Glacier National Park — Part One
This summer we set out for an almost four week trek through some of the most incredible scenery in the Western United States. After Jackson and the Tetons, we made the short trip to Yellowstone National Park. From Yellowstone, we drove to Glacier National Park, our first time in Montana and our first time at Glacier. We spent a week at the West Glacier KOA and enjoyed several days in the park.
Glacier National Park is out of the way, far north, and pretty close to Canada. It takes a good long while to get there from most places, and when you go, it’s good to be well provisioned. Things in West Glacier are expensive, from gasoline to milk, so as much as you can, take what you’ll need. Also, as you plan your trip, note that Glacier is a more seasonal park than lots of others. Getting to many attractions in the park requires the Going to the Sun Road has been plowed, and that opening date changes every year. Keep your eye on the park’s website or their facebook page. When we traveled in 2022, the road didn’t fully open until July 13. Lastly, you’ll probably need a permit to drive on the Going to the Sun Road. In 2022, permits were issued for three days, and could be reserved three months in advance. There was a $2.00 fee for each permit. We were planning to be in the park for a week, so we reserved two 3 day passes.
On our first day in the park, we drove the Going to the Sun Road up to Logan’s pass, to get an overview of the western side of the park. We started at Apgar’s Visitors Center, stamped our passports, got the park brochure, and checked out the shuttle schedule. Then we started our Gypsy Guide (now Guide Along) and headed along the GTTS road. The first stop Gypsy Dave suggested (that had available parking) was McDonald Falls. All the falls along road in the river that feeds into Lake McDonald are very easy to get to from the road. Parking can be hit or miss, but once you park, it’s just a very short walk to the views. We enjoyed McDonald Falls for a few minutes, before taking to the road again.
The drive up the Going to the Sun Road is an experience in and of itself. The road is narrow and steep, and while it’s not super curvy, you will come close to a sheer moutain face at several points. Take the road slowly and appreciate that the challenging drive is as much a part of the experience as the incredible views out your window.
There are several stunning pull outs on the way up and down, and if you see a spot, you should park and enjoy it. If not, no worries, keep going, if you’re in the park for a few days, you’ll be back. Another option is to ride the shuttles or take a tour on one of the red jammer busses, and leave the driving to an expert.
At the top of the GTTS Road is Logan’s Pass, the midpoint between the west side of the park and the east side of the park. I’d heard plenty of stories of how hard it was to park at Logan’s Pass, folks who wanted to hike getting up there at 6 AM and not finding available spots. During our trip, we did have to loop around a few times in the lot, but we were always able to find parking. Many of the popular trails were still unavailable due to snow, which might have made parking easier. Whatever it was, we parked on two different days with less than ten minutes of circling.
Behind the Logan’s Pass Visitor’s Center is the Hidden Lake Trail, which in late July 2022 was still under some snow. We explored a bit, I was in sandals, so we couldn’t go far. This was one of our sweet spots for bighorn sheep and mountain goats, though we had to stop back another day for our best views. I had hoped to check out some of the High Line Tail, as one of our big hikes this summer, but it was still closed.
On our way back down the GTTS Road, we stopped at the Sacred Dancing Cascade, and took another short walk across the bridge to look back at the falls. The water is such a lovely color, and in the late afternoon, we had the trail almost to ourselves. On our way back to camp, we stopped to eat at the West Glacier Restaurant. We’d recommend the Huckleberry Cream Soda and the Huckleberry Lemonade.
For our second day in the park, I had envisioned us taking a lovely shady walk along the eastern side of McDonald Lake. The trail we needed to take started at the Fish Creek Picnic Area. We started back at the Apgar’s Visitor Center, and I left our lunch in the truck. By the time we’d hiked 2.5 miles to the start of the trail, the team’s morale was quite low. Even though we’d seen two deer and a black bear. Maybe because we saw a black bear. We sat a moment at the Picnic Area, then hiked back, got an ice cream, got back to our truck, drove back to the Picnic Area, and ate. The boys had some swim time in the lake, which helped improve morale.
We wrapped up the evening at the Owl and Raptor Show at the campground. The volunteers who shared the birds with us were outstanding, and they gave us a very close up look at hawks and owls.