The fourth National Park we visited on our 2019 National Parks Trip was Glacier National Park. I actually designed our entire trip around this destination. I have wanted to come here for years. It is gorgeous! This National Park in northern Montana borders Canada. You can expect cooler weather, lots of mountains, and incredible views in this area of the country. The wildlife is incredible too! We were able to see bear and moose in the wild inside Glacier National Park. I can now check those off my bucket list, along with this location!
Going to the Sun Road
One of the main features in Glacier National Park is the scenic drive that goes through the entire park connecting the East and West entrances. This scenic roadway is called “Going to the Sun” road. It is not open year round. It closes during the winter months because of the snow. There are no set dates for opening each year, but the National Park Service estimates the road opening between late June and early July every year. It remains open until the third Monday of October (but that is also weather dependent).
The road is 50 miles long and has many overlooks and scenic places to stop as you drive this windy roadway through the mountains. It is a gorgeous drive. One of the most scenic, beautiful drives you may ever witness.
TIP: This road gets very busy and the parking lots fill up by mid-morning. If you want to actually stop and take photos (and I promise you will), then you need to head out very early in order to make that possible. We were at Glacier for 3 full days to see different areas of the park. Our first day out we started at 10am. We were able to stop at two overlooks for photos and we were lucky to find parking (just barely). We arrived at Logan Pass Visitor’s Center around 11am. We planned to hike there. We never got a parking space that day and we tried for more than a half hour. We waited about 10 minutes for one spot and a not-so-nice man in a compact car swooped in and stole our spot. Justin wanted to have words with him. I am thankful he didn’t. We were disappointed we didn’t get to hike that day. The experiences with the sparse parking showed us that we either needed to use the shuttle the next day or get up very early and into the park before 7am.
SHUTTLE: There are free shuttle buses at Glacier National Park run by the park service! They will take you from one end of the park to the other, while stopping to see the highlights. You get off the shuttles and are able to do hikes and more. If it was Justin and I alone we would have done the shuttle. Corralling three small kids on shuttle buses where seats are limited didn’t seem ideal (we were told we would likely have to split up and get onto separate busses at some points because there would only be 2-3 seats open on the shuttles). We didn’t want to split up on the shuttle so we used our vehicle. We parked at Logan Pass by 7:30am the next day and we were able to do our hiking there without issues because we arrived so early in the day.
We drove the entire Going to the Sun road our second day in the park. It takes at least 3 hours to drive this 50 miles because it is slow going around curves and traffic can be stopped to see wildlife. It is a beautiful drive. Budget at least a half a day if not a full day to drive the road. It is not a loop, so if you are staying on one side of the park you need to make the drive back as well. We took an alternate route back, but it wasn’t much shorter. Below are photos taken on the Going to the Sun road.
There are boat tours available through the Glacier Park Boat Company. Tickets can be purchased in advance or you can buy tickets at the ticket counter inside the park at the boat docks. There is no guarantee on tickets being available if you plan to buy the day you want to take the tour. We arrived at the counter at 1:00 hoping to get tickets for the 2:00. It was already full, so we booked the 4:00 tour and decided to hike that area before our boat tour. They have several locations for boat rides. We chose Lake Mary, which is located on the East side of the park. The road for the boat tours and Lake Mary are off of Going to the Sun Road. On the tour we booked, a hike was included. They took us across the lake to Lake Mary Falls for a short hike. It was a great tour and very informative. I highly recommend a boat tour during your trip to Glacier National Park. You can buy tickets for either the 1.5 hour boat tour or the 3.5 hour boat ride with guided tour. Tickets start at $27.50 for adults and $13.75 for kids ages 4-12. Children under 4 are free. To buy tickets in advance for your boat tour go to their website: http://glacierparkboats.com/
Hiking in the wooded area and along the shoreline of Lake Mary is a great experience. Caution, there are bears in this area. We saw a bear cub on our hike in that area, right near the parking lot. A pair of hikers that passed us by the lakeshore said they just saw a big bear and had to take out their bear spray, just in case. The woman said she was still shaking from the experience. I had bear spray in my backpack but it was still in the packaging. I decided to remove it from the package in case it was actually needed. Thankfully it was not.
Below are photos from our boat ride, hike to St. Mary Falls, and hiking along St. Mary shoreline.
Hiking The Hidden Lake Trail
One of the best hikes, as recommended to us in Guide Books and at the Visitor’s Center was the Hidden Lakes Trail. This trail can be found behind the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center. This is a moderate hike because there are lots of stairs to climb as you go up and down the mountain. You can hike to the top and you will arrive at the Hidden Lakes Overlook at 1.35 miles. Round trip we hiked about 3 miles, according to our iPhone mapping. On our hike along the Hidden Lakes Trail we were able to see marmot (an odd breed of squirrel that are neat to watch), goats, and bighorn sheep. Below you can see photos from this hike. We also saw snow on this hike and the kids got to play in it.
Based on a recommendation from Ash, who has a blog and Website “Dirt in My Shoes”, the best place to get the closest thing to a guaranteed moose sighting in Glacier National Park is to go to Fishercap Lake. The only problem is that this Lake is not on the Park’s map. I will help guide you there. You enter the Many Lakes Entrance of Glacier National Park. Go all the way to the end of the road at this entrance, which will take you to the SwiftCurrent Pass and SwiftCurrent Trailhead. When you arrive at the trailhead look at the map displays which you will find at the trailhead (we actually saw two maps displays, so you should be able to find one of them). Look for Fishercap Lake on this map. It is the first lake along the SwiftCurrent trail.
Fishercap Lake will be on the left side of the trail. While you are hiking on the SwiftCurrent trail, keep your eyes open for a lake on the left through the trees. When you see the lake, look for a path to get there. Hike up to the lake via the path. You will find that there is a path that goes around the perimeter of one side of the lake. The moose will be spotted on the opposite side of the lake, so while you walk along the lakeside keep your eyes peeled for moose on the opposite side of the lake. It is a medium to small sized like, so binoculars or a zoom lens will be helpful.
We hiked all the way around to the opposite side of the lake and found a creek with moose prints freshly made in the mud. However, no moose sighting inside the woods or near the creek was made, so we hiked back out to the lake area. That is when a mama moose and baby moose emerged from what we believe was the Southwest corner of the lake, where a river joins the lake. The mama moose came to eat greens from the lake, sometimes going completely under the water, while the baby moose played in the tall grasses and along the shoreline. They were out for our viewing pleasure for about a full hour. Then when mama moose was finished eating she and baby headed back up the river and into the lushness of that area.
There are lots of campgrounds on both sides of the park (East and West Entrances). Based on reviews online I booked us at KOA East Glacier/ St. Mary’s. This location won best KOA location one year. The views from the park are amazing!!
I am so glad we booked this campsite. They have a pool, playground, laundry, dog park, store, and pizza kitchen with the most amazing pizza that they deliver right to your campsite! I would definitely book this location again in a heartbeat. They are located less than a mile from the St. Mary’s East entrance of Glacier National Park. Perfect location with incredible views!
I was grateful for the laundry facilities. We used the laundry facilities here a couple of times. Once because the dog was covered in bugs after a visit to the dog park with my kids. He jumped up on my bed and after a few minutes I noticed him biting himself. He had a rash from grooming (he had been shaved before we left). My friend Barbara is a vet in Florida. I spoke with her on the phone while on our trip and she helped me with treating this rash. He was getting better, so when he started chewing on himself again I thought it was because the rash was acting up again. I took a look at his belly and realized he was covered in tiny bugs that were biting him. They were now on my bed too!!! I ran to the shower to clean the bugs off of him. Justin stripped our bed to the mattress and threw it all into the truck so I could wash it at the laundry facilities. After I showered the dog I took everything to get washed. After doing the wash and switching it all to the dryer I realized my phone was missing. I spent the next 30-40 minutes looking for my phone to no avail. Guess where I found it? Inside the dryer. My phone had been on the bed and was scooped up and rolled into the quilt. My phone was washed and dried with the quilt. To my shock it was still working when I pulled it out of the dryer! I am Thankful I had recently upgraded from an iPhone 6 to the new iPhone XS, which is waterproof. I won’t try washing it again. I may not have such good luck a second time.
Max needed a vet the next morning. The bites from the bugs made his entire underbelly one big rash with bright red spots. There weren’t a lot of vets in the area. I found a Native American Indian woman who had a vet practice about an hour from us in Cutbank, located on the border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Her vet clinic is called Grass Winds Veterinary Clinic. She was an awesome vet for Max! She gave him a steroid shot, some pills, and a cone for his head. Within a day he was considerably better. I am very thankful she was able to see us!
After our stay in Montana we headed East to the Dakotas. Blog posting about North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park coming soon.