Many Glacier. Many Wows!

Glacier is a huge park. We stayed 2 weeks, drove it from side to side and top to bottom, and still didn’t see it all. But we did see a lot of the park. We explored Lake McDonald, drove Going-to-the-Sun Road, visited St. Mary and Waterton (the Canadian part), but I have to say by far my favorite part of the park was Many Glacier.

My adivce: If you only have time to see one part of Glacier National Park, go to Many Glacier!

While much of the west side of the park reminded us of home, Many Glacier on the east side was different. Every direction you looked there was a spectacular view!

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Sadly the Many Glacier Hotel was under renovations, so we didn’t get to see it’s famed lobby, but we were treated to a stunning view out the picture windows by the restaurant. The hotel sits right on the edge of a lake looking at the mountains and has a sort of Swiss Chalet look to it. Once renovations are complete it should be a great place to stay.

There are several well rated hikes from Many Glacier, but one kept popping up in the articles I read and the people we talked to. Iceberg Lake. Knowing that its’ 11 miles and 1200’ of gain was going to be a bit of a stretch for us, I hesitated, but I packed lots of snacks and water and we made the 2 hour drive from our campsite on the west side around the bottom of the park to Many Glacier in the east, arriving around noon. The packed parking lot was a sign of the popularity of this area, but we managed to find a spot, laced up our boots, strapped on our packs and headed out eating our PB&Js on the way to fuel up.

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The trail climbed quickly getting our hearts pumping and soon we were out of the trees and already being treated to awesome views. All along the trail the scenery is fantastic. There were wildflowers trailside, sweeping views of the valley, and so many different peaks and rock cliffs. That was a good thing because it gave us a good excuse to stop from time to time just to soak it all in. About halfway up we stopped at a waterfall to rest and eat some snacks. As we continued moving on, people coming down told us it was worth the effort. And it was.

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Coming upon the lake you see the turquoise water with the floating icebergs and feel the cold wind whipping down the mountainside. The rocky face of the cirque is so close. It is stunning. Every view from the hike, coming up and going down, was so beautiful we could have taken a million postcard perfect pictures! And although we did take lots, the pictures will never do it justice, but it’s the best I can do to convey to you the beauty of this area. You will just have to go to Many Glacier and see it yourself!

This is the longest hike I think we have ever taken and even though we were exhausted at the end and it took a good two days to recuperate we both agree it is also the best hike we have ever taken. It was a good thing I packed all those snacks because we ate them all! I made this trail mix with what I had on hand.

Yvonne’s Trail Mix

Salted pecans
Raw whole almonds (or use roasted)
Roasted, salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Raisins
Dried cranberries
Dried cherries
Mini dark chocolate chips

Mix in a baggie in amounts that make you happy and eat on the way to a spectacular view!

Going to the Sun and Canada

When we were in Glacier a few years ago we had wanted to do stop at the visitor’s center at the top of Logan Pass, but the parking lot was so packed we had to content ourselves with stopping at a pull-out further east and taking a short hike along a stream to find a spot to eat our lunch and enjoy the view. This time I was determined to make it to the visitor’s center and the popular Hidden Lake hike originating there.

So in our first attempt, not wanting to fight the parking, we planned to snag a seat on the 7am direct shuttle, but alas, waking at 0 dark thirty we both felt tired and off and ended up back in bed asleep. The next day we decided that we would just drive the pass and try to find a spot, figuring that arriving before 10am ought to do it. So I had our lunch all made and backpack packed the night before. When we woke up we ate breakfast, threw on hiking clothes and headed out by 8:30am.

IMG_1645Driving up Going-to-the-Sun Road in the early morning was nice. There were a several cars winding along the twisty narrow road with us, but it wasn’t jammed and since only a couple of cars were coming down we could hog the road instead of hugging the steep edge of the cliffs. By 9:45 we had wound our way to the top to find a full parking lot. As we circled we saw several people find spots as someone else was leaving, but after 30 minutes we had no luck and decided to give up and keep heading east. Also on my list was a visit to St. Mary, the eastern entrance of the park. So we continued on stopping by St. Mary Lake for lunch. Figuring the parking lot would still be packed, we continued east out of the park and turned north toward Canada. Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park were joined together in 1932 as Glacier-Waterton National Peace Park signifying the peaceful border with Canada. I had wanted to see Waterton as well so on we drove.

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As we headed toward Canada we got a different view of the peaks. The tabletop of Chief Mountain was stunning and different from any of the views we had seen so far. Crossing the border here in the middle of nowhere was a breeze, no lines at all. As we continued along the smooth Canadian road we noticed cattle grazing on the shoulders. At one point on the way back we had to stop when a lost calf darted into the road and it’s mother charged bellowing down the center line and stopped in front of us so her baby could nurse.

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In Waterton we walked through Prince Wales Hotel, another stunning lodge situated above a lake with views of the peaks. This time though the feel was distinctly Scottish as the waitresses bringing out the afternoon tea wore kilts of tartan plaid. Since I couldn’t convince Chuck to sit down to a fancy tea, we headed into the small town to walk around. Although there are a couple of roads that go further into the park, the one here was closed and we didn’t want to drive further into Canada to get to the other, so after exploring a bit of the town we headed back.

This time we headed east over Going to the Sun Road enjoying a different view of Glacier’s peaks. Just before arriving at Logan Pass the Red Jammer Bus in front of us slowed to a stop. As I searched the upper hillside for what they were all looking at, Chuck noticed the big horn sheep right out our side window. What luck! Indeed, we were getting luckier because as we arrived at Logan Pass we immediately found a van pulling out and snagged their spot. We went into the small visitor’s center and then headed out to hike the trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook.

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This trail starts out as a boardwalk that climbs through the alpine meadow. Again the views in every direction were postcard perfect. We stopped to view a group of bighorn sheep as tiny specks in our binoculars and even a few far off mountain goats. Little did we know that if we just kept going we would have close up views of mountain goats right on the path! Part way up a waterfall gushing out of the snow gave us a cool breeze. At the top we peered down into Hidden Lake, which is supposed to have a beautiful turquoise color, but with the cloud cover and raindrops falling it was but a dull gray. Still the views were awesome and this hike was a great ending to our day of exploring the park.

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Bears Oh My!

It was our first day at Glacier National Park. We had arrived at the crack of dawn (well, ok, 8:30, but it felt like dawn), circled the campground like vultures and scored a sweet campsite. Some of the sites are just parking spots on the side of the road, but we managed to find a big pull through site with a nice outdoor space and a bit of view through the treetops up to the sky and tree covered slope beyond. We set up the trailer, cleaned the dust off the solar panels from that awful Tally Lake dirt road, ate lunch and read the park brochure they handed us at the entrance.

Figuring the visitor’s center would be a good place to start exploring, we jump on our bikes and head for the bike path. On the signpost is a bear warning sign. Hmmm, wonder what that’s all about.

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Arriving at the visitor’s center, we happen upon a ranger doing a presentation on wildlife encounters. Hey, I wanted to listen to this one. Little did I know I would really be needing it.

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The ranger tells us to stay 100 yards away from bears and explained that the yellow sign on the path means a bear has been spotted in the area. In fact about 15 minutes ago a bear was seen on the very same bike path we had just ridden down. He told us the best thing to do is make noise when you are moving through bear areas. You don’t want to surprise them. A bear bell isn’t enough, you need to talk loudly or clap. Bears usually avoid you if they hear you coming.

But what if you do see a bear? Talk softly to it, give it lots of space and watch to see what it does. Usually they will move away. The chances of being attacked are about the same as winning the Powerball (really???). Do not run because that triggers the bear’s chase response and carry bear spray just in case.

So as we ride back to camp (no bear spray in our possession yet) I’m asking Chuck, how are we supposed to see the bear 100 yards away through all these trees and curves in the path? Well, I’ll just make a lot of noise and hope for the best!

A few days later we decide to take the bike path into West Glacier, just outside the entrance to the park. We overheard the clerk at the rental place tell some folks it was a good ride and you could stop for pie at the restaurant there and I’m always up for pie :). It’s about 2.5 miles of paved path in each direction so we figured it wouldn’t be too bad for our down day recovering from a recent hike. Turns out that when it’s hot out and you have a bit of adventure along the way it can really take it out of you.

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We ride the path which heads through the pines, greenery sprouting up below and sun peeking through from above. The shade feels good and even though there are a few ups and downs we’re creating our own breeze on this hot afternoon and it’s not too bad of a ride. We arrive at the entrance sign and snap our official picture. Then in West Glacier we check out the Alberta Visitor’s Center, mail off some postcards, look through a couple of little shops and decide we’re ready to head back (being good we decide against pie).

First off, there’s a steep hill climbing up from the river’s edge to the main path. Surely that should have earned me some pie! Then as we’re riding through the woods Chuck says he saw something next to the path up ahead and to keep an eye out. So my heart is pounding more as I’m looking but we see nothing and he says it must have just been a shadow. Then all of a sudden he stops and  I nearly ram into him as I squeeze the brakes hard and my rear wheel flies up and my whole bike nearly tips over into a little ditch as he points to the bear about 15’ off the path from us. Back up he’s saying, and I’m trying to get my bike upright so it will go backwards without making too much commotion as the black bear is staring right at us. Hmmm, that ranger said always stay 100 yards away from bears. Now what?

Well not really remembering what the ranger said to do we are frozen and staring right at the bear totally forgetting we’re supposed to talk quietly to him and not stare directly. Another couple on bikes stops behind us. “Whatcha looking at?” she says loudly. Shhh! “A bear,” I whisper. We stay still and he moves just a few more feet into the trees. Chuck decides it’s time to take off. I see him leaving and decide he’s got the bear spray and I’d better follow!

It all happened so fast I really didn’t have time to be scared, but later as we’re talking about it is when I feel my heart start racing. Whew, that was a close one. Forget pie, I deserve a drink!

Virgin Mojito

Into a tall glass squeeze several lime slices (about 1/4 lime) and drop them in the bottom. Add 10 or so mint leaves. You can add a teaspoon of raw sugar if you want. Use the end of a wooden spoon to smash and muddle it all together. Add ice cubes or frozen watermelon chunks. Fill half way with club soda and the rest of the way with filtered water. Stir and enjoy! If you have recently come face to face with a bear and need something a bit stronger, add a shot of white rum. 🙂

Tally Yes! Tally No!!!

While we were at Marcus Island Chuck was talking with another couple enjoying the spectacular view. They asked where we were headed. When he said Whitefish, they said “Tally Lake.” “Cally Lake?” “No Tally Lake.” The gentleman had grown up in Whitefish and said we had to go to nearby Tally Lake. Thinking that since they liked Marcus Island as much as we did this must also be a great spot, we put it on our list.

He didn’t mention that it was 3.5 miles down a narrow, bumpy dirt road. He didn’t mention that the sites were dark and dreary. He didn’t mention that it’s heavily used by loud groups who come to boat on the lake and swim on the beach. He didn’t mention that the few sites with a view of the lake were in the North Loop down another narrow dirt road. He gave it a rave review and so we went to Tally Lake thinking it would be a good base for exploring Whitefish, but found it wasn’t so.

Lesson #5: Do your own research, even with a glowing recommendation.

One it was quite a drive into Whitefish. You had two options. In one direction you went 9 miles down the dirt road and it was supposedly 15 minutes quicker. The other direction it was only 3 miles of dirt road, but it was longer. Either way it was too far. Although the sites were spaced out ok, they were dark. It seemed depressing. We weren’t there to boat on the lake, and riding our bikes on the dirt road wasn’t too appealing. There was one hike up to a view of the lake, but we could stand right on the shore and see it all. It just wasn’t for us. And to top it all off, the water system had recently been vandalized and all the water spigots we’re covered and marked unsafe for drinking. So instead of staying there all day with no cell service (anywhere isn’t too bad if you can hide inside and surf the internet to plan your next stop 🙂 ) we decided would get some things done. We drove to the laundromat, picked up a few items we needed for the trailer, had lunch, got more groceries and used the wi-fi to make our plan of attack for Glacier.

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Wishing we still had this great view from Marcus Island!

And so after two campgrounds that weren’t stellar, we learned something. We really don’t like sites without some sky view.

We loved the open sky from the meadow in Winthrop. We loved watching the clouds across the lake in Marcus Island. Even at Newhalem where you can only see bits of sky from the sites, when you walk the campground you have views of the nearby peaks. So again two nights and we were out of there. We left early, packing up everything we could the night before and setting the alarm for the first time since we started our adventure. We knew we had to make it to Glacier before 10am to claim a spot, and the one good thing about Tally Lake was it put us close enough to do just that.

We’re in Montana!

Yaak River

I wanted to stay near Sandpoint Idaho. We’ve been to Farragut State Park on the south end of Lake Pend Orielle and I really liked the lake. Unfortunately Farragut was totally booked and we couldn’t find any other good options on the lake. Chuck had a couple of sites along the Yaak River just inside the Montana border that looked promising so we drove straight through this skinny strip of Idaho. It turned out to be a wildlife drive. Besides the usual deer, I saw a black bear scampering into the trees just off the freeway in Idaho and later we nearly had wild turkey for dinner when mom, dad, and several chicks walked into the road. Luckily they paused, deciding to let us go by first.

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Yaak Falls

Turning down the Yaak River Road we found the first campground near Yaak Falls was too small. We had no cell service so couldn’t check the GPS on the phone for our second option, Yaak River Campground. A map at the viewpoint showed 2 more campgrounds on down the road so we continued on but neither of those were a fit and we finally ended up at the tiny “town” of Yaak—two bars and a teensy store with an old gas pump out front. The cashier was excited that we must be there for the music festival (what music festival???). She said we could camp in the field if we were attending and the bluegrass and rock music would go from 3pm to midnight. Since this didn’t sound like our kind of fun we asked her where to find the Yaak River Campground. We were thankful the gas pump still worked because it turned out we had to retrace the 20 miles we had been driving down this road. The campground we wanted was back off the main highway. So we learned another lesson.

Lesson #4: Always take a screen shot of the map.

Back on the highway the Yaak River Campground was not far. There were many open sites among the dense trees, but the few spots that had views of the river were taken. We found one space with some sun for the solar and set up. A short path led us straight from our camp, through the trees and brush to the where the Yaak River meets the larger Kootenai River. It was pretty and I found lots of cool rocks along the banks!

The next day we drove into nearby Troy, MT for the farmer’s market (berries, pea pods, giant carrots and yummy gluten free huckleberry pie!) and walked through the small museum of old photographs, logging tools, kitchenware and a police blotter that listed “drunk and disorderly” as the main offense back in the day. This town was born out of logging and mining. The building was actually the old train depot. The docent recommended seeing the nearby Kootenai Falls and the Ross Creek Cedar Grove. So the following day we did.

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The Kootenai Falls were spectacular. After a short hike down the hillside, we found water gushing over big flat rocks. It wasn’t a tall fall, but cool because of how wide it was and all the stair steps the rocks made for the water to follow. Chuck even got me out on the swinging bridge over the river.

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People on Tripadvisor were raving about the Ross Creek Cedars. They said you shouldn’t miss it. So we drove 20 miles (4 miles of that dirt road) to get there and all I can say is those people obviously weren’t from Washington. True there were some big, old cedar trees along the nature path, but nothing I hadn’t seen around Seattle. The coolest part was how so many people had left rock cairns along the river.

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Well two nights was enough for us and we were ready to head on down the road. On our way out of town we found a weigh station. Chuck had read that when the weigh stations are closed they turn the meter so you can see it out the window. So we took the opportunity to weight the truck and the trailer and found out that we are not overweight. Hooray! I don’t have to pare down even more. Although, I’m already finding out that there are things I don’t really use so a trip to “Goodwill” is in our future. 🙂