Six months ago, we were poised with our finger on the button watching the clock count down. It was the morning Glacier National Park was opening their campground reservations for the season. Grammi had her laptop, I had mine. We had selected the days and the sites we wanted. We had a backup plan and a backup to the backup plan. We were ready.
At 8:00 a.m. sharp, we hit enter. The screen flashed red — Site Not Available. We tried the backup plan, then we tried the backup to the backup plan — all with the same results. How could this be? We started to scramble. We then looked at all the available sites in all the park’s campgrounds. Wow! The entire summer was nearly booked in just a couple of minutes. There was a day here or two days there, but we wanted a full week or at least something close to that. Then we found a site for one week at Fish Creek Campground. A month earlier than we wanted and not on the preferred east side, but we booked it anyway. It was our only option.
We are so pumped and excited to go to Glacier National Park. We have heard so much about the beauty of this part of the Rocky Mountains. For us, it is the highlight of this years adventure. Everything else will be planned around our trip to this park. Because our reservations are a month earlier than we wanted, we had to adjust some of our plans. So we worked on making those changes.
The first thing was to coordinate with our daughter, Shanna, who was flying out to spend time with us. She did the same thing last year. She met us at Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. It was so much fun having her visit. She kept us on the go. We did a lot of sight-seeing and went on long hikes. We sat around the campfire and looked at the stars. I know we are in for more of the same this year and we are certainly looking forward to it.
Day 1 – When we arrived, we learned the Going-to-the-Sun-Road (GTTSR) was not yet completely open for the season. Big disappointment, but we knew this was a possibility since we had to book the site earlier than we wanted. Rangers told us the crews were still working to clear snow at the higher elevations and they did not know for sure when the road would open. We hoped it would open soon. Either way, we will make the best of our time here. As those who know Glacier National Park would tell us, there is more to see than the GTTSR.
We found our campsite on Loop B. It was not a great site, but at least we fit in it. I was worried about that. It was a pull-through site on the inside of the loop which meant the camper door would open to the road and the fire ring and picnic table would be on the other side of the camper. No, it was not permitted to drive in the other direction to turn the camper around. I asked. I was told it causes havoc in the event of an emergency evacuation. Okay, that makes sense to me.
After dropping the camper at our campsite, we went for a drive. We stopped at the Apgar Visitor Center. Yes it was closed, but there was a ranger stationed outside handing out maps and answering questions. The gift shop at the visitor center was open as was all the shops, restaurants, outfitters and your name it at Apgar Village. Again — I have to say I don’t understand why they can’t open the visitor centers at the national parks when it’s okay to open everything else.
From the visitor center we drove the GTTSR along the epic Lake McDonald all the way to where the barricades blocked the road at Avalanche Creek Campground. We stopped along the way at a number of pull-offs to see the peaceful views of the lake. Further up the road, we saw a torrent of icy cold water roaring down the swollen creek. It was a stunning introduction to Glacier National Park.
Day 2 – The next morning we set off in a different direction. We went west on Camas Road before turning north for a thirty minute ride across a dusty, bumpy dirt road. We had two destinations in mind — Polebridge, Montana and Bowman Lake.
Polebridge is a small off the grid community where, until recently, all electricity was supplied by generators. Solar panels do the bulk of the work now. It’s a place where cell phone service is nonexistent. A place where quiet solitude abounds. A place that would otherwise remain unknown except for the renowned Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery. If you are someone — like us — who has an affection for baked goods, then this place should be on the top of your list. I bought some pastries including their famous bear claw. Oh yes I did. They were so big and so good. They lived up to the hype.
From Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery we drove a dirt road with more craters than the surface of the moon en route to Polebridge Ranger Station. Our intention was to go to Bowman Lake. We were denied entrance. The ranger at the gate said the parking lot was full and the area was closed to any further visitors. I told the ranger how far we’ve come. I pleaded. I begged. I pouted. Nothing worked. I started having thoughts of Clark Griswold at Wally World. Like Clark, I am usually a mellow, laid-back person that doesn’t let much get to me, but for some reason, this got to me. I was mad. I made sure the ranger knew it.
We turned back and drove for more than an hour — out of the park — until we found phone service. We had a message from our daughter Shanna. She and her friend Bobby had spent a couple of days at Yellowstone but were now on there way to meet us. She said in the message they would get in late though. When they didn’t show up, I didn’t think too much about it. We didn’t know exactly where, but they had rented a cottage to stay at. I figured it got too late and they went there first. They were probably tired and we would see them in the morning.
Day 3 – We were awake early in anticipation of Shanna and Bobby’s arrival. It wasn’t until around 10:00 a.m. that we heard from Shanna. I was right. They didn’t get to their cabin until after dark and thought it best to wait until morning to come see us. But now, they are stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire on the rental car and can’t get the spare loose to change the tire. They were waiting for a tow truck. We found out they were on the dusty, bumpy dirt road to Polebridge, so we headed out to find them. They were so happy to see us when we arrived. We got extra hugs. The day did not go as planned but we made the best of it. Here is what Shanna wrote on her social media about the day.
“We woke up early to go find my parents at their campsite and immediately heard a loud noise coming from the car. Bobby jumped out to check, and sure enough we had a flat tire, most likely from the dirt road the night before. We immediately started working to change it and realized we were missing some crucial parts. Dozens of people stopped to help, but no one could lower the spare and no one had service to call for help. I ran down the road to a restaurant with a landline, which included a call to my parents and roadside assistance. Mom and Dad arrived before the tow truck, which actually never came. My dad used his truck to pump up the tire so we could move safely off the road back to our cabin, where the guys removed the flat. We headed in to town an hour down the road to buy a new tire, and stopped at a local brewery. I think the guys enjoyed this more than anything else on the trip. When we returned, the guys rotated and changed the tires. We had a little bit of daylight left and headed to Bowman Lake, our first glimpse at the park. It was UNREAL. The pictures look like we are in front of a green screen, but I assure you we’re not!! All in all, it was a great day, making the most of the moments and grateful for kind people, and that it wasn’t any worse than it could have been.”
So you see, we did get to see Bowman Lake after all. It was after five o’clock and there wasn’t a ranger at the gate this time, so we drove right in. It worked out for the best. It was the perfect time of day for taking photos. I feel bad for getting testy with the ranger the day before. I know he was just doing his job.
Day 4 – We were up super early because we had a two hour drive in front of us. We were going to the east side of Glacier National Park. Because the GTTSR was not open yet, it meant we had to make the trip around the park. One again I’ll share what my daughter wrote on this day.
“Unfortunately, the middle of the Going to the Sun Road was closed, so in order to see the East side of the park we had to make a 2-hour trek all the way around the park. Due to limited parking, this meant we had to wake up super early (4:30 AM) to get there before everyone else. The temperature was in the 30s, and surprisingly enough, the sun was already starting to light up the wilderness so we got some amazing sunrise shots. We arrived on the East side of Glacier, took our commemorative pictures at the sign and hit the visitor center before starting our first hike. We started down the trail to St. Mary’s Falls, about a 6-mile round trip. Layers started to come off as the sun slowly heated up the trail. We were greeted with two amazing waterfalls – and on the way back two young deer were on the trail. It was a narrow path with no where to go. We all slowed down and moved as far back as we could to let them pass. It was really quite awesome. We traveled down the road and were mesmerized by Jackson Glacier. As we continued on our journey, we went south toward Two Medicine, passing Blackfoot, Logan and Red Eagle Glaciers. We did one final hike to Appistoki Falls before heading home. It was a glorious day!!”
So there you go — another glorious day!
Day 5 – It was another chilly morning as once again we were up and out early. You have to be if you want to find a parking spot near any of the hiking trails. They fill up pretty early. Our goal today was to hike to Avalanche Lake. As we drove toward the trailhead, I spotted something out the corner of my eye — something that we’ve been on the lookout for. A moose was walking in the stream not 50 yards from the road. A calf was keeping step right along side. What an awesome sight to see! It was an exciting moment as it was our first time to see a moose in the wild.
The hike to Avalanche Lake was magnificent. The 6-mile out and back trail started by paralleling Avalanche Creek. The sound of the cascading water echoed through the forest. We set a steady pace as we moved through the trees and up and down the mountain side. Finally, Avalanche Lake emerged. Everyone had the same reaction —WOW! It is hard to describe just how beautiful. We could see every detail in the bottom of the lake through the clean, clear glacier water. Across the lake were the mountains with seven waterfalls. I never imagined I would ever see seven waterfalls from a single location but the melting snow and ice made this possible. Shanna and Bobby took off their hiking boots and waded out in the water. “It”s cold”, they would say. Grammi and I sat on a fallen tree. It was a heavenly place and we wanted to take it all in.
It was around lunch time when we made it back to the trailhead. We had worked up quite an appetite and thought it would be a good idea to eat at Lake McDonald Lodge. Unfortunately, the sit down restaurant was closed, but we order sandwiches from the takeout window and found a place to sit near the lake. I think this was better than sitting in the restaurant anyway. The view was great.
After we finished lunch. Bobby rented a small boat for an excursion across the lake. The boat was well suited for three adults, but not four. I waved as Bobby, Shanna, and Grammi motored away from the dock. I watched as they slowly disappeared around the bend. I went inside the lodge to find a big comfy chair to sit in near a massive fireplace. I watched a constant flow of people come in the lodge and swivel the heads to see the wonderful architecture. When Bobby, Shanna, and Grammi returned they told of the eagle’s nest and a bald eagle that flew overhead. I nodded and grinned as I knew I had more fun people watching in the lobby.
Later that evening we built a fire. It was a lovely evening with mild temperatures and clear skies. A deer walked through the campsite. Grammi prepared Shanna’s favorite dinner — tofu scramble. We shared wine, roasted marshmallows and told stories. It was a storybook evening as Grammi and I were so happy to have Bobby and our daughter with us.
Day 6 – Shanna and Bobby were leaving this morning. It was time for them to get back to the real world again. They stopped by one more time before hitting the road. We loved their visit and was sorry it went by so quickly. Grammi fought back the tears as they drove away — it was a futile attempt.
The rest of our day was spent tidying up the truck and camper and relaxing around the campsite. When evening came, we drove to Columbia Falls. It’s the biggest little town near our campsite. We wanted to do a little shopping and to eat dinner out. We bought some souvenir t-shirts. Then we went to the Gunsight Saloon. It was a fun place with live music, good eats and local craft beers.
Day 7 – This is our last day in Glacier. We went to the ranger station to see if the Going-To-The-Sun-Road was open yet. It was not. So we spent our day on the section of the road that was open. We stopped at many of the pull-outs on the road and lingered to enjoy the scenery. We hiked the Trail Of The Cedars — an easy one mile hike through huge old growth cedars that crosses a bridge over Avalanche Creek. We spotted a fox near its den. We picnicked on the shore of Lake McDonald.
Though we could not drive over the mountains on the GTTSR, this was still an epic place. Having Shanna and Bobby visit us here made it that much more epic. It doesn’t matter if you view mountain glaciers from the bottom or the top of a mountain they are still a sight to behold. We are glad we got to see them while they are still around. We’ll have to come back here someday, not just to drive across the GTTSR, but to revisit all the beautiful places we saw. It was awesome.
Until next time happy days and safe travels.