This was another one of our family trips to a national park. So far, as a family, we’ve been to Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. After watching a document last year about Glacier National Park, we decided to go there, too. We were able to go on several hikes, but I found myself scanning the peaks on the horizon, wondering what the view would be from their tops.
We arrived at West Glacier and, after a quick bite to eat, settled into our cabin. Before long, we could no longer resists going into the part for a bit, even if would be getting dark soon.
We drove to Lake McDonald and played by the shore. Sophia immediately felt at home and proceeded to throw rocks into the lake. Perhaps it is instinctual among humans to always put the rocks back into the lake.
We hung out at the lake for a while, then headed over to the visitor center and got some huckleberry ice cream. We developed a taste for this flavor during our trip to Yellowstone National Park. The sun started to dip and we headed back to the cabin for the night.
The next morning, we woke up, ready for a day of hiking and exploring the park. We decided to visit the Discover Cabin at Apgar Village at the edge of Lake McDonald. Sophia enjoyed the exhibits of animal pelts, skulls and antlers. Suddenly, the sky went dark, thunder boomed and giant drops of rain started coming down. We rushed to the car and discussed what to do next. I felt that this storm was localized, so we should start driving deeper into the park and we would pass underneath it, since it appeared the sky was brighter to the east. As we drove along Lake McDonald, the rain came down even harder. We saw a white tail deer dart into the forest ahead of us.
After driving for a while without losing sight of Lake McDonald, we started to get a sense of the scale of Glacier National Park. We realized we should play it safe and turn around. The rain wasn’t going to let up any time soon. We headed back to the cabin for the majority of the day. We spent the time reading, napping, and lounging; a nice quiet part of the vacation.
After most of the day, the rain and clouds parted and we were ready to head back out. This time we headed to the amphitheater by Lake McDonald, where there was a ranger talk about the animals in the park. We enjoyed hearing facts about the animals, especially how we’ve been mispronouncing the word pika. We’ve been saying pea-kuh, instead of pyka. Before and after the presentation, Sophia spent her time chucking rocks into the lake and exploring the area.
We stayed until the sun set. The temperature was great and the lake was beautiful. We had some rain, but we made the best of it.
The next day, we drove to the center of the park. The enormity of the park was upon us. The Going to the Sun Road cut a tiny thread through the towering landscape. There was construction happening, so we had to stop for a bit. We all stopped our engines and some of us got out and walked around. At least we have a world class view from our perch on the side of the mountain. Before long, it was time to move again and we were presented with views of the Garden Wall and drove next to the Weeping Wall. Waterfalls were everywhere and the place was green.
We stopped at Logan Pass, luckily getting a parking spot at this very busy center of the park. We browsed the visitor center and then started up the trail to Hidden Lake. We encountered hikers of all shapes and sizes. The trail is mostly a boardwalk up to the higher area on the mountain, surrounded by beautiful green meadows, speckled with flowers, and watched over by towering giants. This area is one of the gems of Glacier National Park.
Sophia did really well. She was pretty engaged, enjoyed the little patches of snow on the way and delighted in seeing marmots scamper through the soft grasses and flowers. Many other children weren’t engaged or looked otherwise miserable, but our little one was hopping and skipping along the way, avoiding the small rivulets of snowmelt that crossed the trail. I was so proud.
We go to the top of the saddle and it got a little windy and we all got a little hungry. Even though we knew we were pretty close to the end, we stopped to eat our lunch. We found a sheltered spot along the trail and enjoyed our view of a small lake. We weren’t sure if it was even windier up ahead, so here was as good as spot as any to eat our lunch. Sophia was happy playing with rocks and dirt.
Recharged, we walked along the trail until Hidden Lake came into view. It was quite the vista. We sat and enjoyed the view until we saw something through the trees. Since everyone we talked to and everything we read virtually guaranteed that we would see mountain goats here, we were exited when a solitary male walked into view.
We were pumped that we had seen a mountain goat and stood overlooking Hidden Lake. We sat on a large rock. Sophia was excited to be outside and proud that she walked all of the way up herself. We couldn’t keep our eyes off of the view ahead of us. After a while, we headed back down to Logan Pass. On the way back, a great view of Going to the Sun Mountain presented itself. I felt like the hills were alive with the sound of music.
It was an amazingly scenic hike and one that I recommend that you don’t miss if you end up at Glacier National Park. We went back to the visitor center and we let Sophia pick out anything from the store as a reward for happily hiking 3 miles on her own. She bought a book on animal tracks. I was so proud.
We headed back down the Going to the Sun Road, got caught up in construction traffic again, but really didn’t mind. We grabbed some dinner and called it a day.
The next day, we drove over to the Many Glacier area of the park. To avoid traffic, we drove outside the park around the southern end. As a result, we saw the many different geological flavors of the area. We stopped at Goat Lick Overlook, but it wasn’t the right time of year. There were no mountain goats. We continued on to the more barren plains on the eastern side of the park, equally as beautiful as the forested areas, and re-entered the park at Lake Sherburne and drove to the Many Glacier Hotel to use as a base of our exploration for the day. It was a long drive, but worth it.
As we entered the park, we saw what looked like an animal-sighting traffic jam and pulled over. We caught glimpses of a mamma bear and two cubs making their way through some thick brush and trees. None of the pictures taken were worth showing here.
We were floored by the beauty of the Many Glacier area and decided to hike along the Swiftcurrent Lake Trail. At the trailhead, there was a sign warning hikers that this was bear country. Sure enough, a couple of hundred yards along the trail, a man let us know that a mother bear and some cubs were seen along the trail on the other side of the lake. This put me on edge until I met many others who said they saw no bears along the trial. We stopped to play along the edge of the lake for a while before continuing on.
We continued on, passing an old boathouse and crossing a bridge. We were also looking for moose, but saw none. We sat on a dock for a while, enjoying the view. We exited the pine forest and entered an aspen grove, which took on an entirely different feel. The entire time, my eyes were darting around, wary for any sign of bears. We talked and made a reasonable amount of noise. On the other side of the lake, Soph stopped to examine the shoreline again and saw some insects, possibly dragonflies, hatching from their chrysalises on the waterline. She helped them along and was happy to have found and assisted new friends.
We made our way back to the Many Glacier Hotel, resting at a bridge. A horse train went by in a cloud of dust. We went inside and had a nice dinner before we started driving back home. We had a moment where some horses blocked the road in front of us. We sat and waited for them to go about their merry way. It was very dark by the time we got back to our cabin. Sophia had hiked another 3 miles.
For our last full day, we decided to take it a little easier. We drove to the Trail of the Cedars, a fairly short hike along a boardwalk. It was a nice, kid-friendly area with a peek at a waterfall gorge. Parking was a challenge, though, I had to drop my girls off and drive around for at least 20 minutes before I finally secured a parking spot and met them along the trail.
We had lunch at the Lake McDonald lodge before deciding to go on an active mission to find moose. We drove up Camas Road and peered into every meadow and forest and eventually came to a bridge over the North Fork of the Flathead River. We got out and hiked to the edge. We enjoyed the sound of the rushing river and the endless views. A fly fisherman offer us a trout he caught, but Sophia insisted that we let it go. We played among the rocks and smelled the fresh air.
Glacier National Park is a special place. We had set aside several full days to explore its offerings and merely scratched the surface. If I had to do it all over again, I would plan several days on the west side, then book a place on the east side for slightly more days, or even inside the park. That way, you can really sink your teeth into each area of the park.
I also recommend that you visit soon; the glaciers are receding. Photographic evidence of the vanishing glaciers lines the walls of the Many Glacier Hotel. I would like to go back and visit some of the glaciers and do some backcountry backpacking and camping. Soon.