September 21, 2015

T R A V E L | Glacier National Park, Montana

The last guest writer in my TRAVEL series is my sweet friend, Kayla, from Two Plus Bink. Check out her favorite place (and her blog!) and thing things she and her family did while there!

It is no secret that my husband, Michael, and I love the West. We have been collecting many favorite places and experiences over the years…

  • Crested Butte, Colorado - our first Western adventure together thanks to an off-hand invite from the Martins even before they were the Martins and before we were the Andersons
  • Playing on top of Star Dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park just outside of Alamosa, Colorado
  • Ouray, Colorado also known as (and lived up to) “The Switzerland of America”
  • Moab, Utah along the Colorado River
  • Mt. Bierstadt - our first 14er outside of Denver, Colorado
  • Estes Park, Colorado and camping below Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Fly fishing the Gallatin inside Yellowstone National Park
  • Hiking around Leigh Lake and watching the sunset from Shadow Valley Road at Grand Teton National Park
  • Kayaking throughout the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington
Really, feel free to put all of the above on your list! But then there’s Montana. Coined “The Last Best Place,” I’m certain there has never been another to as adequately live up to it’s nickname. 

We traveled to Montana in July of 2013 with Mike’s family - the whole gang. We rented a house right on the North Fork of the Flathead River in West Glacier right out side of Glacier National Park. It was the perfect location just minutes from the park gates and right on the river to fly fish!

What you may not anticipate when visiting Glacier National Park, really most of the National Parks, is that once your are inside the gates it requires some serious driving time to cover their vast expanse. Glacier is unique in that, when coming from the Western side as we were (which is the easiest access from the Kalispell airport), you have to travel the park’s main artery, the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and then exit the park just to re-enter the park’s Eastern entrances to access some areas of interest. Or you have to travel along the edge of the park’s southern boundary to get around to additional entrances as well. Because of this, it helps to do a little planning in order to give some structure to your stay so you can maximize your time and see all there is to see. Also, since our tribe for this trip was 8 members strong we tried to check a lot of boxes off for everyone. And for the sake of shortening this post I’ll focus on my own and a few of my favorite highlights from the trip. 

I have always loved to hike so that was first priority for me and most often makes up my favorite memories from any trip we go on. One of our first days in the park we drove all along the Going-to-the-Sun Road through the park towards the Eastern edge of the park’s boundaries, through Babb, Montana (which has nothing to do and is basically just a big Indian reservation town) and back into the park’s Many Glacier area. The Many Glacier Hotel sits at the edge of the beautiful Swiftcurrent Lake and you can’t help but to stop to take in the view. From here we took to the trail towards Grinnell Glacier and Grinnell Lake roughly 3 miles away.



Even though Swiftcurrent Lake where we started was breathtaking, Grinnell Lake offered zero disappointment. This was a moment for us, the one where you feel like you’re finally in full on vacation mode.


Another bonus of kicking off a trip to Glacier with this specific hike is that you can elect to take boat rides on the way back. So that we did on Josephine Lake and across Swiftcurrent Lake back to the dock at the Many Glacier Hotel, keeping our legs fresh for more adventure.

My personal plan included a 15 mile all-day backcountry hike so we checked out the weather and opted to tentatively schedule it for our 5th or 6th day of the trip, so in the meantime we had much fun hiking and hanging with the family. We hiked to Hidden Lake near Logan Pass which is the park’s main central location. From here you can take the iconic Highline Trail along the Garden Wall which can be seen from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. We opted out of this hike because the gang had done this a day prior to Michael and I flying into town so we didn’t want them to have to repeat, but it sure looks fun! I did snap a few pictures of it - you can see the trail along the rock wall and we even heard of people running into bears along that narrow footpath too! Not sure what I would do since there’s hardly room for more than single-file line hiking in some parts. 


We also hiked into Avalanche Lake along Avalanche Creek one day. This is an easily accessible stop near the the Lake McDonald area of the park and definitely worth the effort if you can get up early and get there before it gets busy and parking gets to be a hassle. And if you are like Michael’s younger brother you can take it one step further and dive in glacial runoff water for an extra thrill.



We also spent time at Lake McDonald, did some trout fishing on the Flat Head River near our house, drove up to the north western side of the park to Polebridge, Montana just to see it and watched a lot of wildlife - all of which I can recommend.





Then it finally came time for our backcountry hike I had picked out while researching for our trip. Yes - I am that person. Though not everyone had any interest in hiking 15 miles in grizzly country, just me, Mike, Meryl and Stuart. So before the sun came up our our 5th day of the trip we hitched a long ride from Bonnie and Lloyd into the park’s Two Medicine area on it’s south eastern border. After a few pictures and a safety pep talk we were off! We probably should have paid closer attention to the thick blanket of fog above us warning us of potential dangerous weather, but we were determined and it all thankfully turned out fine. This is probably still my all time favorite hike I’ve ever done to this day. If I lived nearby I’d be tempted to do it every weekend if I could. And it should be said - people hike for different reasons, with different ideals in mind. I love being near water, on top of summits, following ridgelines, high alpine views and basically being somewhere with a view that was difficult and strenuous to get to. The Pitamakan-Dawson Pass Loop in Glacier National Park delivered. If you feel like putting your hamstrings to work on vacation this is a scenic way to do so.

[Two Medicine Lake at the trailhead]

[Backcountry views]

9[Old Man Lake before our ascent to the fog covered ridgeline]

[Stuart checking out things up ahead on the trail to make a decision about potential bad weather]

[Backcountry hiking at it’s finest]

2[A view hard to get to and impossible to forget! An adjoining valley of the two we trekked through on our loop]
When you aren’t wanting to put your hammies, or anything else to work - because it is vacation after all - I’d recommend driving into Whitefish, Montana for a date night. Eat and Loula’s Cafe right downtown and order the Huckleberry Jalapeño Baked Brie as your appetizer. We may or may not have ordered a second round! Take a stroll around town afterwards because like everywhere else under “The Big Sky” it’s easy on the eyes.

Kalispell also has anything you may need and is a convenient car ride away from the park.

I hope Montana can hold on to remaining “The Last Best Place” because I’d love to go back over and over again!

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