Glacier National Park is Majestic. We only saw maybe ten percent of the total area. It was super in every way. Spring was in full bloom in the last part of August. The snow melted off the high country only a couple of weeks before our arrival. We had perfect timing and didn’t have to walk in the snow or mud. All the alpine flowers were very beautiful. We just found out that on Labor Day weekend, Logan Pass at the summit of Going to the Sun Road is expecting winter storm conditions and seven inches of snow. Glacier National Park is Majestic.
We spent last week camping at a small RV park located five miles south of West Glacier and the entrance to Glacier National Park. We made daily, sometimes twice a day trips into the park. This required getting up early (5 am one day) driving to a prime trailhead parking spot (rare after 6:30 am) and then making a sunrise hike up a nice trail to a beautiful overlook. At the end of the day, sometimes after a nap, we returned to the park to get the kayaks wet.
The Park is Full
The first day we started late, mostly because we were planning a drive day just to get oriented. It was a stormy day that would have made a great picture at sunrise or sunset — but we missed both. From West Glacier, we drove over Going to the Sun Road, across Logan Pass, and to Saint Mary Lake. That first morning we noted the signs at each trailhead… Avalanche — FULL, Logan Pass — FULL.
All the glacier shuttle busses have been canceled this year because of the virus. The only access to the trailheads is private vehicles. Good thing we didn’t plan any stops that day, or even bring lunch. That drive clearly identified that we would be getting up early every day during our visit. After that two hour drive, we turned around and went back to our campground.
Near the top of Logan Pass, on the return leg of the drive, I snagged a parking spot that was not close to any trailhead. Actually I drove past the spot and then told Tami we were going back to grab it. After going about two miles down the west side I found a place to turn around, did so quickly, and when we got back to the parking spot it was still there.
I immediately jumped out of the car put my camera on the rock wall, and started shooting pictures.
I hadn’t told Tami why I was so determined to get back to that parking spot, but soon, she too saw why I wanted to get back right away. Mountain Goats are probably the most seen big animal in the park.
Two days before our arrival, a Grizzly Bear was seen chasing a Mountain Goat near this location. In the park, Mountain Goats don’t care about people but still climb to very defensive locations because of the bears. This one stopped mid cliff and I got another picture, this time from quite a distance, the goat was in a shadowed resting place. It was high in the steep area, nearly halfway down, with exits both up over the top and back down.
The next morning we went back to the Logan Pass this time early enough to get a parking spot. As we drove past the Avalanche parking area, it was already full before 7 am. Our objective was to hike at Logan Pass. I was more interested in the shorter (easy route) that only included about one thousand feet elevation gain. Besides that, there was a lake at the end of the trail — called Hidden Lake. There was also a chance to see the Grizzly Bear that was chasing the goat.
Seeing Mr. Griz is actually possible anywhere in the park because Griz goes where ever he wants to go, whenever he wants to go. Reports are common anywhere lots of people go.
Yes, we were packing bear spray. They even rent cans of bear spray in West Glacier — we had our own and carry more often than you would think — but not as often as we should. I hope the stuff doesn’t go bad in the can. I also hope it stays in the can.
The day we moved south to Flathead Lake, Mr. Griz was also seen near Hidden Lake, this time not chasing a goat, but rather he decided the people trail was his. So he did, and the people nearby scattered. They ran. Don’t run. These people got lucky. Getting out of the way is great, but don’t run. Bears love the challenge of a moving target. Griz has his eyes on the front of his head and can easily see silhouettes but like us, what attracts his attention is movement — don’t run. Things that are stationary don’t attract attention nearly as much as when something moves. Also, you can probably discount any reports of Griz being nearsighted as folktales.
One last tidbit about bears and bear spray. It only works if the bear is really close to you — so close that you will think you are already dead. Wait until the bear is about 20 feet and then give him the whole can. Shoot him right in the face. Don’t quit shooting until either you are out of spray, dead, or the bear runs away.
Hidden Lake is at the bottom of this picture and also in the picture at the picture at the top of this page, with the Mountain Goat. Sometimes Tami takes better pictures with her cell phone than I get with a camera, like this time.
Instead of spending the entire week on our feet, we kayaked nearly every evening when Lake McDonald was calm. Lake McDonald is to the north of the West Glacier entrance and one of the lakes that had crystal clear water. Glacier National Park is Majestic.
Because of the COVID virus, every other lake in the park was closed… I have no idea how this helps prevent the spread of the virus.
Because of the invasive species, all boats require a daily inspection to make sure they are clean. One inspection per boat, per week, surely is enough. But the rules are in place so we complied. I think daily inspections are just a jobs program for park employees. The best part of the inspections and the rules is that we didn’t see one motorboat the entire time we were paddling. This was a real treat and so was how pretty the lake was.
On our earliest morning, we got up at 5 am and went hunting waterfalls. We drove Going to the Sun Road in the dark getting to Logan Pass a half-hour before sunrise. Then we crawled out of the car at sunrise at the west end of Saint Mary Lake. Our destination was Saint Mary Falls.
The reason we chose Saint Mary Falls is that there were reports of a moose at the inlet of Saint Mary Lake. In all our travels we had yet to see a moose so that was the determining factor.
The day before our waterfall hunting we saw a black bear. The bear was causing a minor bear jam, similar to, but much shorter than a buffalo jam in Yellowstone. It was eating berries on a gravel bar on McDonald Creek in an area similar to this picture.
This bear was waist-deep in the bush and all the parking places were taken so rather than blocking traffic, we just kept going. Tami got to see the bear butt or was it a bare butt? yes, both. Anyway, the bear wasn’t posing for pictures so we just kept driving. As for me, seeing a bare butt… I mean a bear-butt really doesn’t do much for me.
Back to the waterfall story
We got out of our car at sunrise and the trail was very pleasant. The park had rated the trail as moderate, but we found it much easier than the Hidden Lake trail. (Note to park trail rating people, just because you spend lots of money on a trail and even put in a boardwalk, it doesn’t make it an easy trail.) Anyway, this trail didn’t have many improvements. But since it was at a lower elevation, and didn’t make nearly the elevation changes as did Hidden Lake trail, (rated easy) this trail was much easier. The other benefit was since we were some of the first people that morning to hike it; there were not hundreds of others on the path.
We loved the trail, the sunrise, and the alpine glow that the mountains take on at sunrise. But even though we scanned the lakeshore from the trail and all the valleys we still hadn’t seen the moose. You can see the lake and the willows at the inlet, from most of the trail, but still no moose. In our travels, we are still waiting to see Mr. Griz, a moose and the most elusive of all, big kitty cats. Glacier has all of the above so our chances here are better than anywhere else.
Saint Mary Falls
We don’t focus much on what we haven’t seen, but rather are so fond of what we have seen. Waterfalls, like Saint Mary Falls, make getting deep into the woods, very nice.
There are three notable waterfalls on this trail. Since getting to Saint Mary Falls was easy enough, we decided to press on and try to make it to Virginia Falls. We had also heard of another waterfall, which for some reason didn’t make the map, which everyone calls no-name-falls. My picture below is one part of no-name and I like it best of the three. The other parts of no-name are difficult to get a good picture and perhaps that is why no-name didn’t make the map. It is just another pretty spot in a very pretty neighborhood. Glacier National Park is Majestic.
When arriving at no-name we almost turned around thinking that this was Virginia Falls. I knew that we saw Virginia Falls, all the way across the valley, from Going to the Sun Road, and no-name could not have been seen from the road. So we kept going. The trail continued on for a little less than a mile. Then we then found a much bigger waterfall, this one is big enough to be seen from the road — and it was the end of the trail. It had to be Virginia Falls. Well worth the hike, but still no moose.
This is a big park
I mentioned that we only saw about ten percent of the park. Most of the park was closed, shut down due to the COVID virus. We saw only a small fraction of what we hoped to see. There are at least five entrances into the park — from roads. That doesn’t include the entrances from the Canadian side of the park, called Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada. The parks actually bridge the mountains on both sides of the border. Glacier National Park is Majestic. The two parks are almost the size of Yellowstone about the same size as Grand Canyon National Park and much bigger than Rocky Mountain National Park. From the road, we saw the Jackson Glacier, which is one of three large glaciers in the south end of the park. Further north, there are several more large Glaciers.
Glaciers are not snowfields
Of course, glaciers are snow. We saw dozens of snowfields, still leftover from the previous winter. Some were at the end of avalanche runs and others just deep snow in shadowed areas. Some of the snowfields won’t melt by the end of the year and will be refreshed next winter. Just because they don’t melt, that doesn’t make them glaciers. A glacier is a “river” of ice moving downhill slowly, based on its own weight and gravity. Snowfields don’t move.
Glacier not yet explored
One of the dominant themes in our travels is that you can’t ever see everything. We saw west Glacier and drove Going to the Sun Road but we have such a feeling that we missed nearly everything. Glacier is one of those places where you can’t see everything and for us, it means that we will just have to come back.
On our way back from Saint Mary Falls our moose luck changed and to our delight, we now have seen a moose, it was about a mile away, right where we were looking during our walk into the waterfalls, right where a moose should be, right at the edge of Saint Mary Lake. Glacier National Park is Majestic.
Here is a link to our campground review from when we went to Glacier National Park. Sundance Campground