I know they call this the Crown of the Continent, but it seems more like the land of the giants to me. All these hulking, huge mountain peaks hiding behind one another and around each bend, some seeming to grow straight out of clear blue lakes. It just seems unreal. (Be sure to read the previous posts from Bighorn and on the way to Glacier… I added some pictures).
We are here for several days, so let me recap what has happened (the daily journal approach seems best for this):
Day one we drove the Going to the Sun Road – a bucket list trip after Needles Highway – to Logan Pass (6,600 ft. elevation). Amazing, white-knuckled drive along St. Mary Lake and among these glacial peaks. Full parking lot at the top, but we squeaked into a spot and had a look around. A trail to Hidden Lake looked promising, but we were running out of time. Plenty of cars to avoid along the road, plus free shuttle buses and wonderful antique open-top red buses. We searched the hillsides for wildlife, but came up empty. Views were pretty awesome, though.
Day two we planned to hit the Hidden Lake trail early, but once again ran down the house batteries overnight, even with the fridge on LP. This time I jumped the generator from the car battery and we were back in business. Since you have limited times you can run the generator, we are working out a charging schedule and turning the fridge off overnight. So we drove up to Logan Pass a little behind schedule in the mid-80’s heat (seriously?) only to find the lot full and cars circling like it was the mall at Christmas. Ok, well we could continue on down the other side a bit, right? Even more of a cliff-hugging trip down, plus a stretch down to one lane due to road repairs and … well, we did a U-turn halfway down to Lake McDonald and the source of the wildfire and trekked back up the mountain and back to camp. Actually, we gassed up and went back to camp to rework the plan.
Word from the rangers was that Many Glacier was the place to find moose, and early evening was best. After an early dinner, a generator charge of the batteries and some time with the pets, we gathered up binoculars, cameras, spotting scope and water and drove the 20+ miles to Many Glacier. That entrance road was in pretty bad shape, with lots of potholes and bumps, but halfway along we noticed quite the crowd of cars off the road. Jumped out to find that “someone thought they saw a grizzly” on the shoulder, but nada.
Continuing on, we stopped with another crowd that DID spot some bear: two black bears were making their way down the mountain and we all had a good look from what was a very safe distance. At the end of the road was the trailhead to Fishcamp Lake, a nice, easy wooded trail to the lake and … well it seemed like everyone was getting ready for fireworks on the fourth. Quite the crowd for such a remote spot, maybe 40 of us lined up along the shore with our spotting scopes and long lenses on tripods, all scanning for moose.
Someone said there was a bear way up on the hillside, but we couldn’t see it. Three white-tailed deer came down to the water’s edge as the warm-up act of the night. Much attention and then suddenly a female and calf moose came bounding across the lake at a narrow crossing and into the trees. “Did you see that?” “Get the picture?” Uh, well not really. By the time I knew they were there and got the camera up and on, all I got was a butt shot. Darn.
We waited around for another 45 minutes and decided to call it a night before it got too dark. Walking the trail away from the lake we saw a couple who were clearly watching something … moose! Mother and calf were trying to make their way back to the water from behind everyone. Whoops! We hear a male calling on the other side of the trail and stomp, stomp he mashed his way through the trees down to the lake. We walked back to the lake to tell everyone about the mother and calf but then got the perfect view of the male in the lake, knee deep. All three eventually were in the lake as the sun set. Ok, then. The day was a success after all!
We hurried to the car and down to another impressive sight: Many Glacier Hotel. Sitting on the edge of the lake, this turn-of-the-century hotel has undergone a big renovation. I was particularly interested in the newly restored double-helix wooden stairway. We gazed out at the lake and mountains from the hotel deck and felt like it was indeed a magical day.
Back to camp, with our slightly dysfunctional headlights and our eyes peeled for any critters who dared get in our way, and we called it a night (after running the generator briefly during quiet time).
Day 3 our plan was to revisit Logan Pass, get a parking spot and hike the Hidden Lake Trail. Got all our gear, threw in raincoats because rain was predicted, and up we went. Gradually the weather got worse and the rain started and by the time we found our parking spot the temperature was mid 40’s (from upper 70’s in camp) and we felt underdressed in shorts and tees. We donned our raincoats, grabbed binoculars, gopro and hiking sticks and set out in the cold rain.
Gradually the rain stopped, but the wind was chilly. The climb was not strenuous and the trail had a lot of boardwalk and stairs, but it was still all uphill. Tons of people joined us, but it was so beautiful it really didn’t matter. The hillsides were filled with wildflowers, yellow, white, magenta, red and blue against red and grey rocks and green moss. Clouds swirled up and over the pass and around the tips of the glacial peaks. Onward we went, kind of wondering what the end actually was. We knew it when we got there, as the pictures will show. A beautiful crescent lake at the bottom of the mountains, just over the pass. What a sight.
As we made our way back we were entertained by the Columbian ground squirrels who were feeding on the trailside grasses and a few really fat chipmunks (have to look up the species). Catching our breath as Jackie scanned the hillsides for mountain goats, we spotted a hoary marmot lumbering along the hillside. Good views of this blonde and black critter who would stop to whistle a shrill warning once in a while. Yay, another good day for spotting wildlife.
Early evening is planned to bear-watch at Two Dog Flats. After a camp meal of grilled strip steak, baked potato and grilled zucchini we drove to the flats and stopped next to another couple of cars to see what was out and about. No bear, but some elk were moving down the hillside. Two nice bull elk with big racks and several females with youngsters. Someone shouted from a passing car that grizzlies were spotted at the next overlook, so we all moved to that spot to see. Sure enough we spotted a grizzly and her cub moving through the field, pausing at bushes for a bit and then disappearing into the trees.
Back in camp we fixed an adult beverage and sat out to watch the sunset. Suddenly I noticed a quiet flapping and an owl appeared in the treeline alongside camp. Hear some chirps and then two more moved in. All we could see were their silhouettes against the sky, but you definitely saw ear tufts, identifying them as great horned owls. What a wonderful end to the day.
Day 4 brought beautiful clear skies, so we quickly got up, ran the generator, dressed and headed up to Logan Pass to see what we have missed in the fog of smoke. Amazing giant mountains surrounded us as we meandered along the blue St. Mary Lake and up the 3,000 feet to Logan Pass. An early start and already the lot was full. Doug drove down the road to an overlook parking area and caught up with Jackie at the visitor’s center. We started out on a new trail, the Highline Trail, which runs 20 miles to the US/Canadian border. Since we forgot our passports we decided not to make the entire trek, but did hike along a breathtaking cliff cut that was waaaay above the roadway below.
Jackie spotted a mountain goat on the mountainside across from us, so we set up the spotting scope and got a good look at him walking along the rocky outcrop. The picture of him was at the extreme end of my 300mm lens, with photoshop magnification. This guy was a speck on the mountain.
Back to the visitor’s center and up the Hidden Lake trail we went, to see the marmots again and catch some better pictures. Hard to describe how colorful the alpine meadow was – all purple and yellow and green. Wait, some folks spotted some bighorn sheep and we all stopped to gaze and take pictures. One male was headed up along the trail, so Doug headed him off and got some pictures that were almost fake. It was as if the sheep knew and posed for the shot.
In that same meadow we watched several marmots feeding on the grasses, along with many more ground squirrels. Much clearer day, so we saw so much more of the glacial mountains. I have run out of adjectives to describe the sight. So glad we are here.
After dinner we drove back to Two Dog Flats to watch for bear or elk, but nothing showed so back to camp. Funny that last season Jackie bought two strings of white solar Christmas lights. We found a good use for them, strung around inside the camper so we have light at night without our electricity. Magical?
Day 5 was another cold morning as we hustled to run the generator a bit and the plan was to hike a few smaller trails and maybe head to the west entrance of the park. We stopped at St. Mary Falls trailhead for what was variously listed as 0.8 to 0.9 and 1.5 miles long. It did seem far to the falls, which were a gorgeous rush of clear water cascading over the rocks. Back to the start of the trail and our fitbits said over 3 miles, so who knows? Speaking of fitbits, mine has said as many as 225 floors in a day!
Since it was the nicest day yet, warming up to 72, we headed up and over Logan Pass on down toward Lake McDonald and Apgar.
We had lunch on the patio of Ernie’s at the lake edge and enjoyed some local beer with burgers.
Finished it off with huckleberry ice cream. Yum, but a little groggy for the next short hike on the way back: Trail of the Cedars. Nice boardwalk trail through some huge Pacific red cedar trees along a clear stream.
Second hike on the way back to camp was Sunrift Gorge, a sort of slot canyon in the rock with a gushing stream. Really cool, but we were kinda worn out.
Took a short nap in camp, showered and ran the generator once again to power everything up. Doug sat out at sunset watching the treeline and saw a bald eagle flying by – seriously, this is amazing! Found out they evacuated all tents from the campground due to grizzly activity in camp. Ok, then, skip the stargazing late at night! Got things ready to head out tomorrow towards Yellowstone, staying for two nights along the way in Townsend near Helena. We almost thought Tuesday to Sunday would be too long in camp, but it turned out to be just right.
Leaving Glacier on a beautiful Sunday morning was tough. We backtracked a bit through the dry grasslands and hay fields with the now visible mountain range to the west until we hit Wolf Creek and we wound through the mountains of Lewis and Clark National Forest. It was at this point that the smoke from the fires returned, plus the heat. By the time we made camp at Townsend KOA along the Missouri River it was 90 degrees. At least we had electricity, water, hot showers and laundry to spend a day cleaning and taking care of a few details.
Dinner was fine dining at the adjoining Flamingo Grill. We debated eating in the pink school bus, but opted for takeout back to the motorhome.
On to Yellowstone in two days.
Stick with us as the adventure continues (by the way, we are now AdventureswithDougandJackie.com).