July 9, 2014
Yesterday morning we began the day at Montana Coffee Traders (the same guy owns Texas Coffee Traders in Austin). Then we drove about 30 minutes and we were in Glacier National Park! I’ve wanted to visit Glacier for a long time so I was pretty stoked!We entered Glacier from West Glacier and hopped on Going-to-the-Sun Road. The entire length of the road is only open in the summer and we were lucky because it had just opened up on July 2. Going-to-the-Sun Road was opened in 1933 and is a 50 mile road that goes over the spine of the Rocky Mountains. Before the road was built most of the park was accessible by horseback and wasn’t a destination for common travelers. William Logan, Glacier’s first superintendent, wanted the park to be more than a resort for wealthy city-dwellers and supported the idea of building a road across the park. It took 11 years to finish the road. Driving across the road is magnificent. I can’t imagine how difficult the construction of the road must have been. It’s just stunning and gives such an amazing degree of access to the park that even people who can’t hike and can only drive through can see the majesty of Glacier. It’s a very special piece of the park.
One of the nice things about the road is that we could stop in the turnouts or trail heads and step out into the park. One of the first places we stopped was Lake McDonald Lodge. The lodge was built in 1914 – it’s celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. The lodge, as all the lodges in the park, is modeled after a Swiss chalet. Its picturesque exterior seems at home against the lake and mountains in the distance. We didn’t expect the lobby to be so beautiful – there were animal heads all over the walls, comfy chairs, but the centerpiece is a gorgeous Native American “chandelier.” It sits on the banks of Lake McDonald, the park’s largest lake. The lake is 10 miles long, a mile wide, and 400ft. deep; the road goes alongside it for its entire length.
We left the lodge and continued along Going-to-the-Sun road which began climbing in elevation. We reached “The Loop” and had spectacular views of the Lake McDonald Valley we had just driven through. The road continued along The Garden Wall which meant we were snuggled up against sheer cliffs as we drove along. There were waterfalls all along the way and one of my favorite features, The Weeping Wall. It’s a natural waterfall that runs down the Garden Wall and onto the road.
We eventually reached Logan’s Pass which is the highest elevation on Going-to-the-Sun road at 6,680 ft. and where you cross the Continental Divide. Logan’s Pass is a very popular place for people to stop and the parking lots fills up pretty early so we weren’t able to stop. There are a few trails that would have been nice but we can save those for next time. We had another hike in mind that was recommended by Amanda in Missoula – Virginia Falls. We started our descent from Logan’s Pass and stopped at the Jackson Glacier Overlook – the only glacier you can see from Going-to-the-Sun road.
The road was under construction from Logan’s Pass to the end basically so there were a few points where we had to wait a little while to pass. That also meant that our trail head was slightly under construction and we began with a little detour.
The Virginia Falls hike is 3.4 miles round-trip and takes you by several waterfalls. First we hiked to St. Mary Falls and had views of St. Mary Lake along the way.
When we reached the falls it seemed as though one of the hikers had jumped into the base of the waterfall. Zach would have done it but thankfully (for me) we hadn’t come prepared for him to do so. We continued on for the next 1.2 miles and reached amazing Virginia Falls. You can hike an additional 0.2 miles to the waterfall itself and stand incredibly close to the falls. Obviously we had to try that! We both stood in front of the waterfall and got completely drenched by the mist! It was exhilarating to feel the power of the water so close behind you – I thought my hat was going to fly off my head!
We hiked back down to the scenic view of the falls and then back to our car by which point we were pretty hungry. We decided to drive to a different point in the park and have dinner. So we drove north to Many Glacier, an area of the park that has 4 glaciers clustered together. The Many Glacier Hotel sits on the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake. It’s a beautiful setting and I wish we could have kayaked the lake in addition to our meal, but food was the most important at the time so we had dinner in the hotel at their Interlaken Lounge. (We also sat in their downstairs lobby with $2 Montana craft beers admiring the view!)
With another 2.5 hours of daylight, we left Many Glacier and drove south to Two Medicine which is at the Eastern edge of the park. Two Medicine has more of a Native American influence than the rest of the park and it’s still a part of the Blackfeet Reservation. We drove down to Two Medicine Lake, near the campground, to get one last view of the park and it was well worth it. With the sun set behind Rising Wolf Mountain we were able to take in the beauty of the park in a very peaceful setting. There weren’t hordes of tourists anymore and we felt very far from the more popular parts of the park. It was a lovely send-off.
We left Glacier through East Glacier briefly getting a look at Glacier Park Lodge. Next time we’ll stop and take a look. Glacier National Park is truly a gem. It’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve been and we barely scratched the surface. It is commonly called “Backbone of the World” by the Blackfeet. There is a portion of the park that extends into Canada and is called Waterton Lakes National Park – we’ll go there next time too. Unfortunately we couldn’t cross over this time because our passports are at the Korean Consulate. If you ever find yourself remotely close to Glacier, do yourself a favor and go. Summer or winter, the park is spectacular and truly the Crown of the Continent. I know we’ll be back. Global climate change scientists have predicted that all of the park’s glaciers will be gone by 2020 if we continue our current warming trends so Glacier’s entire ecosystem will change. Try to make it before they’re gone.