stop and see the view. From here you can view the mountain peaks in front and look down at the valley.
At Logan Pass you are at an elevation of 6,647 feet which is the highest point on the Going to the Sun Road. It is very popular among visitors because two of Glacier’s best hikes start from Logan Pass, the Hidden Lake trail and Highline trail.
I was excited for Hidden lake trail after seeing a lot of pictures online, but it started to rain just when I got there. After few minutes of waiting, it seemed like the rain wasn’t going to stop; so we popped our rain jackets on and marched along refusing to let the rain downpour our plan (pun intended).
There was so much fog around that the mountains were not so clear. But the scenery around was so beautiful, surrounded by towering peaks, an ocean of beautiful wildflowers, and streams. It felt like I was in Ireland by what I have seen in movies. As I got to the overlook to view the Hidden Lake, as expected I could not see the lake because of the fog. Hidden Lake, what mockery! From there you can go beyond the overlook, another 1.5 mile down to the Hidden Lake.
Sun Point Nature Trail is a moderate hike that lets you walk along the cliffs and shores of St. Mary lake. The hike ends at Sun Point where you get unobstructed view of the lake and mountains.
On the opposite side of the Sun Point Nature trail is another beautiful hike to St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls. and takes you through the forest.
Even if you don’t get to the Sun Point hike, you can stop over at the St. Mary Lake Overlook to check out the views.
Wild Goose Island is suppose to be the most photographed spot on the Going to the Sun Road. It is the BEST frame that you can get at Glacier, the magnificent peaks circling St. Mary lake and the Wild Goose Island in the center.
With Rising Sun, the last stop on the road, I bid farewell to Going to the Sun Road. There is a really good restaurant here called the Two Dog Flats Grill, try the black bean veggie burger with mac and cheese.
Day 2 started at the Many Glacier entrance of the park. If day 1 wasn’t enough, arriving here I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the beautiful Swiss-chalet style Many Glacier Hotel which sits on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake, dwarfed by mountains and glaciers peeping out. There are a lot of hikes that you can take from here, Swiftcurrent Lake loop is a flat trail that goes around the lake. If not the whole loop, I suggest you make it to the point where you get a straight view of the Many Glacier Hotel.
One of the most popular hikes in this area are the Grinell Lake and Grinnell Glacier. The lake looks like a gem owing to its gorgeous color.
The hike for the lake (3 miles) and glacier (7.6 miles) start at Many Glacier hotel. Take the scenic boat tour which reduces the hiking distance substantially. The above mileage is calculated taking into account the boat tours. The Glacier Park Boat Co. will take you across two lakes, Swiftcurrent Lake, and Lake Josephine, to the start of the trail heads. The boat tour in itself is an amazing experience and I highly recommend it.
“I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love.” John Steinbeck