When we left Yellowstone, we went to Polson, MT to spend the night. We drove to Glacier National Park from Polson by heading up the east side of Flat Head Lake to West Glacier. I decided I wasn't ready for Going to the Sun Road so I headed to East Glacier on Route 2. The drive isn't too bad and is kind of pretty. When you get onto Route 49 in East Glacier, it quickly changes to very pretty. It also just keeps getting better. We drove to Babb and headed into Glacier via Many Glacier.
We arrived in Glacier around lunchtime. We stopped at Many Glacier Hotel on the way in just to look around and check on ranger led hikes. The hotel has an impressive lobby. Big fire place to sit around. Spectacular view across Swiftcurrent Lake. An impressive place all in all. We heard mixed reviews about the food and rooms but not the view. This is also where you catch the boat to shorten the Grinnell Glacier Hike. Its expensive at $13 but you may think its worth it at the end of the day. You can and should buy the ticket the day before you take the hike rather than waiting.
We got to Swiftcurrent and could check in early. That helped get a nice start to the day. Two interesting news items from checking in. Iceberg Lake was closed for bear activity and there was a grizzly and cubs on the Red Rock Falls trail. For all this, we never did get a close look at a grizzly.
When we got to our room, we liked it right away. Nice setting. Rustic look and feel on the outside. Regular and twin bed. The room itself was large enough and had room to spread out our clothes and cameras. Nice area outside the door to drag our chairs out and enjoy the evening.
The motel part of the inn has a few buildings scattered around. There's
7 rooms on one side and 7 on the other. It gives a sense that the place is
smaller than it actually is. Swiftcurrent is nestled down in the valley and
surrounded by mountains. The view is amazing in any direction you look.
It may be too rustic for some but we loved it. Don't know why we'd stay
anywhere else on the East side of the park. We almost stayed at Lake
McDonald for the entire trip but the folks at
Glacier Park Chat persuaded me
that this was better. They were right.
We wanted to go on a hike the first afternoon we were there. I'd read that the Red Rock Falls trail was a good one to warm up with. It is around a 3.8 mile hike round trip and isn't real challenging. The falls are pretty and its a good way to start a trip. The hike today was a little more interesting, though. Remember the grizzly on the trail? We sure did.
We started up the trail with a group of others. Fearless hikers all. At some point, we were told that "its right up there". The group decided that was a good time to take a break. Maybe a long break. Finally, one guy (or fool) said I'm going and headed up the trail. He actually did isolate the position of the bear. We sucked it up and headed up too. They were about 40' off the trail in brush and small trees. We could see one cub occasionally but not clearly. I got a picture of two bear cub ears in the brush but not the rest. While we were watching, I saw a large brown head start to raise up. The ears were a lot farther apart on this one. She laid her head back down and ignored us. It may not have been as big as I remember but this was not a small bear. Fortunately, she was ignoring us. On with the hike.
Nothing too exciting about the rest of the hike. The falls aren't real big but they are very pretty. The bear moved on by the time we came back.
Dinner that night was at the Italian Garden restaurant at Swiftcurrent. The food wasn't fancy but we liked the atmosphere. We also enjoyed talking to the kids working there. Our waitress was from about 15 miles from us here in Virginia. More on them later.
In the evenings, you can see people in the parking lot look at the mountain sides with scopes and binoculars. They're looking for bears mostly. They occasionally see moose and mountain goats as well. If you get a chance to look through one of the scopes, its probably worth it. Through most binoculars, you see brown spots with legs. There's a couple of examples in the Swiftcurrent Area pictures that will give you an idea. You can click on the thumbnail to see one of the pictures.
Since the Iceberg Lake / Ptarmigan Tunnel trail was closed, it was time for the Grinnell Glacier Hike. We went to Many Glacier for their breakfast buffet and to catch the boat. You can hike it but you save a couple of miles by doing it this way. When you come back down, you'll understand that the boat ride is worth what is costs. At least we did.
We did the hike with the ranger naturalist. He explained that he wasn't our guide or protector, and that we didn't have an obligation to keep up or stay with him. Probably best that way. We're slow hikers. We would have learned a lot more if we kept up. He was very knowledgeable and explained a lot during the breaks.
The hike to the glacier goes up 1600' in 3.8 miles. It isn't real steep but it sure isn't flat. Its one of the most beautiful hikes I've been on. The view is spectacular all the way up. Don't forget to turn around and look behind you too.
This was mid July and the first time the hike got to the glacier. There had been too much snow even the previous weekend. It was melting like crazy when we were there but you still had to hike through snow in spots. We saw Big Horn Sheep as we got closer to the top. There's a place that has toilets and logs for benches. Its a great place for lunch. We saw the sheep on a snow field above this spot.
We had never really used trekking poles before this hike. They were great in the steep places and for getting through the snow. Sue said she probably wouldn't have made it to the top without them.
The ranger showed us pictures of the glacier over the years to show how much it has receded. In 1917, Grinnell and Salamander were one Glacier. Similar pictures can be found on the internet.
He also showed us where the glacier was in 1986. You can now see that it has receded a tremendous amount. I don't know if will last another 20 years but doubt it. By then, it will be just another pretty mountain lake. If you don't believe in global warming, take this hike. I found some USGS pictures from 1901 and tried to show how its changed over the years.
The pictures from our hike to Grinnell Glacier try to show what the trail is like and what a beautiful hike it is. It will let you get a sense of the trail before starting the hike.
You can't walk on the glacier any more. It isn't solid enough to be sure it will support people. Too many cracks and crevasses. Its also gotten so small that it isn't as impressive as you might expect. None the less, it is a spectacular hike and worth it. If you're concerned about the distance, you can take the boat ride to the end of Lake Josephine.
After the hike, we walked up to Fishercap Lake to see what was there. We were looking for a moose cow with calves. A bull showed up behind me and had my undivided attention. I took a lot of pictures and was completely fascinated watching him eat.
A hike to (but not up) Swiftcurrent pass was planned for the next day. We got up early to see if there was another moose at Fishercap Lake. They were there and we kind of lost the whole day watching the various moose feeding. Took way too many pictures but I don't get many opportunities like this one. The link will let you see some of the better ones. We spent every morning and evening hanging out there.
Since we couldn't hike Iceberg and didn't want to hike Cracker Lake, we took the Red Bus tour to Lake McDonald. I thought it might be fun to see Going to the Sun Road without driving it. We enjoyed the tour and learned a bit about the park. I also learned the road wasn't as bad as I expected. We saw Mountain Goats and Black Bear cubs on the trip so that was nice too. It was interesting to see Lake McDonald lodge since we were spending one night there before leaving the park.
We felt a need to go hiking one more time. Iceberg still wasn't open so we decided to visit Bullhead Lake. It takes you to Red Rock Falls and beyond. As you get closer to the end of the valley, the mountains are very interesting. The lake itself doesn't amount to much and there isn't a good trail to it. It isn't great hike by Glacier standards but still pretty interesting. There are supposed to be moose there occasionally and that would make it a lot better.
Time to check out. We really hated to leave Swiftcurrent but the time had come. We headed out for breakfast at the Park Cafe. We had heard a lot but hadn't stopped there. We were told at Swiftcurrent that pie for breakfast wasn't a crime. They hadn't started baking yet but had pecan pie left from the previous evening. We had some for desert and it was great. The fresh pie must be really special. There's also a nice gift shop there that has some things different than what is in the park.
From there it was across Going to the Sun Road to Lake McDonald. We stopped at Logan Pass to hike out to the Hidden Lake Overlook. It was easily worth it. We saw mountain goats and Big Horn sheep along the way. The wildflowers were out. The view from the overlook is very nice. The trail is only a 3 mile round trip and is mostly on a boardwalk. You may huff and puff a little but its worth it. Get there fairly early because they don't have enough parking.
If you are coming from the East, pay attention to the construction area. They lost the outside lane of the road to an avalanche last winter. I can't imagine being one of the workers repairing the road. The location is at the pass.
The rest of the day was at Lake McDonald. We had a small cabin and could check in early. It wasn't one of their really small places and had a bath. We didn't do much and just enjoyed being there. A huckleberry margarita helped. We met a lot of nice people and had the best dinner of the trip. Its a nice place but I much prefer the other side of the park.
Now its off to Seattle to explore and visit friends.