July 27, 2016

Glacier National Park, Montana (Part 1)

After Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, we headed into Montana toward Glacier National Park!

Now, I was confused when Kevin first talked about visiting Glacier on our tour of the U.S. National Parks. I mean, I thought Glacier National Park was in Canada?

Wait. Are there two?

Well, turns out there are two! But what turned out to be really interesting is that Glacier National Park (U.S.) actually has a significant tie to its Canadian version, Waterton Lakes National Park, located directly across the border.

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It all started as a brilliant idea between the Rotary Clubs in Alberta and Montana! An idea that recognized, while these parks are separate, they really are one. Because let’s be honest, Mother Nature does not recognize borders, anyway.

The idea eventually caught on and in 1932 Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park were officially joined together as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first in the world! The peace park celebrates the peace and goodwill existing along the world’s longest undefended border and has brought cooperation between the U.S. and Canada in wildlife and vegetation management, search and rescue programs, and joint interpretive programs, brochures, and exhibits.

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What a beautiful thing! It seemed like a perfect place for Kevin and I to explore the next ten days together with each of us representing our country in the Peace Park!

We spent our first night at Fish Creek Campground, the only campground in the Park to accept reservations. As the campgrounds fill quickly, we wanted to ensure that we had a place to sleep our first night.

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The next morning, we were on the hunt for a campground for the remaining week. We got up early and hit the road. Campsite scouting in the park is fierce and we wanted to ensure that we not only got a site but it was a great site! After our setup in Yellowstone/Grand Teton, we were not about to settle.

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All of the campgrounds on the West-side of the park have something to offer. Apgar Campground has facilities such as a general store and restaurant within walking distance. Sprague Creek is located on Lake MacDonald and is for tents only. Finally, Avalanche is more centrally located and has some great day hikes from the campground.

After scouting the first two campsites with no luck, we headed into Avalanche. At this point, we were experienced site hunters. We learned the odds of finding an empty site were slim. What we needed to find was some campers who were about to leave. I now eyed up the checkout dates posted on the tickets at each site. Eventually, I realized sites that were not booked for the day had no tickets at all.

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I quickly felt like we had the inside scoop on site hunting. We became unstoppable! Before we knew it, we came up to a huge, private, shaded and ticketless site. I hopped out, confirmed with the campers they were leaving, and filled out the booking immediately.

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We had found the perfect home for the next week!

Man, we are good.

Once we had our home figured out, it was time to explore. The first thing on our list was to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road!

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This spectacular road was constructed between 1921 and 1932, and is notable as one of the first National Park Service projects specifically intended to accommodate the automobile tourist.

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Well, thank god they did because the drive is incredible!

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While the road is only 49 miles (78 km), in the middle of the day it can take over 2 hours to drive. The road is narrow, the curves are sharp, and the scenery provides endless distractions along the way.

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Our first day was a success! Driving the Going-to-the-Sun road was spectacular. The next day, however, we were ready to see the park from a different view, a higher view. We were ready to head into the mountains!

Now, Glacier is filled with amazing hikes. What I wanted, however, was to find the best hike that Glacier had to offer. So when I found a hike that was said to be “on the bucket list of any respectable hiker,” I immediately knew that I had found the one!

I mean, Kevin and I are totally respectable hikers. People are always telling me how hardcore I look in my hiking boots…

The more I read about the Highline Trail, the more I was sold. This 11.8 mile (19 km) trail followed the Continental Divide (aka Garden Wall) above the Going-to-the-Sun road and promised some of the best views of Glacier National Park. It is also a one way hike that begins at Logan Pass and finishes at The Loop.

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One way hikes are my favourite!

We parked our car at the The Loop and took the free park shuttle to Logan Pass. Poles extended, day packs filled, and cameras ready, we hit the trail!

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The trail begins along a narrow ledge carved out of the side of the mountain. With a 100 foot drop down to the Going-to-the-Sun road, the ledge is equipped with hand-cables for those afraid of heights. Or perhaps those that are accident prone…

I should have no problem, right?

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Keeping it close to the mountain, we slowly moved along until we were stopped by two mountain goats in our path!

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With ease, they hopped around us and continued on their way.

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Five minutes in and I was already SUPER happy we chose this trail!

Eventually we moved off the ledge and continued on the trail taking in more spectacular views. Mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and wildflowers, this trail had it all!

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While we were enjoying the hike and the scenery, we couldn’t help but notice some serious storm clouds building in the distance. Always the optimist, I kept stating that I had a feeling they would blow past us and we would miss the rain.

“Is it a strong feeling?!” Kevin eventually questioned.

“Moderately strong!” I responded back. He loves to challenge me when I say I have a feeling about something.

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Eventually, thunder started to rumble the valley and flashes of lightning lit up the sky. It wasn’t long afterwards, the wind began to blow further warning us the storm was near.

I guess my feeling was wrong after all…

Now, I have to give Kevin credit because his ability to predict how long we have until it starts to pour rain is unbelievable. Seriously, this guy’s timing is dead on! So when he told me to stop and get my rain gear ready, we didn’t mess around.

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I quickly threw on my rain jacket and put my camera safely away in my pack.

“I think I’ll just stay in my shorts!” I declared to Kevin. He stared back at me disapprovingly.

Hhhmm… “Or, maybe I’ll put my rain pants on too!” I tried again.

“I think that’s a much better idea…” he answered back. Once I finished getting my rain pants on and saw what was headed our way, I knew he was right.

Why is he always right?!

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Before we knew it, the rain pelted into us as the thunder echoed throughout the valley. Continuing along the trail, we passed numerous people still in t-shirts and shorts who looked at us with envy.

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I was so thankful for my rain gear. Actually, I was so thankful for Kevin! Without him, I would be another unprepared hiker on the trails. He’s done a lot of work to get me to where I am today.

Now, I look like a super hard-core hiker!

Key word: look

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Eventually, the rain passed and the blue sky started to return. We continued weaving along the trail that hugged the cliffs and slopes of the Garden Wall.

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Everything about the hike was beautiful! From the mountain peaks to the vibrant colours of the rocks and wildflowers.

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I was loving the wildflowers!

In my previous life, I am not even sure that I knew about wildflowers. I was too busy to focus on such simple things in life. But now, I can not get enough of them. I mean, how beautiful are these?

The red ones are totally my favourite.

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After 7.6 miles (12.2 km), we made it to the Granite Park Chalet. This Chalet was built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railway to provide backcountry accommodations in the Park. Today, it continues to provides basic accommodations with virtually no amenities.

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While washrooms were available to hikers, use of a stove was strictly denied (although I read on a blog you could use their kitchen). They further refused to let us purchase hot water, EVEN if we gave them the water to heat.

Unbelievable. Needless to say, we had granola bars for lunch and not the Mac n Cheese I was hoping for…  I’ll never take advice from that blog again!

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For the record, hiking in the mountains involves multiple wardrobe changes..

The descent back to the car was quick. We took in our last views of the mountain peaks that surrounded us, passed by some wildlife and hiked through the devastation inflicted by the 2003 Trapper Creek forest fire.

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Overall, it was a perfect day on the trails and was the best way so far to experience Glacier National Park.

But this was just the beginning. We still had a week left in the park!

What would we see next?!

To be continued….

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