visiting Glacier National Park
I’ll be honest, we had high expectations for visiting Glacier National Park. We’ve seen nothing but incredible pictures and I wish I could tell you the number of times people asked “have you been to Glacier yet? Oh my gosh, Glacier National Park is our favorite. You have to go there!”. Its clear this national park has left a mark on many people because of it’s natural beauty, abundant hiking trails, epic views, and plentiful wildlife. Liz’s sister and brother-in-law are fellow travel enthusiasts and had visiting Glacier National Park on their bucket list. Since it was on our route for this year and Liz’s sister, Elise, was also turning 30 around the time we planned on going there, we decided to buy them all a ticket to fly out and explore the park with us! What better way to enjoy one of the most favored national parks than with your favorite people, right?
Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t perfect. Visiting in late June was just a bit to early for the season (about 1 week too early 😑). To start, Going to the Sun Road remained closed from winter and it was still rather cold. We even saw fresh snow falling on one of the mountains from our RV park! The biggest bummer of them all was the constant rain. Not just a little rain, but rain all day, every day. When you’re visiting a national park and your primary goal is to be outside hiking, enjoying beautiful unobstructed views, rain is pretty unwelcome. While we still absolutely loved the park, we definitely didn’t get the full experience. We took shorter hikes than we hoped or tried to sneak out in between a storm. We also adjusted our plans and did things out of the norm, like relaxing in the warmth of one of Glacier’s historic lodges with wine and views. So it wasn’t a bad experience, just different than we hoped. Honestly though, we just loved having our family with us. Travel is always better when shared, especially with people you love.
We only spent one full day in West Glacier after picking up Elise, Shane, and their adorable baby, Leila from the Kalispell airport. There was less to do on the West side and since Going to the Sun Road was closed, we didn’t have easy access to come back to the RV/Campground after exploring the park for the day. We might have stayed longer had we known how bad the rain would be on the east side of the park, but you live and you learn. After getting the baby and our visitors settled into the RV and getting some rest, we woke up bright and early and headed straight into the park. Our first stop was Lake McDonald, the largest lake in Glacier National Park. Leila got to enjoy glacier water for the first time! She wasn’t to sure about it at first, but ended up loving it. Since she is teething, she loved sucking on the cold rocks from the lake.
Our big hike for the day was Avalanche Lake. It’s only 5.7 miles roundtrip with a 750 ft. elevation change. It’s actually a shorter hike considering most hikes in Glacier are 15+ miles. It did rain a few times on us, but the hike overall was really enjoyable. While the big views are at the lake where there are three, yes THREE, cascading waterfalls over a beautiful blue glacial lake, the entire hike is gorgeous. Leila loved the trees, the bright green moss, the rough bark from the tree. This is a pretty heavily trafficked path, but considering the views it offers, duration, and overall moderate difficult level it’s easy to see why. If you’re coming to Glacier this hike is a must!
If you’re looking for an even shorter but just as beautiful of a hike, take Trail of Cedars which is just before Avalanche Lake and is actually handicap accessible.
This is the side of the park we spent most of our time, although the weather here was not our friend. Since going to the sun road was closed, we had to drive highway 2 to get to the other side of the park. There is technically three “entrances” or areas to explore on the east side of the park, Two Medicines, St. Mary’s, and Many Glacier. We unfortunately didn’t spend any time in Two Medicines, but did spend quiet a bit of time in the St. Mary’s Area. Our first stop was at Jackson Glacier, one of the only glaciers you can see (relatively close) without a long hike involved. It’s incredible to think there only about 25 active glaciers today in this park. 175 years ago there were over 150 glaciers. They estimate all the glaciers will be gone in just 5 – 10 years (2023 – 2028). For this reason, we felt extremely lucky to be able to visit rain or not. Especially now that the Howe Ridge fire left a huge mark on this beautiful park that will take many years to regrow.
After seeing Jackson Glacier, we hiked up the Going to the Sun Road. Since it was a paved road, it didn’t feel like a strenuous or long hike, but after we got home that night we realized we walked over 8 miles roundtrip nearing Logan Pass visitors center (the pinnacle of the Going to the Sun Road). The views on this road are just beyond breathtaking. Dennis and I were lucky enough to be in Kalispell once the road opened up for the season and took a motorcycle ride over the pass. This is probably the prettiest drive we’ve ever taken.
On our walk up the road we passed several big horn sheep that were licking the wall of a tunnel. We later found out that mountain goats and big horn sheep that the lick the water (normally on gray clay) because of the minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and lesser quantities of sodium and phosphorus. The animals lose this during winter and this is one of the ways they replenish! They head butted the walls and each other a few times which reminded us the damage they could do if we got too close. We tried to remain as far back as possible until we decided to turn back.
Our second day into park was dedicated to see wild life! We heard Many Glaciers was great for viewing wildlife, so we gave it a go. After nearly 15 minutes in the park we saw a moose! It was such a treat for us. We’ve traveled across North America for over a year now and have yet to see a moose. We originally saw it from the road and saw it go near the shore. We quickly found a side road we could hopefully get a view from, and before we knew it the moose was right next to our car! Such an amazing moment for us! We celebrated our moose sighting by retreating into the warmth of the historic Many Glacier Hotel. They had wood burning pits, comfy couches, and a bar that had great beer and wine. It was a nice way to get out of the rain and still have a beautiful view of a glacial fed lake.
Since more rain was in the forecast in East Glacier, we decided we would spend a day in Canada visiting Waterton National Park, Glacier’s sister park. This may be surprising to you, we know it was news to us, that there are actually no Glaciers in Waterton. We thought we could get better views and unclose to a Glacier but we were dead wrong! However, they do have a pretty cute downtown, a lovely sidewalk next to the river, a beautiful waterfall, and incredible wildflowers! The wildflowers were our favorite! We couldn’t believe how beautiful they were. We had never seen such a variety of flowers in one area. We could have spent all day smelling them and searching for a new variety. We took an easy path through the wildflower fields where we spotted a black bear and her cub! It was a nice treat and overall our day was very enjoyable. If it’s wildflower season, visiting Waterton is definitely a must!
We will definitely be back to visit Glacier again, praying for better weather. Even with the undesirable weather, we enjoyed the park and could see how beautiful it could be in the right conditions. Honestly, it was a great time mostly because of the company we had. Traveling is always better when it’s shared. If you’ve been to Glacier what was your favorite part? Anything we should add to our list next time?
We are Dennis and Liz! We’re two travel loving, real estate investing, foodies exploring North America full time in a Grand Design fifth wheel toy hauler. We share our lessons learned as full time RV’ers, travel tips and tricks, and the best places to eat and see in the US with you!
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