Glacier National Park
My girlfriend Camille and I recently took a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana, U.S.. It’s a pretty special place and I’d highly recommend a visit. Here’s what we got up to, the highlights of our time there, and an interactive map! I’d recommend zooming in and having a play. Most of the icons have photos attached and you can also see the hikes (and SUP) that we did. Colours of each hike are referenced in the descriptions below.
We got settled into our campground at Sprague Creek and headed out for our first hike to the Mount Brown Lookout (Dark Blue). This was a real lung-buster with a ton of elevation gain up a load of switchbacks. Kudos to Camille for completing this just three day after finishing a half-Ironman triathlon!!
Highlights included some pretty special views across Lake MacDonald, and over to the Garden Wall from the lookout. There are hundreds of these fire lookouts dotted across the U.S., but they don’t need them anymore with satellites etc. so now they just make awesome spots to hike to! We also loved hiking through the snow for the first time and seeing several very (overly) friendly Mountain Goats.
The weather wasn’t great and after a tough first day hiking at altitude we decided to take a car day and drive the world famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. It was as spectacular as promised and we enjoyed having a day to get our bearings, avoid the only rain we would see, and get a bear sighting from the road past Lake Sherburne to Many Glacier Hotel.
This amazing road goes over the Logan Pass and is only open in the summer. Incredibly, it had only opened the day before we drove it (28th June) as they finally cleared the Big Drift, the last snow at the top of the pass.
Back on the trails with a hike to Trout Lake (Green). It was a steamy trek over the Howe Ridge on a very remote trail. With so few people around I was very conscious that we were in prime grizzly country and the feeling of unease didn’t really leave me all day. It didn’t help that we were headed in the direction of the campsite where the infamous Night of the Grizzlies occurred!
We didn’t see any bears but there were some deer and other wildlife around, plus
a few horses on the trail late in the day. The views from the log jam at the foot of the look were beautiful and we found a lovely shaded spot for lunch. We still had a little energy left in the afternoon so we rented a couple of stand-up paddleboards and spent a very enjoyable few hours on Lake MacDonald (Light Blue). It’s definitely something we both hope to do more of in the future!
We decided to head up to Sperry Chalet (Pink). The chalet is one of two back-country lodging options in Glacier that can only be reached by trail. This one is full service so you can stay up in the mountains at get all your meals and a private room for the night – though it wasn’t yet open when we were in the park.
The trail followed the same route as Mount Brown for the first couple of kilometers before heading up a different valley. The views came far more regularly than on that first day and as you get to higher elevations there are wonderful vistas across to waterfalls and glaciers. The final part of the hike to the chalet was over a lot of snow and we had to be a little careful not to sink in. We sat on the deck of the chalet and ate our lunch, enjoying the stunning scenery before heading back down. Oh, and I was very excited to see my first marmot!
We were up early (4 AM) to catch the sunrise at Logan Pass and the Continental Divide. This line divides North America, with water falling to the west all flowing to the Pacific and everything to the east going to the Atlantic. There is a point in Glacier called Triple Divide Peak which just amazes me. Depending on where a rain drop lands, it either flows to:
- The Pacific Ocean, via Flathead Lake and the Columbia River.
- The Gulf of Mexico, via the Missouri and the Mississippi.
- Hudson Bay, via the Saskatchewan River and Lake Winnipeg.
Anyway, the views from Logan Pass as the sun came up were superb and we were soon surrounded by Bighorn Sheep in the car park at the visitors centre (rumours are that they lick antifreeze from the ground).
From there we headed to the east side of the park and back to Many Glacier. We set off on another long hike to Cracker Lake (Yellow). There was slightly less elevation gain than some of our other treks but the reward at the end was beautiful. The colour of the lake is such a bright turquoise due to the glacial minerals in the water, it really has to be seen to be believed.
On our way back, we rounded a corner to briefly see a moose on the path (my first ever!), but it quickly disappeared into the trees. We could hear it just a few metres away, but still couldn’t see it. As we continued, Camille voiced that she would love to see another one and just seconds later, there one was. Right in front of us on the trail! It slowly walked away from us down the trail and we followed at a safe distance, enjoying this amazing experience so close to such a beautiful animal.
Time for another day off the trails. We explored Lake MacDonald Lodge, ate a scary amount at the pizza buffet, and slept in the sunshine on the beach.
When we set out in the morning, this was meant to be a short, but steep, hike up to the Granite Park Chalet (Purple). This is the other back-country chalet in the park and was open, but we decided to just do it as a day hike.
We made great time up to the chalet, again with amazing scenery but also some interesting views over the burned landscape from wildfires in 2003. Rather than head back down we decided to make the most of being up at this elevation and explore the Swiftcurrent Pass. We traipsed across a lot of snow to get to the top but the views down the valley towards Many Glacier were outstanding. We ate lunch at the chalet and decided to take another detour before heading down.
We hiked along a short stretch of the Highline Trail and up to the lookout over the Grinnell and Salamander Glaciers. The hike was steep and exposed but the views from the ridgeline at the top allowed you to take in both the east and west sides of the park from a single place. We enjoyed scrambling to a spot sheltered from the wind to relax briefly and again saw marmots running around. We then headed down, and by the time we reached the car, we had covered more than 25 km, and were extremely hot and tired.
Our final full day in the park. Time for one last hike up to the Piegan Pass (Orange). It was reasonably straightforward compared to most of the other trails we had completed, but again offered just amazing views. It was also a fun final chance to scramble around on some snow and enjoy a lovely walk along a fast flowing glacial river.
We stopped at the falls on MacDonald Creek on the way back to our tent and said goodbye to the main part of the park.
We had a wonderful time in the park. I love sleeping out under the stars and Camille took to it brilliantly. We ate simple food most days; bread, cheese and salami for lunches, pasta and sauce for dinner, that sort of thing. But we both enjoyed just eating a ton because we had burned so many calories all day. I’ll happily swap a simple sandwich made with a hunting knife on top of a mountain, for the fanciest option in any city.
The scenery and wildlife were incredible. It’s hard to express how happy being outside makes me. The feeling of slight sunburn on your skin and washing in a frigid lake just suit me and it was wonderful to see how much Camille enjoyed that as well. Plus we were so lucky with the weather.
So what’s next… I can’t say just yet but there are huge plans to be announced soon!!!