Robin Williams on his experience at Glacier National Park. He was right.
We left Yellowstone on Tuesday, July 4th. While everyone was celebrating the Fourth of July with pool parties, parades and picnics, Greg and I were driving across the states of Wyoming and Montana, both very long states. We did take a break at a rest stop and grilled up some chicken on our camping stove which felt sort of in the spirit of the Fourth. The views through Wyoming and Montana were incredible. Snow still covers the sides of the highways as we traveled along the mountains. We arrived in St. Mary Montana in East Glacier, went to one of two restaurants in the mile long town which was, ironically, a Mexican restaurant, checked into our KOA, set up our tent and went to sleep.
We woke up on Wednesday morning ready to take on Glacier National Park. The park was a solid 3 minutes from our KOA (Greg redeemed himself after our Yellowstone debacle). On day one we decided to drive the “Going to the sun road” which transverses from one side of the park to the other in about 50 miles. Along the way are beautiful sites, lakes, waterfalls, cliffs, snow and, glaciers.
A note on glaciers. Greg and I were both super excited to see a glacier. Wow! A Glacier! I can’t wait! Turns out neither of us actually knew what a glacier was. Upon seeing our first Glacier - The Jackson Glacier on the East end of the park, we both looked at each other and said, ”Do you see it?” “I don’t think I see it?” “Is it that right there?” Turns out, glaciers look a lot like snow on the top of a mountain. In my mind, I was picturing what Buddy the Elf floats away on when leaving the north pole to find his dad in New York. Greg kept saying, “I just thought they’d be bigger and stick up more”. I asked him, “Do you mean like an iceberg?” Greg: “Yeah! An iceberg!” Kelly: “Those are in the ocean”. Greg: “Oh.” That’s not to say that we were the least bit disappointed in the park - we just should have done a quick google search of “Glacier” before assuming we knew anything about anything.
Anyway, day one we drove straight to the other end of the park. Our first hike was the Apgar trail. It was a 3.6 mile hike to the top of the mountain making for a 7.2 mile hike total. At the top stood a lookout tower where you could see miles across the park and overlooked Lake McDonald. The hike itself was one of the hardest I’ve ever done. The 3.6 to the top was, literally, straight up. It was a switchback at a steep incline the entire way. The view was beautiful and there were wildflowers and rivers to look at but about half way through it was all I could do to look at my feet and just keep them moving. It was also about 95 degrees and there was absolutely no shade. To give you an idea. Imagine getting on a treadmill outside in the middle of July. Set it at an incline of 9. Walk up it, not using the hand rails, for 3.6 straight miles. No decline. No flat. Straight incline. Oh and you can only breath through a straw. (The altitude will get you). So it was hard. Really hard. But, alas! We made it to the top. The view was beautiful. We sat at the top of the lookout tower and had a snack and took some pictures before making the descent. Which was also pretty hard on my 30 year old knees.
I should also mention that my bear anxiety had only gotten worse by this point. To my dismay, one of the first things I read about Glacier on our way in was that it had the largest concentration of Grizzly bears in the United States. So, if I was paranoid in Yellowstone, I was a freaking nut case by the time we got to Glacier. I made Greg buy us bear bells and I practiced grabbing the bear spray from my pack a few times before walking. Along the way, I practiced how I would calmly talk to the bear upon an encounter. “Hi Bear, I’m Kelly. I know I’m in your home and it is sooo pretty and you seem like a really nice bear and I don’t want to hurt you and please don’t attack me.” I went over what you are supposed to do if a bear attacks (lay on your stomach and play dead.) I went over what to do if that doesn’t work and the bear still attacks you (FIGHT BACK). How in the hell do you “fight back” against a BEAR? I don’t have that one answered yet.
So back to our day. By this point we were dirty, sweaty and exhausted. We passed Lake McDonald and decided to take a closer look. It was better than the pictures up close. The colored stones that make up the bottom of the lake are unreal. You can see through the crystal blue/teal water straight to the bottom where these stones actually look like they’re shining. Pictures do not do this justice, especially when the sun reflects off the lake making the colors that much more vibrant. We took our shoes off and sat with out feet in the water for a few minutes to gather the strength for our next hike.
We drove a few miles back along “Going to the Sun Road” and began our second hike of the day on Avalanche Trail. This hike was a less strenuous 4.6 mile round trip and was so fun. It was shaded and beautiful. It followed the river back through the woods and led to Avalanche Lake. (Perfect bear habitat for anyone interested. Wooded and close to water.) Greg was geeking out over the rapids and we have about a million pictures of just the water. The lake area was amazing. The water in these lakes is clear blue and the mountains surround them like huge walls keeping the lake inside. We took a few pictures and started our hike back. This trail was way more crowded than the Apgar Trail which was fine, just something to be aware of. Greg and I will pass most groups but, because Greg is a giant, when he decides to pass people leaving me unaware of his intentions, I have to break into a little jog to keep up with his 5 giant steps and not get stuck behind people. I look like an idiot and Greg looks like he is running away from me. Good times for all.
On our drive back through Logan’s Pass, we saw a few mountain goats and big horned sheep (rams) which was pretty cool. There was one more shorter hike we wanted to do but, in mid July, the trail was still too snow covered to pass and was closed. It ended up being a blessing because we were both exhausted. We left the park, went to the second restaurant in town, a little bar and grill, for dinner and headed back to our campsite to shower and crawl into our tent.
I am not going to do this hike justice, but I’ll try. You know the scene from “Sound of Music” where Julie Andrews is spinning in an open meadow, wildflowers growing all around her, bright green grass tall and blowing in the wind, snow covered mountains in the background? That was this hike. Except there were also two breathtaking lakes to look out over. Greg and I could barely walk a quarter of a mile before one of us would stop and say “Wow, you have to take a picture of that”. It was so beautiful that several times along the way, I actually forgot about the potential bear threat. It was a peaceful and mesmerizing 3.5 mile hike to the look out. You could see where the trail had been closed off and if you followed where the trail led, there were huge masses of snow covering the side of the mountain, making it seemingly impassable or, at least, too dangerous for me. From the lookout we saw Grinnel Lake and above it, Grinnel Glacier. We laid on the rocks for a while soaking in the magnificence of what was around us. I know all of this sounds very corny but there is no other way to describe the scene. It was amazing.
We finally got ourselves back down the mountain and, exhausted, went to the Grinnel Lake Lodge for an adult beverage and to put our toes in the lake. We sat there for a while looking out at the lake and the mountains. We left the park after that to get back to the campsite so we could do some boring things like laundry and packing the car.
I had no idea what to expect from Glacier National Park. I hadn’t heard much about it and, as already noted, didn’t really even know what a glacier was. I was so impressed by Glacier. I’m not sure how the other parks are going to top it - but I’ll give them a fair shot.
A little info for anyone reading this about Glaciers. Glacier National Park used to be home to 150 glaciers. Today, 26 remain and experts expect that by 2030 they will all be gone. That affects our lakes, our drinking water, our wildlife and our global environment. Keep that in mind next time someone tells you climate change isn’t happening.
Glacier - stay beautiful. Seattle - Here we come! (real beds and showers - Horray!)
P.S. If anyone is interested in more information about Bears or Bear Attacks, feel free to reach out. I’ve become somewhat of an expert.
Logan's Pass Wildlife:
Grinnel Glacier Hike:
Logan's Pass Wildlife:
Grinnel Glacier Hike: