After hiking the Highline Trail, we were exhausted. While the trail was relatively flat, 11.8 miles (19 km) in one day is tiring! So, we decided to spend the rest of the week driving through different areas of the park and completing shorter hikes.
Glacier National Park is huge and we wanted to ensure we explored the best it had to offer.
Our first short hike was the Avalanche Lake Trail. Beginning at our campground, it was 4.5 miles (7.25 km) round trip through a cedar and hemlock forest leading to a gorgeous lake.
While it is a beautiful and leisurely stroll, it is one of Glacier’s busier hikes. So, you could imagine our surprise when we were continually stopped by hikers warning us of grizzly bears up ahead. I mean, I was under the impression that bears didn’t like crowds of people.
Was I wrong?
While this may discourage some hikers from continuing, Kevin and I got excited! We had not yet seen any bears while hiking.
Not that I wanted to see one up close necessarily, but in the distance would be perfect.
We learned that there was a mom and two cubs at the lake. Apparently, a ranger was monitoring the situation.
We continued on excited and nervous. While walking, I mentally reviewed everything I knew about bear safety. Be slow. Get your bear spray. No quick movements. Don’t look them in the eye. If they attack, get face down on the ground, cover your neck and spread your legs slightly (so they can’t flip you onto your backside). Whatever you do, don’t let them get your food.
There more I reviewed, the more I realized I knew my stuff. I was feeling confident. I was ready!
All of a sudden, Kevin quickly stopped in his tracks.
“Um babe,” he called.
Within seconds, I rounded the corner and we were both staring at a black bear next to the trail. I whipped out my bear spray, removed the safety clip, and slowly started to back away. Turning to check on Kevin, I noticed he also had his bear spray ready but somehow managed to start filming the bear as well.
My boy has skills.
Luckily, the bear could not have been less interested in us. It backed away and started heading down the trail.
I’m not sure who was walking up the trail but I bet someone had a big surprise!
I wonder how well they knew their bear safety….
Shortly after our black bear encounter, we reached Avalanche Lake. Cautiously, we walked out to the beach ready for our next encounter.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies had already moved on. Worst yet, they left with some backpacks a family abandoned when encountering the bears. Rangers were now tracking them to determine if they got into the food.
You should never leave your packs unattended, especially if there is food! I mean, I knew this. How do people in the parks not know this?
While we missed the grizzlies, we still enjoyed the views of the lake. Overall, it was a perfect short hike with some adventure along the way.
I mean, who doesn’t love a little adventure?
Later in the week, we decided to get off of the beaten path and check out the least explored area of the park: the West Side.
It was a beautiful and quiet drive along the North Fork Road. Unlike the Going-to-the-Sun road, there was no traffic. In fact, we barely saw any other cars on the road. This side of the park was completely different. While the mountains could still be viewed in the distance, the scenery consisted mostly of gorgeous open fields, trees and the odd historical building.
Heading north, the North Fork Road eventually winds outside of the park. At this point, we passed by private properties and stores offering services to park guests. We stopped into the Home Ranch Bottoms for a snack and a drink. After, we continued on to Kintla Lake.
At Kintla Lake we found a small, quiet and picturesque campground. We walked around the lake and enjoyed the peacefulness offered in this side of the park.
On our way back, we stopped into Polebridge. This unincorporated, one-street community is located a mile from the Northwest entrance of Glacier National Park and is home to the Polebridge Mercantile and the Northern Lights Saloon.
“The Merc” is a one stop shop for locals and visitors and is famous throughout Montana for its freshly baked goods, sandwiches and authentic personality since 1914. Kevin picked up a couple of baked goods and confirmed they were incredible!
Meanwhile, the Saloon next door was the most happening place we visited in Glacier National Park. That Friday night, it was a packed house with a pizza special, cold beers on tap, and live music.
We were in the middle of nowhere, yet locals and tourists filled the property of this one-road town.
Needless to say, the West Side of Glacier National Park is definitely worth a visit!
The final area of the park we wanted to visit was Many Glacier. This area is located on the East Side of the park, north of the Going-to-the-Sun road. It is surrounded by the high peaks of the Lewis Range and offers numerous hiking trails along its lakes, waterfalls, dense forests and alpine meadows.
Sounded like a place not to pass up!
Using the same hiking blog that led us to the Highline Trail, we chose the Grinnell Glacier hike. I was hesitant giving the blog a second chance after previously providing misinformation but I took a chance anyway.
This apparent 7.6 mile (12km) hike started from the Many Glacier Hotel. The distance sounded perfect and it guaranteed some amazing views! Better yet, we read that if we took the boat across the lake, it would shave off 3.4 miles (5.5 km) of the hike.
We showed up at the hotel in the afternoon ready for the hike! Unfortunately, the boating schedule did not work for us, so we decided to power through and walk the additional 3.4 miles (5.5 km) around the lake.
No problem. We would still only have 4.2 miles (6.8 km) to go.
The hike started off easy. We walked along the lake and weaved through the forest enjoying the views along the way.
Eventually, the trail began to climb and we caught our first sights of Grinnell Lake with its glacier fed waters shining turquoise blue.
There is nothing better than a glacier fed lake.
Well, unless you want to go swimming… that changes everything.
Continuing up the trail, we were rewarded with more spectacular views.
As we looked ahead, we noticed the trail got steeper. We considered whether or not to continue, however, each hiker we passed swore that it was worth it to view the glacier.
“Are we at least close?” I asked.
“Not really….” they all replied.
Just when I was considering calling it a day, we passed a woman who was about 7 months pregnant coming back down. SHE said the hike was worth it!
Well, now I have to continue, I thought to myself. I can’t be shown up by a pregnant woman. Even if she looked like she was a pregnant fitness instructor…
So, we continued!
Eventually, we came up to a waterfall crossing. As it pelted down on each person who crossed it, I really started to question if this was a good idea.
“But you are so close,” those descending contested.
Oh, so NOW we’re close. Well, finally! We pulled out our rain gear and kept going. We had come this far, we couldn’t stop now.
After climbing what seemed like forever, we finally reached Grinnell Glacier. At this time the sun started to go down and we were lucky to catch the last bit of sun beaming on its glacier waters. It was a perfect view and worth every step to get here!
On the way back we kept a good pace, only stopping for a few last incredible photos.
As the sun was setting, we saw fewer and fewer people on the trails. Once we passed the waterfall, we ran into our last hiker climbing up.
“Look out for the mountain goat guarding the trail ahead.” He warned. “I tried to pass him and he charged at me! It’s best to get off the trail to let him pass if you can.”
Oooohhh.. This sounded exciting!
As we turned the corner, we faced the mountain goat. He looked old and serious. He was guarding that path like a security officer on watch.
We climbed up off the trail and got our cameras ready. Slowly, he strolled by keeping a careful watch on us. He made it very clear who owned that trail.
Finally, we made it back down to the trailhead where we confirmed what we already suspected. The trail was not 7.6 miles (12.2 km), it was 11.8 miles (19 km). That is the last time I get information from unofficial sources. We had to admit however, that while we didn’t plan a long hike, it was totally worth it.
That night we rewarded ourselves with dinner at the historic Many Glacier Hotel constructed in 1914.
Overall, Glacier National Park was an amazing experience! The roads, the hikes, and the views are spectacular. It is a place not to be missed.
And this was just the U.S. side of the International Peace Park. What would the Canadian side in Waterton Lakes National Park have to offer?
We couldn’t wait to find out!