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  • Writer's pictureMarie Williams

Glacier National Park - Places To Go




Check out my blog post on What to Bring When Visiting A National Park here.



When I think of Glacier National Park I visualize lakes of cerulean blue water surrounded by snow capped rocky mountains. Glacier National Park is home to about 26 glaciers. A glacier is a large, never-ending growth of crystalline ice, snow, rock, sediment, and sometimes liquid water that begins on land and moves down slope. When these glaciers melt, the water forms cold streams and pristine lakes.


With over 700 miles of trails in Glacier National Park one can find just the right trail to hike. However, there are a few places to visit in Glacier National Park that are a must to visit, and not just for hiking. During certain times of the year you need to make a reservation at Recreation.gov. to enter Glacier National Park or to drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor. Check out the dates you can reserve your date for they can fill up quickly. You do not need to make a reservation to get into the park if you have reservation for a guided tour or boat tour.


How to Get There


We live in the midwest and planned to visit Glacier National Park in June. I began my search by looking for a nearby city, which is also near the local airport in Kalispell, Montana. Kalispell, Montana looked appealing to me since it's only a 45 minute drive to West Glacier National Park entrance and near the airport. I searched the local hotels in Kalispell, MT on tripadvisor and found the Country Inn & Suites Kalispell. The hotel was recently built, quaint, and offered a free breakfast with lodging.


Country Inn & Suites lobby

Upon arrival to the airport in Kalispell, Montana we rented a vehicle from National Car Rental , drove to our hotel and checked in. For this trip I had booked a couple of guided tours because I wanted to take a scenic boat trip along the Middle Fork River and a hike without worrying about bears. Also, check out my What to Bring While Hiking blog post for everything you need to know and bring in any national park.



Lake McDonald


Lake McDonald - Boat Tour


When one thinks of June, they think almost summer. Well, in Montana, the saying goes "April blizzards bring May snow showers." I wish I knew that saying before I visited. I try to visit a popular National Park, such as Glacier, in the off season, however, I did not know that snow could still be falling as late as June. Unfortunately, there had been a lot of snow melting and the rushing Middle Fork River was just too turbulent for a scenic boat trip. Fortunately Glacier Guides , the company that I booked this trip with, refunded my money 100%. C'est la vie!


Lake McDonald



Because our plan to visit Middle Fork River was cancelled I had a back-up idea, which was to visit Lake McDonald and take a one hour scenic boat tour. Since Glacier National Park is known for its lakes, I wanted to get out on the water and enjoy one of their heavenly bodies of water close up. We drove the 45 minute NE drive towards West Glacier National Park entrance and showed the park ranger our reservation with Glacier Park Boat Company. Because we had our reservation with a business in the park we did not need a reservation, as mentioned above, and headed to the Apgar Visitor Center. At the visitor center we were able to talk to the park rangers about the park and what areas may be closed due to snow or other unforeseen circumstances. The park rangers will discuss with you over a park map where you should visit based upon the amount of time you will be visiting.




 

The boat tour was with Glacier Park Boat Company, near Lake McDonald Lodge, which is adjacent to Lake McDonald. Lake McDonald is located on the west side of the national park and is a brilliant jade green color. Glacier Park Boat Company's boats are all historic and the guides were very knowledgeable, which made this scenic boat tour very enjoyable and relaxing. Once your boat tour is complete check out Lake McDonald Lodge. Built in 1913, Lake McDonald Lodge is a historic lodge and has many rooms, cabins, and lodge rooms to rent. The lodge is very idyllic and includes a restaurant, bar and lobby with a roaring fire in the fireplace. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the back porch of the lodge in one of the many rocking chairs and soaked up the beauty of picturesque Lake McDonald.




Our intent was to traverse the famous Going-to-the-Sun-Road, however, it was partially closed due to late season snowfall and flooding. Fortunately, part of the road was open so we were able to drive for a few miles along this beautiful road admiring all of the fragrant pine trees that lined the road.


Going-to-the-Sun Road


After a partial day of exploring Glacier National park we headed back to our home base in Kalispell, ordered a pizza, and ate on the balcony of the hotel under the stars. There is something to be said for the simple things in life.


Pizza and Rainier beer for a carefree dinner

Trail of the Cedars


Our next day in Glacier National Park we had planned a guided day hike with Glacier Institute. We had hoped to hike 5 miles to Avalanche Lake, however, due to flooding and snow our guided hike was diverted to a more accessible area. We met our guides at Glacier Institute in Columbia Falls, MT. From there we loaded up in a company van and journeyed into the park. There was no need to worry about a park pass, however, since we did enter the park the day before we still had our park entry ticket so we didn't need to pay it again. Then, our hospitable guides drove us straight to our first destination, The Trail of the Cedars, which is close to Lake McDonald. A 0.9 mile loop and a very easy walk, one can witness a verdant and lush forest of cedar trees. My husband, an avid birder, saw a Varied Thrush and an American Dipper along this trail which also included a misty waterfall and a scenic bridge. This trail was such an easy walk that almost anyone could visit, including people in wheelchairs.







View from bridge on Trail of the Cedars

McDonald Creek Trail


After our visit to Trail of the Cedars we ventured to McDonald Creek Trail. This trail, which is roughly 5.3 miles roundtrip, is a scenic walk alongside McDonald Creek. The trail has a few starting points, but we opted for the entrance near McDonald Creek bridge. There is a road near the bridge where you can park your vehicle alongside and then venture into the forested trail. There is a trail marker at the entrance (see below picture). This picturesque trail winds alongside McDonald Creek to one side and a lush green forest on the other side. After a short trek on the trail you will come to McDonald Falls. Harlequin Ducks migrate here in the spring along the rocky cliffs to breed and raise their young. Harlequin ducks are a magnificent waterfowl with very striking plumage and are rare to see because they migrate to very extreme and rough places.







Because of the flooding, caused by the melting snow, the creek was running very fast and choppy the day we went. It was a very scenic trail and we did learn many interesting facts from our guides, such as what types of lichens and moss grow in the surrounding area. In the photos above you can see electrified cat tail moss and star moss. Midway through our hike we were able to rest on the soft mossy ground beneath a canopy of trees and enjoy a delicious sack lunch. Glacier Institute provided the lunch otherwise I would have packed us a lunch to eat in the park. The lunch was healthy and yummy and gave us the energy we needed to get through our hike. Unfortunately, there are no restrooms nearby, only the wide open forest. Men have it easy, the world is their urinal. For us women, it's a little trickier, so I found a portable female urination device on Amazon that is super easy to use. Also, don't forget to bring a plastic baggie to place your used device in as there are no trash cans in the wild.





West Glacier Village


Once we completed the loop around McDonald Creek we headed over to West Glacier Village for some stellar views of Lake McDonald and enjoyed a decadent huckleberry ice cream. West Glacier Village has just about everything anyone might need after or during a day of hiking. There is a mercantile to buy hiking and camping equipment or that quintessential souvenir. In addition they have a snack bar, groceries and ice cream.


View of Lake McDonald from West Glacier Village



This concluded our trip to Glacier National Park. While it was very unfortunate that we could not visit many beautiful places in the park, we had an amazing time and still witnessed many stunning vistas. After a quick drive back to Columbia Falls, the guides from Glacier Institute bid us farewell. We retrieved our car and headed to a local restaurant called Gunsight Saloon. This local restaurant serves up some delicious food. I enjoyed a bright salad with a huckleberry vinaigrette and my husband devoured their bbq pork sandwich complemented with a huckleberry-bourbon barbecue sauce. In addition, they have a relaxing outdoor space with live music.


Gunsight Saloon outdoor area

After an exciting and exhilarating visit to Glacier National Park we stayed in Kalispell one more night before we drove through Montana to visit Yellowstone National Park at the very top of Wyoming. Only about a six hour drive, we spent the day travelling and stopped along the way for lunch at a quaint place called Sparky's Garage in Butte, Montana. We passed through the continental divide and viewed an abundance of conifer trees. This was a very easy drive and enabled us to visit Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP in one trip. Read about my blog posts on Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP to find out what to do when you visit these parks. We made it to West Yellowstone just in time to check into our hotel and prepare for our horseback ride through the Gallatin National Forest at the Diamond P Ranch. Check out my blog post about our horseback ride here. Now off to Grand Teton NP.......




Driving through Montana. Open skies


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