I had no idea what to expect from our trip to Glacier National Park. Before our visit I knew there would be glaciers and wildlife, including grizzly bears, and that people say the park is really beautiful. I can now report that “beautiful” is truly an understatement. This place is amazing and quickly jumped the ranks to my second favorite national park (Yosemite is still my #1). Since the summer sun doesn’t set until after 9:00 p.m., for our first visit we decided to head into the park after 4:00 p.m. when it would hopefully be cooler and less congested. We drove the narrow, winding Going-to-the-Sun Road through the forest and up into the mountains. All along the road there are overlooks with absolutely stunning views.
Though an incredibly beautiful drive, the road is extremely narrow and larger vehicles are restricted. Anything larger than a 15-passenger van would likely be too big- RVs and trailers are definitely not allowed. Heading eastbound, drivers skirt the winding road with steep drop-offs and short stone barriers, while drivers headed westbound hug the jagged inner cliffside with rocks jutting out into the lane. The road passes by streams that pour down the cliff walls like waterfalls, close enough to reach out and touch. Mitch, who is not a fan of heights, handled the drive like a pro, although with white knuckles and maybe a little sweat.
For our first hike, I wanted to try the three-mile out-and-back trail to St. Mary and Virginia Falls. Because we were entering a grizzly habitat and saw that the trail was lined with yummy berry bushes and a nice cool stream, we went in armed with bear spray. Rangers caution visitors to always carry bear spray and to hike in groups of three or more. Though we started the trail just the two of us, we soon met a woman who had been hiking alone, became quick friends, and decided to tackle the rest of the trail together. Our new friend, Elyda, was a retired speech therapist and shared a ton of knowledge about the park and nature along the trail. She also became our personal hero, saving the day (and possibly the forest) when she tactfully told a man who had been puffing a cigar on the trail, that smoking was not allowed and could be very dangerous for the park and his pocketbook. He apologized, thanked her, and put it out. Go, Elyda! As we hiked along and chatted with each other we saw no shortage of wildflowers, dense forest, green ferns, and meandering streams. The trail was spectacular and smelled amazing. I learned the park is home to 62 species of ferns, giving some areas a very rainforest-like appearance. Just before we reached the teal-blue St. Mary Falls we crossed a sweet mule deer on the trail.
We continued on the trail following the creek, until it veered off into quiet, thick forest for a bit, and rejoined the river at the tall, cascading Virginia Falls. Elyda thanked us for making her follow the trail all the way to the end. Although she had hiked the trail in the past, this was as far as she’d ever been. We noticed a few hikers who seemed to turn back before reaching Virginia Falls. We hiked right up to the base of the upper falls and were rewarded with a refreshing breeze and cool mist. It was beautiful to experience it all together.
On our next visit to the park we decided to take advantage of the free shuttle service up Going-To-The-Sun Road. This time we arrived in the morning, parked at one of the shuttle stops, and hitched a free ride to the trails. The shuttles are accessible and can carry up to 14 passengers. I wanted to check out one of Glacier’s accessible trails, so we started with a hike on the Trail of the Cedars. According to the park’s Accessible Facilities & Services guide, this is one of Glacier’s six accessible trails.
The trail is mostly flat with a combination of cement and wooden boardwalk. This gorgeous trail travels through lush, green forest, crosses creeks and streams, and carries the lovely scent of cedar and pine. We spotted lots of chipmunks and squirrels on the trail and several beautiful butterflies.
The Trail of the Cedars also leads to the trailhead for Avalanche Lake. This trail was approximately 2.3 miles one-way, with plenty of short inclines. Avalanche Lake’s smooth, reflective waters were a beautiful foreground to the surrounding mountains and delicate, cascading waterfalls.
Next we decided to tackle the trail to Hidden Lake. The trailhead is located behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center and travels through absolutely beautiful terrain. Though the first bit of the trail is accessible with a wooden boardwalk, it begins to climb the mountain with stairs. Patches of ice and snow, wildflowers, and rocks sit along the trail.
We saw a ton of wildlife including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and overly-friendly and socialized chipmunks and squirrels. We stopped for snacks at the overlook and were surprised to have chipmunks and squirrels climb up onto us looking for grub. There were several signs asking visitors not to feed the wildlife but we knew critters were still getting food somehow when we saw a big chipmunk running across the trail carrying an apple. Mitch gestured with open hands that we didn’t have anything but that did not stop these furry little guys from trying to get a closer look.
Though our time here was short, we really enjoyed this park. I learned that most of the trails are considered moderate or difficult, with fewer easy waking trails. All of the visitor centers appeared to be accessible with parking and restrooms. There’s still a ton more I want to explore in Glacier National Park and I’m definitely looking forward to coming back.
We also spent some time in Kalispell, MT and volunteered with Samaritan House. The mission of Samaritan House is to “provide for the basic needs of homeless people, while fostering self-respect and human dignity.” Partnering with United Way and other community organizations, the non-profit provides food, housing, case management, and resources for individuals, families, and veterans who are hungry or homeless. For a few hours in the morning we worked on detailing and organizing the kitchen, where last year alone Samaritan House provided 34,860 meals. We slapped on some rubber gloves and put in some elbow grease scrubbing walls, sinks, stoves, ovens, and appliances. It felt good to be volunteering again after not being involved all month. I had volunteer work lined up with a few state parks in Colorado and Idaho but unfortunately they all fell through. It’s also been challenging to find community organizations and non-profits in some of the more rural areas we’ve been visiting. My goal is to volunteer at least once a month and so far we are still on target.
Next stop- CANADA! We’ve traveled about 3,000 miles since leaving Austin,TX and are excited to explore Canada during the month of August. Thanks for reading!