When I was planning my road trip, the National Park that I was most excited to visit was Glacier National Park. Between the wildlife encounters, the remote location and the opportunity to see glaciers before they disappeared, Glacier was the most unique and special place I thought that I could visit on this trip.
I camped at St. Mary’s Campground and I was looking forward to taking my first shower in a week! Showers are included in the price of the camp reservation. True to the spirit of this blog, my much anticipated shower was not without a misadventure. Despite meticulously packing for the trip, I’d somehow forgotten to pack shampoo. However, I remembered to pack Dawn dishwashing soap. If it can get crude oil out of birds, I figured it’d work just fine on my hair. It did!
The Howe-Ridge Fire was raging in the Park during our visit. Although the fire started and spread on the west side of the Park, Going to the Sun Road was closed at Logan Pass. The fire also closed several trails both for the fire and bear activity. Bears migrated to the east to avoid the fire as well! Although I had to scrap my original hiking plan, I managed to get two great hikes in the area before leaving the Park two days earlier than I’d planned.
HIDDEN LAKE HIKE
This hike wasn’t on my radar screen but after driving to Logan Pass fairly early in the evening, Ricardo, my trusty camera man and partner in crime, suggested hiking the Hidden Lake Trail. He’d done the trail in motorcycle gear during his cross-country trip on the motorcycle and remembered it being fairly easy.
The 5.7 mile hike to Hidden Lake is short but steep. The trail begins immediately behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center on a paved trail then quickly turns into a walk on boardwalks. At over 6,600 of elevation, snow can cover the trail well into the summer. I visited in late August and the snow had melted but the meadows around the boardwalk were filled with tiny, beautiful flowers, known as the Hanging Gardens. As the boardwalk ends, an endless set of stairs begins. Once the stairs end, the trail becomes nearly flat and very manageable up to the overlook (1.35 miles from the trailhead).
Hidden Lake Trail is filled with many sights that’ll make you want to stop and admire the many things you see. Coming up the stairs, hikers get an unrestricted view of Clements Mountain. With the lush greenery around and the smoke lingering above the mountains in front, it felt a little like I was hiking in Machu Picchu. Bearhat Mountain is the most dominant from the overlook. The other mountains that surround the area include Mount Cannon, Fusillade Mountain, Gunsight Mountain and off to the distance Sperry Glacier. The rising tree lines on these mountains are unmistakable from the vantage point and brings to life the real damage of climate change. The trail is also active with lots of animals: mountain goats, marmots and even grizzly bears and wolverines! Keep your eyes open for an animal-sighting! The Continental Divide is also only a short distance away.
Unfortunately, our hike ended at the overlook. The trail to the lake was closed as a result of bear activity. The view was beautiful and I was glad I was able to squeeze this short 2.7 mile hike into our visit. Because the trail is short and fairly easy, it is very popular during peak months in the summer.
GRINNELL GLACIER HIKE
Because Going to the Sun Road was closed, I had drive out of the park drive through a small town to the Lake McDonald entrance. It’s a short drive from the entrance to the Many Glacier Hotel behind which is the trailhead for the eight-mile hike to Grinnell Lake. If you have a little time before or after the hike, I highly recommend wandering around the majestic hotel! There a couple of splits in the trail, so be careful to pay attention.
This majority of this hike is flat and through a quiet forest that feels enchanted, which is only enhanced by the many opportunities to see moose in the lake. I saw two during my hike! The only heart stopping moment of this hike is crossing a very shaky suspension bridge that can only handle only one person at a time! In late August, when I visited, Cataract Creek wasn’t raging, which was comforting because I was convinced that the bridge would collapse. If you want to extend your hike, you can take the short trail located right before the bridge to Hidden Falls. Shortly after the bridge, the trail includes a board walk that looks like short tree stumps. This area can get boggy but when I visited everything had dried out.
Once you reach the shore of the lake, you’ll see the Grinnell Lake, Falls, Mountain and Glacier. Depending on which way the sun is hitting Grinnell Lake, the color of the Lake can be turquoise or emerald. When I visited the Lake, it was a bright turquoise. Make sure to bring a layer of clothing. Once you’re surrounded by the glacier, the temperature feels slightly cooler.
Camping in Glacier National Park is a wonderful way of experiencing the night time beauties of this amazing Park. There are 13 campgrounds with over 1,000 campsites. Four of the campsites (Fish Creek, St. Mary’s, Many Glacier and Agpar Group Site) accept reservations up to six months in advance. The remaining 11 campgrounds are first-come, first-serve. Beware these sites are non-refundable so make your reservations with care! The cost of each campsite varies between $10-23/night and amenities also vary by campground.
Glacier National Park also offers eight hotel lodging options which vary from grand to basic. Many Glacier Hotel, tucked in the shadow of Grinnell Glacier is the grandest accommodation and largest hotel available in the Park. Influenced by Swedish architecture, the hotel has the look and feel (including staff dressed in traditional Swedish dress) of a grand Swedish castle. The hotel features the famous Swedish Lounge, which features three-story ceiling and stone fireplace. Located at the shores of Swift Current Lake, the hotel offers several recreational opportunities including kayaks and horseback rides. The rooms are comfortable but only offer modest accommodations (i.e., no television or air-conditioning). The hotel accepts reservations up to 13 months in advance on the first day of the month of your stay (e.g., if you plan to visit in June of 2020, reservations open on May 1, 2019) and the rooms do book quickly! The rates for 2019 vary from $211-559/night depending on the type of room. The hotel accepts cancellations up to 72 hours prior to the stay.
The Cedar Creek Lodge located minutes outside the East entrance to Glacier National Park. It offers all modern amenities including complimentary wi-fi and hot breakfast. The average price of rooms is between $350-370/night.