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Trip Report Trip Report: Spokane, Coeur D'Alene and Glacier National Park in August

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Much delayed in posting this, but the good news is, I wrote most of the trip report in a word doc shortly after the trip. I'll need to finish up the last few days from memory, but here's the first part:

After having Glacier National Park on my husband’s must-see list for over a decade, we finally decided to make the trip despite it being so hard to get to. It was one of his favorite trips we’ve done and I really enjoyed it too. We chose to go at the end of July/early August as there’s such a short period of time you can visit the park to ensure good weather, although you definitely deal with peak season prices. We had perfect weather for most of the days, 2 days of low 60s and a slight drizzle.

NOTE: I reviewed all the hotels, restaurants, activities, etc on TripAdvisor so there will be some areas where I just include the link to the review - this would get ridiculously long if I included all the reviews, but at least those who are interested, can click to read more. I get pretty detailed in the actual reviews.

Day 1 (Friday night): San Francisco to Spokane)
Our original United flight for 7pm that we booked months in advance had been canceled and we’d been put on a 10:20pm probably 3 months before. Unfortunately that flight was delayed, so it was long after 11pm before we departed and got to Spokane at almost 2am. Not fun – we made sure to call the rental car place to alert them we were definitely coming and to keep someone there waiting for us. Tip: To get through directly to the airport desk of the rental car place (I think this works for most), usually you can find a number for that specific location, however if you hit any of the numerous options, you’ll be routed centrally. Make sure not to select any option (as if you have a rotary phone and can’t) – eventually their local staff will answer and they’re the ones who can help you. We use PickMeUp limo in SF for transfers to their airport and they’re always excellent and affordable.
We opted to fly into Spokane as it was a direct flight on United and we could avoid having to go out of the way to fly to Denver or Chicago in order to get somewhere closer like Kallispell. While this was a long drive on the way back, it was nice to be able to see Spokane and Couer D’Alene.
Arrive at the hotel at 2am, stayed at the Davenport: 4-stars, ‘The Spot to Stay in Spokane’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g58759-d252503-r139950524-The_Davenport_Hotel_Tower-Spokane_Washington.html

Day 2 (Saturday): Woke up and walked from the hotel to Frank’s Diner for breakfast: 4-stars “Fun Place to Eat, Food is Pretty Good, but Nothing Amazing”
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g58759-d413499-r138245063-Frank_s_Diner-Spokane_Washington.html

We then walked over to Riverfront Park, which is a really nice area with shopping right before it, then a big park, river, etc. There was a corvette show going on, some carnival rides and we got snow cones. A nice place to walk around when in town. But don’t bother with the Gondola – ugh, it was awful. They do warn you that it gets warm, this we were somewhat prepared for, but we didn’t realize that while you could cover the ground in probably 3 minutes if it was continuously moving, it was more like a Ferris Wheel, where every time a gondola got back to the start, it was stop. The whole thing took 20 minutes and like I said, 3 mins, a couple photos, would have been perfect.
We then took off to drive to Coeur D’alene and on the way we saw a billboard for Silverwood Theme park. We didn’t really have plans for that day, so we decided to go. It’s sort of a mix of a 6 Flags and Disneyland, on a much smaller scale of course. I think there were 4 or 5 roller coasters. We rode all of them and were there about 2 hours total. It wasn’t cheap to get in, but these kind of parks never are. The parking lot was really annoying, I suggest driving all the way to the front so you can see exactly where the entrance is, then finding a spot, we were walking all over b/c it’s not clear.
Next, we headed to our B&B, Mcfarland House in Coeur D’alene: 5-stars “Nancy's really thought of everything”
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g35418-d114276-r140279077-Mcfarland_Inn_Bed_and_Breakfast-Coeur_d_Alene_Idaho.html

We walked to dinner at Moontime, which was definitely more of a walk than we planned, but fine. 3 stars, ‘Great Service, Food was Okay’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g35418-d410644-r138255308-Moon_Time-Coeur_d_Alene_Idaho.html
We headed to the ice cream shop a few streets down (still on the main drag) for dessert, which was okay, but not wonderful.

DAY 3 (Sunday): After having breakfast at our B&B, we drove down to the lake and spent an hour walking around Tubbs Hill which is a really nice loop on a small peninsula. It was nice to get out for a bit of exercise, before getting in the car for a long drive. From here, we drove all the way to Columbia Falls, MT, via 90, 200 and 93. This was a really pretty drive and for the most part, fast, even after you got off 90. We stopped in West Plains at Heather’s Country Kitchen – 3 stars ‘Nothing Special, Keep Driving to Kallispell if you can Make it’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g45036-d2340169-r138255588-Heather_s_Country_Kitchen-West_Plains_Missouri.html

I’d say door-to-door, it took between 4 hours total (taking out the time for lunch). We arrived at our next B&B around 5pm. Moss Mountain – 4 stars ‘Lovely Hosts and Great Location right outside the park’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g143026-d1158093-r139949884-Moss_Mountain_Inn-Glacier_National_Park_Montana.htm
Shortly after, we headed to dinner – our best dinner of the whole trip, in Whitefish, Tupelo Grill, 4 stars http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g45402-d417965-r138244342-Tupelo_Grille-Whitefish_Montana.html

DAY 4 (Monday) We slept in and picked up sandwiches at the General store right before the entrance at West Glacier. This worked out well as we were able to do a very short hike (John’s Lake – too short, but we walked a bit on the other side of the road near the river too). Then we headed over to Glacier Rafting Company to go river rafting – we booked the night before. 5-stars “Great Trip, but Rapids were pretty tame” http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60832-d1772180-r140281495-Glacier_Raft_Company-West_Glacier_Montana.html
We were hungry and very thirsty when we got back, so even though it was only about 5pm, we headed across the street to the West Glacier Restaurant for dinner, 3 stars http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60832-d1553016-r138256363-West_Glacier_Restaurant-West_Glacier_Montana.html
That night we just relaxed back at our hotel.

DAY 5 (Tuesday) We departed our B&B and entered the park – there was a long line of cars to get in, but it didn’t take too long. You can get a weeklong pass. Then we stopped at the Avalanche Lake trail and luckily found a parking spot – you need to get here early to do so, or be lucky. This was a perfect hike, not too long, not difficult, but had some ups and downs and very shaded which was great as it was probably 85 degrees. Right before the trail, there’s a little loop trail that takes you to a really nice waterfall. We ended with this, but Avalanche lake itself was very pretty and there were rangers there to answer questions. While never crowded, there were always people on the trail and tons of people out at the lake when we got there.

more to come...

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    Great report so far. I have been to Coeur D'Alene before but for a very short drive through really and it's been a long time. Such a pretty place though. Did you see more hikes or things to do if you were to have spent a couple more days there?

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    We are in exactly the same situation. Have always wanted to visit GNP---want to do it this summer--but $900 nonstop flights from chicago and not much cheaper with stops. We may go to Spokane, also, then coeur d"alene ---may stay at resort for a few days then on to GNP---looking forward to the rest of your post, also. Did u take a red bus tour and/or stay IN park?

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    Apologies for the delay, here's the rest of the trip report.

    DAY 5 (TUESDAY), Continued:
    After hiking out to Avalanche Lake, we got back in the car and headed out on the Going to the Sun Road. This, as everyone else says, was truly spectacular. There are multiple spots along the way to pull over, although the most impressive part is a 2-lane road without pull outs, where they were doing quite a bit of construction (at least when we were there last summer). Timing is everything and unfortunately I don’t think you can plan this, but we were only stopped for maybe 5 minutes, just enough time to get out and take some photos. I’ve heard of others being stopped for nearly half an hour, if you’re one of the first cars to be stopped. At the end of the day, you can’t really be rushing through this area anyway. If you get stopped, turn off your car, enjoy your surroundings, maybe get some photos.

    As we had a long drive ahead of us, all the way to Waterton in Canada, we didn’t make any stops along the way. I can’t remember exactly how long the drive took from Avalanche all the way to the Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada, but I do remember that it was not as long as we expected. When we got to the Canadian border, we actually had our wallets and passports in the trunk. There’s a sign that says ‘stay in your vehicle’, so when we pulled up, we explained the situation with our passports, he asked if we had our drivers licenses and we said they were also in the trunk, and then he let us get out to get them (it almost seemed like if we just had our drivers licenses, that would’ve been enough, but I guess it could depend on the agent). They asked a few questions and in we went. Once you cross the border, it’s a pretty short drive to the town of Waterton and the Prince of Wales Hotel. You do have to pay a park fee when entering Waterton and paying with credit card was fine so we didn’t need Canadian money. In fact, I’m not sure we took out Canadian cash the whole trip.

    We drove around the quaint town before heading back up to the hotel. The view from the Prince of Wales is spectacular and the building itself is definitely iconic, but inside, and the rooms themselves, were quite rustic. Full review here: “Lovely Building, Shame it’s not Better Maintained/Updated’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g184841-d185683-r139949141-Prince_of_Wales_Hotel-Waterton_Lakes_National_Park_Alberta.html
    We had some drinks at the hotel in their bar area (service wasn’t great, but again, can’t beat the view), before heading into town for an early dinner. I had read good reviews about Pizza of Waterton, so I don’t know if it was just us or what, but “Poor Service, but Worst Meal/Worst Pizza I’ve Eaten’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g184841-d2198388-r138244503-Pizza_of_Waterton-Waterton_Lakes_National_Park_Alberta.html

    DAY 6 (WEDNESDAY):
    We headed into town somewhat early to talk to the info center which is located near the waterfront to get some ideas on what hike to do. We asked about the hike to Crypt Lake, which is supposed to be spectacular, but involves a boat ride at the start and end of the hike and we just didn’t have enough time, or the right gear for this more advanced hike. So instead we did the Lakeshore trail, but before that, we stopped at Waterton Bagel and Coffee for breakfast. Unfortunately the dining experiences in Waterton were all some of the worst we’ve experienced anywhere. It took fooooreever to get a bagel sandwich made. Anyway, we left our car parked right in town and started the hike from there, first passing Cameron Falls before actually getting to the trailhead. We opted for the detour to see Bertha Falls, a fine detour if you’re up for it, but not devastating if you pass it up. The trail itself was a bit tough in the beginning but offered great views almost immediately; at points you were back at lake level and could even step off the trail to dip your feet in the lake. There were also some beaches along the way people were laying out at. At one point when we were just beside the lake, we saw a cub maybe 75 feet away. This freaked us out a bit as where there’s a cub, there’s a mama bear. This is also when the trail started getting very overgrown and we were walking through dense brush at least waist-high. We continued on tentatively, making a lot of noise, talking loudly, etc, and didn’t see any more bears. But I have to say, both my husband and I got pretty annoyed after a while as walking through brush that high for several miles just isn’t fun. We finally go to the US border, which is pretty cool as there are signs there marking the border. Finally we got to a bridge, and after crossing that, it’s not much further to the lake, where you wait for a boat to take you back to the town (make sure you get the boat times, I think the last one went around 5pm). I think you can get your passport stamped here, but there’s no one ‘checking’, there’s no actual border, so if you don’t have it with you, you’re fine. We got some of our best photos of the trip right at that spot, looking back across the lake.

    Plan on a full day for this hike. I think we left about an hour and half after the ranger-led group and caught up to them at the bridge just before the end, so maybe it took us 5-6 hours, including the detour to Bertha Falls (it’s a 13km hike without the detour). I think I’d recommend this hike overall as you do get such great views, there aren’t too many steep inclines and the boat ride back is great, but walking for several miles through all the brush did get annoying. Wear lots of bug spray, bring lots of water and snacks.

    We were pretty tired when we returned to town, so we just got dinner right in town, at one of the bars on the main street that backs up to the lake. It was fine, I got pasta and my husband got a burger. There was a problem in the kitchen and it ended up taking a while, but the waitress was good about communicating with us. We were able to watch the Olympics right in the bar area.

    DAY 7 (THURSDAY):
    We were leaving Canada this morning, so we packed up our stuff and got breakfast at the hotel’s Royal Stewart Dining room. The food was really good. “Pretty Good, Very Good Pancakes’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g184841-d2322772-r138242948-Royal_Stewart_Dining_Room_at_Prince_of_Wales_Hotel_Waterton_Ab-Waterton_Lakes_Na.html
    From here, we headed out of town, stopping at the Bison Paddock first, which wasn’t really worth it to us. It’s a one-way loop that you drive around, but it’s a rather large area and at least when we were there, the bison were really far off, so no matter what part of the road you were at, you could never get anything more than a far-off view.

    We continued back to the US, this time heading to the Many Glaciers Area, parked in the motor inn area and set out on the Swiftcurrent Falls trail, ultimately making it to Redrock falls. This was a perfect hike, pretty flat, not too far, especially after the previous day’s long hike. It was much cooler and drizzled a bit, but was still fine for hiking. There was a lot of wildlife on the trail and we got a great photo of a mama bear and her 2 cubs, a deer, etc. It’s only about 2 miles one-way out to the falls. We saw several families on this trail as well so a good choice for families. You walk along a nice lake as well.

    Back at the motor inn parking lot, they have a great little convenience store – you have to get the frozen yogurt they have in the machine at the back, so good! We got a few snacks before getting into the car to drive over to our hotel for the night, St Mary Lodge (unfortunately we couldn’t get a room at Many Glacier Hotel, so this was a bit out of the way, but still not too far). ‘Average at Best’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g45345-d91370-r140279833-St_Mary_Lodge_Cabins_and_Motel-Saint_Mary_Montana.html

    That night we headed back out to eat at the Cattle Baron steakhouse (I just added a review on TripAdvisor for this one). Overall, 3-stars. I think it’s a good choice for the area, definitely a fun setting, but not the most amazing steak – it is massive, although quite fatty so there was a lot left on my plate. Still, I don’t feel like the options are great around here as it is, so I would still recommend this as a place to try.

    DAY 8 (FRIDAY)
    We checked out of St Mary Lodge and stopped for breakfast at Park Café nearby, ‘Pretty Good, but Not worth the wait’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g45345-d508904-r138244164-Park_Cafe-Saint_Mary_Montana.html

    Next, we continued on back over to the Many Glacier area, again parking at the Swiftcurrent motor inn. This time we took the longer hike out to Iceberg Lake. I highly recommend this hike. It’s not too hard, but long enough that you feel like you got a really good hike in, plus the scenery is just beautiful. You pass some waterfalls (Ptarmagin Falls – and we actually saw a ptarmagin too!), and there’s lots of wildlife. We saw a big horn sheep, although it was very far up the mountain so you needed binoculars. Towards the end of the hike, you have to cross a patch of snow, before finally get to Iceberg Lake, which is really impressive. We ate our lunch here, although with probably 20 others and then made the hike back. Again we stopped for some frozen yogurt once back in the motor inn parking lot, then head over to Many Glacier Hotel to check in. “Best Bathroom/Shower out of the Hotels in the Park” http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g143026-d122893-r140279455-Many_Glacier_Hotel-Glacier_National_Park_Montana.html

    After relaxing in the room for a bit, we headed back out to do the lakefront loop that leaves from the hotel, the Swiftcurrent Trail and did a slight detour to get a peek at Lake Josephine, so tranquil! Watch out for bugs on the swiftcurrent trail though. Once back at the hotel, we got some drinks in the bar area before heading over to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn for dinner – I had read that the food is a million times better over here versus the Many Glacier Hotel, but “Hour-Plus Wait Time for an Average Burger, but Great Service” http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g143026-d2316642-r138257203-Swiftcurrent_Motor_Inn_Restaurant-Glacier_National_Park_Montana.html One more stop by the convenience store for frozen yogurt too 

    DAY 9 (SATURDAY)
    We had a long day ahead of us, needing to get all the way back to Spokane, so we pretty much woke up and got on the road. We stopped a few places on the way back to the Going to the Sun Road, got photos of Goose Island, etc and we did stop at the big Visitor’s center at Logan Pass to walk around a bit. You can do a hike from here, but we didn’t have time. Parking can get VERY tough here, although people are in and out pretty frequently so sooner or later you can get a spot.

    Again we were lucky and didn’t get held up too badly by construction over the pass. We made it back to Kalispell where we stopped for a late breakfast at Perkins. Then we continued on, this time taking a different route (instead of going south at Kalispell all the way back to highway 90, we took highway 2 through Libby, then went south to CdA). This actually turned out to be faster. Near Libby, we stopped off for a quick hike to see Kootenai Falls and go on a swinging bridge. I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way for this, but it was an awesome place to stop off and stretch your legs in a cool surrounding. We also had an old-school train go by when we were there, which we got a great photo of. There is stand selling water and it was VERY hot when we were there.

    Back in the car, we headed into CdA and made it much earlier than we expected so we went to see a movie, before heading into town for dinner. There was some sort of street festival going on, so the main street was closed down and there were all kinds of booths. We settled for dinner at Fire Artisan Pizza, which was actually great! ‘Best Spot we Found in CdA’ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g35418-d2307496-r138254644-Fire_Artisan_Pizza-Coeur_d_Alene_Idaho.html

    After dinner, it was a pretty short drive back to our airport hotel, Wyndham Spokane. This was a great choice, we could actually walk from the airport (though they do have a shuttle), were checked in quickly, the room was nice, etc. We dropped off our car rental this evening so we didn’t have to deal with it in the morning.

    DAY 10 (SUNDAY)
    Early wake up for the first flight back to San Francisco. Spokane airport was quick and efficient.

    Overall, we had a wonderful trip to Washington and Montana; I highly recommend a visit to Glacier and Waterton if you can.

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