Glacier National Park, Montana

***Make sure to bring bear spray on any hike, just as a precaution. I have never had to use mine, but you never know. Also, know that bear bells are a rip-off and may actually attract a bear. It’s better to just talk loud and and even yell at times so that any nearby animals know you are coming. You just don’t want to surprise them! Keep kids by you at all times and do not let them run ahead on the trails. If you are going to Glacier, I assume you are interested in doing some sort of hiking. For more information on the park’s hiking options, go to
 http://www.hikinginglacier.com/***

Drive the Going-To-The-Sun Highway
I would highly suggest getting an earlier start on this so that you can get a parking spot up at the Logan Pass Ranger Station. If you arrive early in the morning around 5 or 6 am, you may see some bighorn sheep in the parking lot as they like to lick the car fluids off of the pavement. There will also definitely be a place to park and less people. The later you wait, the busier it gets. Around 10-11, you may have to be creative and patient with parking.

1) Hidden Lake Hike
After parking in the Logan Pass parking lot, be ready for a short mile or so hike to Hidden Lake, where you could see a variety of wildlife such as mountain goats, grizzly or black bear, prairie dogs, marmots, and I’ve even seen a wolverine (a rare find) up here.

2) The Highline Trail (Garden Hose Trail)
Crossing the street from the Logan Pass parking lot is the Garden Hose Trail. If you aren’t planning on making a day hike of it to visit the Grinnell Glacier Overlook and hike all the way down to Swiftcurrent (about 15 miles), the simply make the short walk to the hike and take a picture or two while holding onto the garden hose.

3) A couple of other quick must-sees along the road are:
-Wild Goose Island Photo Spot
-Sun Point
-Avalanche Lake Trail
-Lake MacDonald Lodge
-Apgar Village

Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent
About 15 minutes north of St. Mary, make sure to stop for dinner at Two Sisters. I love the chili burger and their huckleberry milkshakes! Then, drive into the park toward Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent, my favorite portion of the park and a hiker/animal lover’s paradise. Plan on spending a couple of nights in this area. There are a couple places inside and outside of the park that are worth staying at in this area.

1) Swiftcurrent Trail to Fishercap Lake and Red Rock
Once outside the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn doorway, continue down the sidewalk toward the trailhead. Half a mile into the trail you will see a sign for Fishercap Lake. If you want to see a moose or moose family, try stopping by around 6-8 pm (if you don’t see one the first time, try again!). Bring your lawn chairs and try to be quiet so you don’t scare them off! I have seen a moose here about 80% of the times I have gone.

Also, it’s worth going further down the trail to Red Rock and even Bullhead Lake (if you are up for a 5 mile hike on flat ground. Red Rock is a perfect place to dip your feet in and enjoy the good weather.

2) Many Glacier Hotel
Here, feel free to hang out in the lodge itself or on the deck and just enjoy the view. In front of you, you will see Swiftcurrent Peak and to the right Mt. Wilbur and Shangri La. There are nice views of the valley from behind the hotel up on the hill and make sure to explore the waterfall area as you turn onto the hotel road.

Also, either go on a horseback ride tour toward Cracker Lake or rent kayaks/canoes here at Swiftcurrent Lake. You can also rent kayaks/canoes at Two Medicine. If you are a boat cruise person, they have that here as well, but remember that the cruise will show you two different lakes and there is a short half mile hike between the two boats.

3) Shangri La Hike
If you are up for carving your own trail and feel comfortable with hiking in these parks, take a group and hike to the top of Shangri La. This is a more advanced hike and you may run into some grizzlies (but I haven’t yet and I’ve hiked up it about 10 times). The view from the top is breathe-taking and you can slide down the scree field on the other side down toward Iceberg Lake. To find the trailhead, you will begin hiking the Swiftcurrent Trail towards Red Rock. About a mile or so in as you approach the snow-filled gully between Mt. Wilbur and Shangri La, there will be what looks like a lesser travelled trail that branches off to the right into the trees (it is immediately after one of the shallow river crossings).

A couple pieces of advice here: 1) Bring a good amount of water and a rain jacket. You just never know how the weather will change. 2) Bring a decent meal that you can eat at the top of the ridge overlooking both the Many Glacier Valley and Iceberg Lake. 3) Don’t run down the scree field! Think of it more like downhill skiing. 4) Remember that the lake at the top of Shangri La is named Halter Lake. I don’t care what anyone says about it. I will fight them. 5) If you have some crazy death wish and decide to do this hike at night, be careful with turning lights on unless you can use Morse Code to explain to the people at the Many Glacier Hotel that you are okay and only crazy.

OR you can simply take the easy 10 mile roundtrip Iceberg Lake hike. You will take the same trail there and back as opposed to hiking up Shangri La and taking the trail back. The water of Iceberg Lake is naturally extremely cold, but brave souls can cross off a polar plunge from their bucket list here.

Other good area hikes include:
-Grinnell Glacier
-Ptarmigan Trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel and/or Iceberg Lake
-Cracker Lake


Two Medicine Area
On your way up the east side of the park from East Glacier Lodge to St. Mary’s, make sure to stop by the Two Medicine area.

1) Running Eagle Falls
After entering the area, your first quick stop can be at Running Eagle Falls, which is a sort of double waterfall. It is literally a couple minute walk right off of the road and worth seeing. Depending upon your timing, you will either see the waterfall coming down from the top or from halfway down the small cliff face. Side note: If you are driving a truck, make sure you don’t leave coolers or any food open to the air back there when you are in the park. Food should always be packed inside the car or cab so that animals don’t go rummaging. If you forget, you may get a friendly reminder from a ranger 🙂

2) Scenic Point
If you have a few hours, I’d suggest hiking to the top of Scenic Point, which has about a 2300 feet elevation gain and lets you overlook both the Two Medicine Valley one way and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation the other.

It is especially spectacular early in the season (End of May to Early June) when the mountains are all covered in snow (although you may have to hike over and around some snow yourself).

3) Dawson-Pitimakan
Or better yet Pitimakan-Dawson, if that’s the way you’d prefer to hike it!
If you have a full day and are roaring to go on a long and calf-busting hike (coincidentally one of my two favorite hikes in the park), get here early and plan to leave in the evening as you make your way along the Dawson-Pitimakan hike. This hike involves a 2400 feet elevation gain, although it feels like much more with a length of about 16-19 miles depending on how you go about it. I would suggest going up to Pitimakan Pass first so that when you come down from Dawson Pass, you can catch the ferry for the last 2-3 miles. Take a look at the link to the hiking glacier website page on this particular hike:
http://www.hikinginglacier.com/pitamakan-pass.htm

St. Mary’s North to Waterton Lakes NP, Canada
An hour drive north of St. Mary’s lies Waterton Lakes National Park, one of the most beautiful places I enjoy visiting. You will have to cross the border at the Chief Mountain border crossing and may be able to cross back and forth with only birth certificates, at least for the kids. I would clarify that with them on the phone beforehand, but it should work.

1) Prince of Wales Hotel and Bear’s Hump
On entering Waterton Lakes NP, you will see the Prince of Wales Hotel sitting atop the hill overlooking the Waterton Lakes. Across the street from the hotel is Bear’s Hump, a hike of .75 miles straight up to a perfect lookout point. It’s perfect to tucker out the kids and get some nice family photos at the same time. If you are lucky, I have seen both black and grizzly bear down in the field across from the hotel!

2) Red Rock Canyon
A twenty minute drive away is Red Rock Canyon, which is another great place to take the family. The river gorge is right off of the parking lot and is a great place for the kids to get a little swimming in and explore a walk down the canyon.

3) Staying the Night
If you are looking to stay the night here, I would suggest bringing a tent to stay at the campground along the lake. There you can enjoy sleeping among the prairie dog commune and relax with lawn chairs down by the edge of the lake as the sun sets. It’s also within walking distance of the downtown area where there are a number of shops and restaurants. OR you could stay at the Prince of Wales, but there you can expect a hefty price tag.

Banff/Jasper and more of the Canadian Rockies information to come…

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