A beautiful week in Glacier NP- Trip Report

Aug 29th, 2018, 07:13 AM
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A beautiful week in Glacier NP- Trip Report

We went to Glacier from July 28-August 4 and had a wonderful trip. I want to go back. My husband and I take an annual trip with an avid-hiker friend. We choose places that have great scenery and hiking. Glacier has been on our list because all of us wanted to see the actual glaciers before they completely disappear.

We were lucky that we did not encounter any wildfires while were. It was disconcerting when we returned home and a short time later saw that a major fire had been sparked by lightening where we had been so recently.
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 07:20 AM
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Where We Hiked:
We had a Falcon Guide for Glacier and Waterton Lake Parks. We have used these guides before and like them. I was surprised how very few short hikes (less than 5 mi total) are described in this one.

Two Medicine Entrance:
Scenic Point: Just gorgeous. As we climbed the views of the lakes just got better and better. We started it after lunch so most of the folks on the trail were already on their way down. There’s a waterfall that’s at a viewpoint very early in the hike but it is not particularly impressive (it’s nice, but I wouldn’t choose this hike just to view it).

It was hot out and there isn’t much shade on this hike after the first mile as it is largely exposed. We found this to be true of most of the hikes we took in the park. I loved the abundance of small wildlife like chipmunks (two kinds) and ground squirrels which we saw all over the trail. When we walked the ridgeline to get to the overlook point we crossed over many colorful rocks and I marveled at how pretty they were. Turns out I would be enchanted by the rocks on pretty much every hike we did. I love nature! We also loved stark beauty of the twisted bare trees along the trail. The scenic point was nice--the weather was hot enough to make the view of the prairie hazy but supposedly if it is clear you can see for miles and miles.

East Glacier Entrance:
St. Mary and Virginia Falls
- The only hike we did where it was shady the whole way as it does not climb above the treeline. It was crowded (the park is crowded in July, that’s just the way it is) with friendly hikers all greeting each other as we passed. The falls were all pretty and all were different from each other. St. Mary falls is very quick and easy to get to and the color of the water is incredible. We weren’t sure if it was worth going all the way to Virginia falls or if it would be very similar--it was worth it and it was rather different--a very high pretty falls. Not too many people went all the way there so we shared our time there with a family, some of whom thought they had the fortitude for a splash in the falls (nope, too cold!). Once they realized it was too cold for that they instead persuaded everyone in the family to remove their shirts (men were shirtless, women in sports bras) and stand together for a group photo. If you get a Christmas card featuring a family of about 10 adults aged 20s through 60s who are enviably comfortable with each other and their bodies in front of a beautiful falls then I took that photo!
We also followed the trail the other direction and went to Baring Falls, which was both less impressive and more crowded (a tour boat had just let off from the lake).

Wildlife was less visible on this trail--we saw a lovely deer on the trail and a little tiny toad but the chipmunks and ground squirrels were fewer.

Highline Trail- The Glacier stunner. The showstopper. The can’t-miss hike of the park. It lives up to the hype. We did this as a day-hike and it was entirely do-able as such. The key is getting to a parking lot early. Before 8 AM. We were at Logan Pass parking by 7:30 a.m. and it was ĺ full. We heard from other hikers that fistfights were nearly breaking out over spaces by 8:00.

Much has been said about this hike as it is so popular but I will just state here in case it has not been pounded into your head--Start this hike at Logan Pass. DO NOT start this hike at The Loop. It is folly. Starting at Logan is the easier and prettier way to go. If you are staying at the chalet and thinking to yourself, “well, it’s quicker to get there by starting at The Loop” you have missed the big problem with going in this direction--the elevation gain that way is quick, it is without a respite, and it is unshaded. On our way down we passed so many miserably sweaty people on their way up. There were many grumpy families.

Another tip--don’t go nuts with the coffee right before the hike. The trail is narrow and busy so there aren’t a lot of places to “pull over” for a pee break.

The hike is fabulous. Beautiful at every turn. Stunning. We gawped a lot. We saw all our little rodent friends in droves and marmots came into the mix. Including, to my joy, an adult with a baby posing on a rock like they were models, and one who was licking the heck out of some tree sap. The tree sap one was not shy in the least so everyone along the way stopped for a good gander (and in my case, a happy giggle) at it. I also kept laughing at the ground squirrels calling out to each other.

Loads and loads of wildflowers. My friend makes me document all the ones we see and I kicked myself because there was a huge patch of Glacier Lilies still in bloom that I didn’t capture. I assumed there would be tons and tons of them to take pics of as we walked as that had been the case with every other type of flower but apparently that was a giant patch of late-bloomers as all the other fields we passed were spent.

The spur up to Grinnell Glacier was the hardest part of the hike--short but uphill. Totally worth it. It was mosquito-y up there, though. And at the Chalet as well, where we thought we were going to stop and snack. It was too buggy so we just hike-ate along the trail. Bring your bug repellent! And sunscreen!

Many Glacier Entrance:
Grinnell Glacier Hike: The boat system for getting there and back is surprisingly confusing. And unnecessary as that mileage is flat. We wanted to use the boat to cut off some miles since we finished HIghline the day before and we wanted an easy and short hike. There was much shuffling and information gathering from the boat dock at Many Glacier lodge and eventually we got on the 10:30 boats across the lakes. These were nice and informative but given the way the whole system works we did not use our return tickets. We arrived in ample time for the 4:45 boat out but we would have waited at least 30 min to get on it only to perhaps learn that there were not enough spaces and we would have to wait for the boats to come back--as I said, the walk back from that point is flat so we just walked out and still beat the boat back to the dock. The boats would be lovely for a scenic ride with some info but I don’t really recommend it as a component of the hike.

This hike was more strenuous than anticipated just based on milage (7.8) mi) as there was considerable uphill to the glacier lake. And again it was hot and unshaded. The rocks in the streams here were again eye-catching. There’s absolutely nothing like it in Virginia where I live. The colors mesmerized me and felt like I was crossing a magical rainbow stream. We saw big-horn sheep here, including one that came and drank from the lake!

This was also the hike of the grumpiest families. I wanted to rename it “Snippy Dads Trail.” One dad was berating his wife and teen daughter for taking too many rest breaks and ruining their pace. In another instance, a kid (maybe 7 or 8) was excitedly pointing out some sheep on the snow and the dad snapped, “yeah, I’ve seen it” and briskly walked on without looking. There were others as well. So if you embark on this hike, consider it your therapeutic opportunity to lose your patience publicly with your family who has driven you bonkers for the past week with their bickering, slow pace, and inability to just shut up and enjoy the view--it seems to be a requirement for this trail.

Redrock Falls: A short and easy morning hike from Swiftcurrent Inn. We had the trail nearly to ourselves. We hoped for some big wildlife sightings (moose or bear) but instead just had a thoroughly beautiful and peaceful walk. The falls were pretty and made for a nice short break before we walked back. There is a good chance for wildlife spotting here --we had walked part of it the previous night and shared our path with a black bear! There’s also a small lake neaby that regularly has moose.

I'll add some pics in the next couple of posts.
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 07:40 AM
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Thank you for posting this TR. We are considering adding Glacier to our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton next September.
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Aug 29th, 2018, 07:46 AM
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Thanks, look forward to your photos.
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Aug 29th, 2018, 07:48 AM
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Aug 29th, 2018, 08:05 AM
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Wildlife Roundup:
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 08:07 AM
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Great report! Highline was closed when we wanted to hike it. We need to try again!

My husband and I ran into two moose just past Red Rock Falls on the way up Swiftcurrent Pass. We let them have the trail, and we walked through the marsh instead!
kureiff is online now  
Aug 29th, 2018, 08:32 AM
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Where We Stayed

Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village, Browning, MT
We stayed in a tipi! It was cool! This is located on the Blackfeet reservation on the east side of the park. We didn’t know how the location would work out but we really liked the idea of staying in a tipi. The location turned out to be terrific for entering by Two Medicine. The couple that run the place are friendly and laid-back. The tipi was cozy and had a firepit set up in it (we didn’t need the fire as it was plenty warm). We didn’t have any rain so I am not sure how it would have rated as lodging if we had to deal with that. We had our own sleeping bags and mats but the place will also rent a linen package and it looked comfy from the others we saw.

There were prairie dogs all over the site so beware their holes if you make a bathroom run in the dark! They are also naughty critters and got right into our luggage looking for snack. We found this hilarious, others might not feel that way. I felt particularly honored when one left a poo directly in the center of my pillow.

We did a craft activity with the Blackfeet owner--a small par fleche and it was a relaxing way to learn something about Blackfeet culture and art and have a cool souvenir of the trip.

Johnson’s of St. Mary Primitive Cabin:
They only have two of these cabins as this is largely an RV and tented campsite. The site is a good one--well located to the East entrance with clean bathrooms and nice sites. The cabin was particularly great--three sets of bunk beds with mattresses (you bring your linens/sleeping bags) and the designer gave a lot of thought to convenience so there were some tables, stools, and plenty of shelves and pegs for gear and books and whatnot. It was hot in the cabin at night so we made sure to open the windows the second night we were there. We would have been glad to stay here the whole trip it was so convenient and comfy. The porch even had a rocking chair to relax in!

Swifcurrent Motor Inn:
The dud of the trip. I am well aware that the whole point of in-park lodging is convenience and that is about it. I nevertheless felt ripped off by paying $200/night for this crummy room. And this is the budget in-park hotel! It was unbearably hot (no A/C just a box fan) and tiny. The rug looked dirty. There was a mouse in the room raiding our trash overnight (it’s the forest, I understand, but it didn’t exactly add to ambiance). The electrical outlets were few (one in the room, one in the bathroom) and hard to access--the one in the room was basically inaccessible. I was glad we carry an extension cord on trips or I have no idea how we would have plugged in the box fan. Thank goodness for the box fan, without it we would have all drowned in our own sweat overnight (and I say this as a person who is always, always cold). The location was as excellent as we hoped. There were great trails nearby, we saw grizzlies in the distance on the ridge over the hotel. The service people in the hotel and [mediocre] restaurant were lovely. It’s just hard to wrap my head around the imbalance between price-paid and amenities received.

That said, if you are dedicated to getting in-park lodging, you can probably get it. We got the Swiftcurrent a couple of weeks pre-trip just by regularly checking the site. Xanterra's reservation system is very generous to those who book--you can cancel without penalty very close to your dates of stay so reservations get snapped up as soon as they open up (a year out I think) but then as dates approach people may cancel.

In Bigfork we did an AirBNB that suited us well and was a good place from which to explore the town.
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 08:36 AM
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Thanks for looking, fellow fodorites.

Dukey, you guys should absolutely go to the park. I already want to return.

My husband kept saying, "I could live in MT." I kept replying, "I would die in the winter."

kureiff, I love moose! We've been to a few places where they live but only saw them in Alaska, on our very last day (practically last hour) there. It was spectacular! When the bear was on our trail we hopped right off it into the woods to make way and clapped our hands so it wouldn't be startled. Glad it wasn't a marsh we had to detour to!
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by schlegal1 View Post
My husband kept saying, "I could live in MT." I kept replying, "I would die in the winter."
You could summer here!

The hotel prices and value for the money can be so frustrating. We were in Bigfork a couple weeks before you, and paid a lot of money for a not very nice hotel. There can be great deals in the fall and spring, but the summer is sure expensive, especially if you're staying in a National Park. They sure know they can charge whatever they want for very few amenities.
kureiff is online now  
Aug 29th, 2018, 09:28 AM
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Originally Posted by schlegal1 View Post
My husband kept saying, "I could live in MT." I kept replying, "I would die in the winter."
That's us!

The marmots are adorable! We saw quite a few moose at Fishercap Lake.
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Aug 29th, 2018, 11:14 AM
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<We saw quite a few moose at Fishercap Lake.>

That was where we heard they were. We went the night before at sunset and people were staked out all along the shore with fancy cameras hoping for some shots. No moose that night.

Oh man, summers in MT would be lovely. So far, my life plans for when I am a bazillionaire include a summer home in Iceland, a winter home in Costa Rica, and a cabin for summer visits in MT.
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 12:24 PM
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Iíve run into a lot of bears in my life. I cry for a bit, then move on. But a mouse in the room at night would have me hanging from the light.

Kureiff this is a sad article. I can see it touching (hopefilly not) both you and your husband in your work:

xcountry is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 12:51 PM
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LOVE seeing the photos, thanks for posting. thanks for posting in the Lounge, even thought it was moved... otherwise I would have missed it entirely!!
suze is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by xcountry View Post
It is sad, and it's a huge issue here. We already had high suicide rates and then the budget cuts to health and human services have made everything worse.
kureiff is online now  
Aug 29th, 2018, 02:22 PM
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Thanks, schlegal1!
I hope to get to Glacier one of these days--appreciate the hiking info.
elberko is online now  
Aug 30th, 2018, 06:20 AM
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Thanks for the views and comments, friends!

A few odds and ends:

Jammer Tour:
This was a wonderful experience. We had a wonderful guide for the tour who gave us all kinds of wonderful information about the park's geological formation. We did the most general tour they probably have--it just drives along the Going-to-The-Sun Road from Apgar up to Logan Pass. We had already driven the road but (1) it was nice for the driver to have a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery because that drive is not an easy one (2) it was wonderful to have the stops and narration and background for what we were seeing. There was a mom and son on the tour who come to Glacier yearly and always take a different Jammer tour. I could see why after we experienced it. Plus riding in a vehicle from the 1930s was just neat!

I was not surprised to find that veggie burgers were the most common vegetarian option on menus. That's fairly typical around parks and tourist areas in my experience. They ran the gamut from lame frozen hockey puck to incredible house-made deliciousness. The best one I had was at Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls when we arrived at Kalispell airport and went to town to get lunch and await my friend's arrival. My husband said the beer he had there was wonderful, too.
The other stand-out meal was in Whitefish at a place in the little food court (Stumptown Marketplace) called The Tea Kettle. They had Asian-style dishes and the noodle bowl I ate was out-of-this-world with great flavor (they actually prepared the tofu in it with some flavor!!).

We ate so many huckleberry things we probably could have stunt doubled for the Violet Beauregard character in Willie Wonka by the end of the week. We fully embraced the huckleberry. I think that we actually had to pledge an oath to the lovely huckleberry before we were allowed to enter MT. I'll go ahead and channel Bubba from Forrest Gump for a moment and list them all: huckleberry pie (with a graham cracker crust at Looking Glass Restaurant was the standout best pie), huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry wine (surprisingly drinkable), huckleberry gummi bears (gross!), huckleberry lemonade (refreshing!), huckleberry-apple cobbler, huckleberry hot chocolate (gross!), huckleberry milkshakes, huckleberry iced tea, huckleberry soda, huckleberry-peach pie (runner up on best pie of the trip at Eddie's Cafe), huckleberry cocktails (at the Snowgoose Grill in St. Mary--we tried several and all were outstanding), huckleberry bear claw, huckleberry scone, huckleberry danish, and at the airport we had to get in a final item and had huckleberry hard candy sticks. The rule was that if it was huckleberry and we hadn't already had it, we tried it. I also ate huckleberries while we hiked (not that tasty on their own). I brought huckleberry taffy back for my office but I hate taffy so I didn't taste it.

Huckleberries took a backseat to Flathead cherries when we got to Bigfork. I was in heaven because I love fruit. We bought cherries from a stand and they were wonderful. And we also tried a flathead cherry wine that was not just drinkable but delicious and something I would buy again.

Glacier in Pop Culture
I always read a mystery novel set in the location I go for vacation. Luckily Nevada Barr has a whole series set in US National Parks so I read Blood Lure for this trip. It was a fun read (I actually don't much care for mysteries) and it's always enjoyable to spot places in a book that you recognize.

We also like to try and watch a movie that uses the locale as a setting. Turns out Forrest Gump runs through Glacier during the running portion of the movie but it's only for about 1 sec so we just watched that on YouTube. However, the movie Beethoven's 2nd (yup, the silly movie with St. Bernards) was shot at Lake McDonald. So on our final night while at the AirBNB we had wine and popcorn and watched it and had a blast recognizing the park and snarking about the movie.

Outside the Park Fun:
We had fun poking around Bigfork's galleries. It's a cute town and I felt like the day we had there was sufficient to take it in. We had a tremendously good breakfast at Echo Lake Cafe. There was a wait to eat as it's popular.

We also had a lovely few hours tasting and then chatting at Whistling Andy Distillery. The people there were so welcoming and nice and the place was so relaxing to hang out. The drinks we tasted were a lot of fun but the spirits were not terribly impressive. My husband is a bourbon lover and their bourbon was so-so. Oh--I forgot a huckleberry item--they have a huckleberry vodka that is a limited edition that we tried. I wanted to love it because they are donating proceeds from its sale to rebuilding Sperry Chalet. But it was not to my liking. But different people have different tastes and they win a lot of awards so don't take my word for it on taste because it's a fun stop and the folks are too nice not to support it!

While in Whitefish we did the Alpine slide, which was similar to a slide we did last year in Slovenia (theirs was a rail rather than a slide track but similar overall feel). I was excited to do something like it again because last year my husband didn't really get the full experience--two people were in line before us last year, a mom and her older-teen son. Mom roared down the mountain having a blast. Son braked his way down so slowly that my husband ended up basically just being on his tail at a snail's pace. meanwhile my friend and I were able to roar down full speed. So this time we made sure that my friend and I went before he did and that we sped down like rabbits so he could do the same. It was super fun.
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 30th, 2018, 06:30 AM
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HIghline Trail

Scenic Point Trail

Me on the Scenic Point Trail
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 30th, 2018, 08:54 AM
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A few thoughts on logistics:

Backcountry camping: We entered the lottery for backcountry permits. We didn't get them. We held off on making some of our plans until we learned whether we got the permits. I wouldn't do this in the future. Instead, I would make plans that can be canceled if you DO get a permit and then you aren't scrounging if you don't. We considered just bringing our gear and making do with a campsite we got while there but decided we didn't want to waste vacation time scrambling for a tent site. I'm glad we made that choice. The well-located campsites are full pretty much throughout July and August from what I understand-- we never passed one that didn't indicate that it was already full.

Bear Spray: The tip I read was true, the Super 1 in Columbia Falls had the best price we saw on the trip--$29.99. You buy it from the Customer service desk, not the main grocery. I wish there were a way to reasonably exchange the spray among campers as it seems wasteful for people to buy it and have it for just a week (you can't bring it back on a plane as it is a weapon). Renting for a week would have been more expensive but it is an option and may be more economical for different trip lengths.

Flying There/Back: If you can manage to book your flights in and out of Kalispell it is incredibly convenient and pleasant little airport. The car rental desks are inside the airport and then you walk out to the rental lots. Very simple and friendly.
schlegal1 is offline  
Aug 30th, 2018, 09:30 AM
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Originally Posted by schlegal1 View Post
We also had a lovely few hours tasting and then chatting at Whistling Andy Distillery. The people there were so welcoming and nice and the place was so relaxing to hang out. The drinks we tasted were a lot of fun but the spirits were not terribly impressive.
I concur. My siblings and I stopped there over Father's Day weekend. The owners are great! The cocktails are not. We had a group of about 10 of us, so we were able to try a wide variety of the cocktails, and we liked one out the many we tried.

My husband and I stopped at Glacier Distilling Company in July, and it was also not good.
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