Current Location: East Glacier, Montana
I know it’s been an awfully long time since we’ve posted, and after such a busy summer riding the rails, I’m certain you’ve all been waiting on pins and needles to see our favorite stops. I promise folks, this post is worth the wait because Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever set eyes on.
The first leg of our journey had us taking the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland. Since we were desperate to see the Montana mountains, we were gleeful to discover that Amtrak has a station in East Glacier Park Village on the Empire Builder route. The station is right on the outskirts of both the Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
The history nerd in me was even more thrilled to discover that the Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railroad, is less than a block’s distance from the station. We didn’t stay at the Lodge (I would’ve had to sell a kidney to afford it), but it was amazing inside and from the Lodge’s vast windows we got our first view of the Rocky Mountain Front. Surreptitiously, for our last afternoon, we posed as guests so that I could conduct a job interview and K could recover from food poisoning before getting back on the road.
Instead of hitchhiking or cycling into the park, as many of our fellow campers did this season, we rented a truck and set out with our backpacking gear. Naturally, we timed our stop at Glacier National Park to perfectly coincide with both wildflower season and (as always) tourist season. I was certain that all the campsites would be taken (they were) and all the trails would be crowded (they were). But we were not prepared for how occupied everything would be, or how gorgeous everything was.
Nothing could dampen our spirits once we entered the Park because Glacier is simply a masterpiece. Every view is a postcard, and every lookout is a painting.
Glacier National Park contains over 1,583-sq.-mi of wilderness spanning from Montana to the Canadian border. All manner of topographical features can be seen, but it’s most known for its crystal clear blue waters and glacier-carved peaks and valleys. Basically, we got to spend a week living inside a promotional poster for the most beautiful places in the United States.
For better or for worse, when you make your way up into the more distant parts of the scenery, you may encounter animals. Typically, these animals are mountain goats, but one of the other species you may see is the common human tourist. The two different species have a symbiotic relationship: the tourists bring food to the mountain goats and scare away their natural predator (the grizzly bear) and the mountain goats lick the salt off the hands of the humans, and entertain them while they are out on the trail. Tongue-in-cheek narration aside, human influence is a big problem for mountain goats—so much so that they are raising their young to not be afraid of humans, and not walk along the narrow mountain paths that give them their name.
There are over 700 miles of hiking trails, but the best thing about the park is that you don’t have to do any strenuous hiking to get to the spectacular views. The entire park is crossed by the mountainous Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 50 mile road is an engineering marvel, and crosses the Continental Divide through Logan Pass at an elevation of 6,646 ft. In the winter, the snow drifts and avalanches make the road dangerous. But, during peak season, you can use it to traverse the park and see all of the amazing spots.
That being said, we did have our favorite hikes. The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail clocks in at only 2.8 miles. You walk across a trail covered in melting glacial ice watch as it melts into the most spectacular lake. Highland Trail is 11.4 miles. It leaves from Logan Pass and is called the Jewel of Going-to-the-Sun-Road. The views across the Logan and McDonald Creek valleys below and the stunning summits of the Livingston Range are truly breathtaking.
Remember how we alluded to everything being full up? We drove across the park for several hours one day, looking for beautiful scenery (we found it) and beautiful campsites that had vacancies (we didn’t find any). At around 6pm, just before the sun was going down, we stopped by a ranger station that was blasting some Grateful Dead music, and K asked what we should do, and where we should go. The king ranger suggested that we venture just outside the park, find a secluded place to stop that looked reasonably comfortable, and camp by the side of the road. Though it is illegal to camp in national parks without a permit, it’s perfectly fine to do so in a state park. Good thing there’s miles of state park land just outside of the Park boundaries.
We ended up on the outskirts, next to a river, about 3 minutes from a really small general store called the Mercantile in Polebridge, Montana with world famous huckleberry bear claws. It was among the most excellent places we could possibly wake up in the morning.
Look out for more posts from our time riding the rails. And stay tuned for an update about our epic Spring trip to a new European destination.
I can’t believe the holidays are almost upon us! Is anyone traveling anywhere exciting?