One of the things we cherish most about our summers is the quality time we get to spend with people. When we arrived at Glacier National Park (travel dates 7/13-7/18), we had coordinated with 49 friends in the last 27 days, 51 if you include my cousin and his daughter, who were able to meet us the day we arrived (on their last day in the park after a week in the backcountry).
Our pace was unmatched to any other year, trying to squeeze everything in for all our vacation companions. That old guitar I brought along for that “downtime” in the campsite saw the light of day only once (this may have been the single most abusive space hog on the trip, but don’t tell C that I admitted it ) ;).
Day 28 was the first day of our trip where we determined our own, and only our own plan. Of course, we could have relaxed in the campsite at Fish Creek,
and sat in new hammock more,
but we were in Glacier! This is by far our favorite national park, which was only confirmed after another great visit. We couldn’t wait to get out to some of our favorite trails, so our first morning on the west side, we raced up to Trail of the Cedars to head up to Avalanche Lake. There are shuttles up to Avalanche, but they often get busy and crowded, so we opted to drive even though the parking situation is also difficult, especially at this popular destination.
It is so worth it though! The west side of Glacier is pretty civilized, with a decent sized grocery store in Columbia Falls, and cell reception at Fish Creek and Apgar, but by the time you drive the 15 miles or so to Avalanche, you are off the grid. The entire west side is covered with beautiful big trees and a moist climate, but the cedars here are just amazing. There is a short loop, Trail of the Cedars,
which we like to extend 2 miles to get to Avalanche Lake.
The trail goes through the Cedars,
along a beautiful creek,
an avalanche area,
all the way to one of Glacier’s most picturesque lakes.
We adopted the Chinese paparazzi again – they just LOVE taking pictures of us, especially the girls.
They tried to hide it for awhile, but this time, I asked them to take our family pic as long as they were taking pictures of us anyway 😉 Of course they promised to email us their best ones, but we never heard back from “Jay.”
The kids basically ran back along the trail, dodging through trees
and atop the big boulders.
We wished we had them wear their fitbits, as their mileage surely doubled our 4 mile hike. We had a picnic lunch near the campground,
and then Chuck and Ethan ran down yet another cedar trail to meet us at Lake McDonald Lodge.
You never know what each trip brings, even when you revisit the same destinations. The kids loved playing in the river-meets-lake water near the boat dock. Us adults tried to join them, but it was FREEZING, so we ended up people watching while the kids soaked up the cold, rocky water.
We spent the evening relaxing over dinner and packing up backpacks to hit the Highline Trail the next day with the boys.
Chuck is so good with this, always pushing me out the door to get the big hikes in with the boys even though I insist I want to enjoy the entire family. Once I get the taste of that high country Glacier, it’s all over!
The boys and I parked at Glacier the next morning for the 7am express shuttle to Logan Pass. We figured this would allow Chuck to walk from Fish Creek to get the car if he needed to. Along the way, we met a family whose son worked on the same trail crew as the young man mauled by a grizzly while mountain biking just a couple weeks prior. Such a sad story! We saw a bear cub and mountain goat from the shuttle, and all three boys were elated they chose to wake up early and hit the trail with me. Their day could have been complete then!
Upon arriving at Logan Pass, we immediately headed down to the Highline, and proceeded to meet up with another mountain goat on the trail.
Of course, we all had to take pictures with it.
Each turn and bend of the trail rewards hikers with the most incredible views. I had to pull out my camera repeatedly to capture it all, and of course, the photos do it no justice.
Ethan and I had hiked the Highline with my cousin a couple years ago, but we were in the clouds for most of our hike. In a way, it was our first time all over again. Poor E had a bloody nose for the first mile or so, but was such a trooper!
The Grinnell Glacier Overlook had been socked in last time, but there were nothing but blue skies this time! Some say this is the best view in the park, and I can see why.
The boys loved counting all the marmots up there, but they were so aggressive by the time we got to the top, they would hop right in your pack if it was left near your side. We captured a great pic of two of them fighting it out!
And another of them hanging out a little close for comfort.
The way down was steeper than we had remembered, and there was a lot of butt sliding to get back to the Highline.
One of the most magical parts of the Highline is the amazing Granite Park Chalet, somewhere we hope to stay in the future.
This time, we stopped for a quick lunch.
All the supplies for the chalet are brought up by mule via the loop trail, so we had lots of poop dodging on the way down.
We were rewarded with huckleberries before we exited the trail for the shuttle down.
This bench was a welcome sight after 15 miles on the trail!
The bus down was enjoyable,
but we couldn’t wait to get back to Chuck and the girls, who had spent the day swimming and relaxing back at Fish Creek.
Our three nights on the west side ended quicker than we anticipated, but we managed to squeeze in a trip up to the legendary Bowman Lake. The dirt road was surprisingly narrow (and we missed seeing a large grizzly male by minutes), but what a beautiful place!
The next morning was rainy, but our new camper served us well. We made a stop at the local grocery store (as the east side is much more expensive), visited the junior ranger cabin,
cooked some frozen pizzas in the camper, right in the visitor center parking lot,
and crossed over to our new campsite at St Mary’s on the east side.
We spent awhile enjoying our view and checking out the St Mary’s visitor center before loading up to hike a few waterfalls. On the way out, we ran into a grizzly playing out in the fields.
Followed by St Mary’s Falls on the way back.
The boys continue to amaze me with their vivid imagination and friendship on our hikes. Who knows what they were talking about here, but they always have something to do together!
The girls spend their time asking us to take pictures with every step.
It was sad to see this area burned so harshly by a recent fire, but beautiful nonetheless.
Laney spotted this deer right next to us when nobody else saw it. It is frightening to think how much wildlife we miss along the way(especially the big guys like grizzlies)!
We even managed to see a third waterfall on our way out before sunset!
Braden had a good fall on the way out as we ran back to pick up the car, but he toughed it out and was ready for another 15 mile hike the next day over Piegan Pass to Many Glacier, one of the most beautiful hikes we have been on!
There were not many people on this trail, as you would have to have a ride over at Many Glacier to bring you back to Going to the Sun Road. Thankfully, Chuck and he girls came through for us again!
Once again, I found myself pulling out my camera at every twist and turn…
There was a very cool rock shelter on top of the pass, which we stopped for a short snack break.
The boys are all about snacks when we hike, and these bugles were as big a hit as anything after seeing all the mountain goats!
There were a series of suspension bridges like the one below, but one crossing had no bridge. We made it across pretty easily after Ethan crossed to be sure the trail was on the other side, but we did have a small incident while Gavin put his shoes back on. Two backpacking “mountain men” met us on the other side of the creek, and they were as surprised as we were that there was no bridge. They proceeded to strip down, Braden in pure disgust and very vocal, and me with my back turned trying to get Gavin to quickly put his shoes back on his wet feet, a task I have decided must have taken an hour that day!
The last couple miles is much more civilized going into Many Glacier, but we were rewarded with lakeside stops at Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine before finishing.
The shuttle to Lake Josephine allows for all kinds of visitors, which was a bit of a shock after seeing hardly anyone going over the pass.
When we arrived at Many Glacier, we were surprised that most of the lodge was closed down for construction, but still managed to meet up with Chuck and the girls quickly. It’s amazing how well we can now predict the time it will take us to hike 15 miles! We watched these horses head back to the stable,
and then looked behind us to see a family of bighorn sheep headed towards the high country!
We followed them in the car back up towards the lodge,
and watched them head to high ground. Ethan had raced out of the car without his shoe, hopping on one foot all the way down the trail!
That evening, we decided to head up to Logan Pass to look for more wildlife. It may have been the most rewarding two hours of the trip here, with several bears, a coyote, dozens of bighorn sheep, and many mountain goats!
It started to rain as we headed back to the car, and with the rain came one of the most gorgeous rainbows atop Logan Pass!
What a way to end our time at St. Mary’s! We had reservations at Fish Creek, and then at St Mary’s, but had decided to leave early (they even refunded our money for the night missed) to attempt getting a non-reserveable site at Many Glacier to meet up with friends. Stay tuned for that story and our time there…