Presiding Mountain

Glacier National Park – A Quick Traveler’s Guide

Glacier National Park is the most beautiful national park I have ever visited. It lacks the wildlife present in Yellowstone, but the landscape makes up for it. Everywhere you turn, each road (well, there are only two) you take, beauty isĀ found in every nook and cranny within the park. Beneath the forest canopy, never-ending patches of beargrass grow wild. Deer spring from nowhere and walk up to you, wondering what kind of animal you are. Towering stone, snow-capped mountains reign over the park and it’s inhabitants, flaunting their grand-ness. I had to take a second to look at myself in the mirror-like surface of Lake MacDonald to remember how lucky I was to be there.

Lodging

There are “resorts” in the park, and hotels all around it. The resort in the park was on Lake MacDonald and looked very expensive. But, if you want to be the closest to your next adventure every day, it’s probably the way to go. Though driving a few minutes outside the park will surely save you a heap of cash.

As always, my brother, Sam, and I went the RV route, electing to stay at a campground in Columbia Falls, about 20 minutes from the West Glacier entrance. We went for the cheapest we could get, picking a site with only electricity hookups. There was no water or sewage at our site. When we did dishes, we had to bring our 5 gallon jug to the laundry room to fill it, about three-hundred feet from our campsite.

We soaped up all of our dishes in a bucket filled with about a gallon of water, emptied the bucket, refilled it with fresh water from the 5 gallon jug, then rinsed the soap off of the dishes. We repeated this twice a day for the two weeks that we were there. It was a pain, but the weekly rate of the electric-only campground was only $130! That’s an average of just over $18 per day, making it the cheapest campground we have stayed at yet.

Sam and I were able to easily make the money for the campsite back from our internet jobs, plus a lot more. In fact, it was because the price was so good and the internet worked well that we decided to stay for two weeks instead of the originally planned one week. Also, the proprietors, Marsha and Leon, were incredibly kind and helped us out with every issue we had. They even let us get packages from Amazon delivered there.

Driving The Park

Our first day at Glacier we had no idea what to expect. We had a map our aunt had given us with “must-dos” highlighted, but we weren’t sure what the game-plan would be yet. We hoped to see a lot of wildlife and of course incredible landscapes. So we decided to spend our first day driving to get a feel for what Glacier National Park has to offer.

We started out the way most tourists do – driving down the Going to the Sun Road. We stopped at Lake MacDonald, MacDonald Falls, and a couple other small look-outs. But when we had gone about 13 miles we came to a big gate locked across the road. The road was closed at the Avalanche Lake trailhead. We thought about hiking the trail, but the trail was also closed, due to grizzly bears! We pulled out the map and searched for an alternative.

There are only two major roads in Glacier National Park, so we decided to head backward and toward the other, the Inside North Fork Road. This road is all gravel, and hardly big enough for two cars to squeeze by each other. We were in Sam’s dually truck, so it was impossible to pass anyone. A couple of times we had to maneuver to the edge of the road, trying to figure out how to let another car pass without sending us or them over the edge, screaming to a sure death.

Despite the road’s dangers, it brought us to a part of the park that it seemed was rarely explored. A deer walked right up to us, curious as to who and what we were. Mosquitoes the size of baseballs warned us of their presence with their painful bite. Only then did I look down and see three of them all biting the same spot at once. It was a bloody massacre when I smacked them.

The scenery was incredible. Apparently, this year was one of the most notable years for bear grass flowering in the last twenty years. The white, puffy flowers lined the forest floor, the side of the road, river banks, and everywhere else there was space. Sprinkled in were the occasional purple, yellow, red, and orange wildflowers, making for quite a stunning landscape.

I was disappointed, thinking that we were going to have to leave without ever seeing the whole park, so when they opened the whole Going to the Sun Road on our very last day I was so excited! We jumped in the car at six a.m. and drove up to the park. It was not the easiest road to take such a big truck on, but the views from the top, near Logan’s Pass, were worth the headache. The park cannot be explained with words, so check out my photos and video below to come up with your own adjectives to describe it.

Hiking

Sam and I only did a couple of hikes in Glacier. We did the Avalanche Lake hike when they finally opened it, which is the most popular hike in the park. It was a fairly easy hike (uphill out to the lake, so downhill on the way back) at only about 2 miles each way, and the views are stunning. It takes you along a raging river, through an eerie and silent forest, over a trickling brook, and out to the most beautiful lake I have ever seen. It is turquoise and mirror-like, with fog sitting on its surface and snow melt falling from the mountains surrounding it.

The other hike we did was the Lake MacDonald hike. It runs the 7 miles along Lake MacDonald. We did not want to do a 14 mile total hike, so we only walked for a few miles before turning around. The hike was beautiful and would probably put most of the other hikes you’ve done in your life to shame, however I would recommend doing some of the others Glacier has to offer, as I found it a bit boring.

Wildlife

We were hoping to see a moose. We’ve been wanting to see moose since Minnesota. We still haven’t seen one.

However, we did see three grizzlies, a couple dozen mountain goats, deer, and hundreds of ground squirrels. There was not as much wildlife as I thought there would be, but it wasn’t a bust, either. Although it is possible to see many amazing animals, it seems to me you should plan on visiting Glacier for the views rather than the wildlife. That way you will be pleasantly surprised every time you see something, and when you don’t you won’t be disappointed.

In The Area

There are so many things to do in West Montana, so if you don’t feel like fighting the other tourists in the park, just chillax for a day. Go to Whitefish and get some coffee and frozen yogurt at the Red Caboose. Go to Whitefish Lake for sunset. Hike the Whitefish Trails. Head to Kalispell for some Costco shopping.

Glacier is also near to Flathead Lake, where the best cherries in the United States are grown. Go there during cherry season and you will never be the same. If it is not cherry season, check out Wild Horse Island in the middle of the Lake. It’s around $40 round trip to take a ferry out there and you have the potential of seeing a ton of wildlife, including wild horses and big horn sheep. All on a small island in the middle of a lake!

The Rundown: Must Do’s

  • Avalanche Lake Hike
  • Drive the Going to the Sun Road
  • Eat Flathead Cherries

Would Recommend

All in all, I would recommend Glacier over any other national park in the continental United States. The views are worthy of bringing a relative’s ashes to, so they can witness the beauty for all of eternity. The wildlife is truly wild. And the park is not nearly as crowded as similar parks, such as Yellowstone. However, don’t go too early in the year as some things may not be open yet. Aim for July or August to get the most out of the experience.

Watch my video below for a more visual depiction of the park: