“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike” – John Muir, 1869
I love this quote by John Muir. It encapsulates my feelings about our national parks and specifically resonates when I look back on our trip this past June to Glacier National Park. Scott and I, along with our dear friend Matt, visited Yosemite twice over the last decade and we’d love to make it to each and every one in the course of our lifetime. Glacier took precedence for this trip because the glaciers for which the park is eponymously named are melting quickly and will soon be relegated to history. We wanted our visit to include actual glaciers and so Glacier National Park was the only natural choice. And what a choice it was!
We decided to go in mid-June, early for Glacier since the elevation holds a cooler temperature for longer and the massive snowfalls of the winter often linger on until July. In fact, we were so early this year that the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road that cuts through the heart of the park and hosts some of the most amazing views and trailheads for some of the most famous hikes was still closed. Plows were still working to clear major now drifts and the road didn’t open until June 28th. But the simple fact is that Glacier is breathtaking even without that route open for viewing. We were all repeatedly silenced into awe and admiration for the wonderment and beauty the park held. The craggy mountain ranges, the wildflowers, the blue-green lakes of glacial waters, and the wildlife were incredible.
So I’m going to quickly highlight our hikes and adventures each day and share photos from each day in the park. Witnessing the beauty firsthand is the only true way to see and feel how grand the landscape really is, but I hope the photos give you a peek into the amazing week we had and I hope they leave you hungry for your own adventure in this beautiful place.
Day 1: From Spokane, WA to Setting Up Camp at Fish Creek Campsite
We flew into Spokane and drove 5 hours to the west entrance of Glacier, cutting across Idaho along the way. It was a beautiful drive and that alone was often jaw-dropping, until you reached the park and realized that Glacier is on a whole other level. We were late getting in that first day, but it stayed light until about 9:30 each night, so we managed to set up our tents and get a fire going before it got dark. Our campsite had a stream in back of it that Matt and I ventured into the next morning. It was COLD! It also made for the best white noise to fall asleep to that evening. And of course there was much planning, referring to maps, and identifying birds throughout our trip. Scott added 14 new species to his list throughout the week!
Day 2: Hiking Avalanche Creek Trail & Exploring Lake McDonald and the western side of Glacier
With Going-to-the-Sun Road closed there were only a few hikes we were interested in on this side of the park. We were always looking for day hikes, no back-country camping for us on this trip, and wanted a solid 10-14 miles each day. So we hiked to Avalanche Lake and then did some exploring around Lake McDonald in the afternoon and early evening. Avalanche Creek Trail is incredibly popular because it is an easy hike in terms of terrain and for the first half you walk along next to rapids and waterfalls. It was absolutely beautiful, although a bit crowded. Avalanche Lake was stunning. We counted at least 4 waterfalls, most caused by snow melt, running down the range that nestled the lake. On our way back we were kept company by a deer that wanted to use the trail along with us for almost a mile. Lake McDonald was beautiful and while hiking around it a bit we ran into several more deer, including a baby that was only a few days old with it’s mom.
Day 3: Morning Drive to Many Glacier, Hiking to Grinnell Glacier, & Grizzly Bear
We had to drive out and around to get the Eastern side of the park and our campsite at Many Glacier. On our way a beautiful and enormous rainbow could be seen for almost an hour. It was gorgeous. We rolled into our campsite and had been there about 5 minutes when we saw a full-grown grizzly bear strolling across the main campsite road. The rangers were all over it and asked to get back in our cars, so no one got hurt, including the bear. It was a really awesome way to see a grizzly bear relatively up close! We also saw two more, as well as a black bear over the course of our time at Many Glacier. We hiked most of the way to Grinnell Glacier, but eventually had to turn back because the trail became snow-covered and was closed by the park rangers. We still managed to go about 5.5 miles in and up and were rewarded with stunning views of Grinnell Lake along the way. The weather was the most crazy that day. We had sunburns when we finished, but it rained on and off most of the hike. And when we got into the higher elevations we were pelted with sleet. Major takeaway: pack layers and always bring rain gear! Full disclosure, we ate dinner at the lodge that evening and hung out by their giant fireplace in the lobby before heading back for a rainy night in our tents.
Day 4: Swiftcurrent Pass Trail & A River We Didn’t Cross
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail was also technically closed for the last three miles. We went about 6 miles in though and passed some beautiful waterfalls at mile 2. Most people stopped here so the trail really quieted down and opened up from that point on. We ended up hiking to a point where a river cut across the trail. Later in the summer rangers install wooden planks to create a makeshift “bridge” but it hadn’t been installed yet. Some people tried scrambling across with bare feet but se decided to play it safe and turned back after exploring the area. around it. It was a neat spot because there was lots of greenery right next to snow that had yet to melt. We were just getting into higher elevations and if we had continued the snow would have fully replaced the grasses.
Day 5: From Wild Flowers to Snow At Iceberg Lake
The wildflowers on the trails were quite vibrant and I kept calling them the unsung heroes of Glacier because you were in so much awe of the mountains, that people didn’t even talk about the flowers, but the truth is they were stunning. The fools below are posing with bear spray. We carried it on every hike as it is highly recommended by the NPS as part of bear safety. Grizzlies are amazing, but surprising one on a trail is not good. Needless to say we donated our bear spray at the end of the week after never needing it, thank goodness. Iceberg Lake was awesome. You hike up through wildflowers, across the remains of an avalanche, to a lake nestled in the mountains. When we visited it was completely frozen over and we were able to stand on it and have our picture taken. Now it is starting to melt and you can see just how Iceberg Lake got it’s name.
Day 6: Back to Lake McDonald & A Grueling Hike Up To Mt. Brown Lookout
Our last full day in the park we drove back to the western side so we’d be closer to the exit for our trip home. Scott and Matt really wanted to take on the hike up to Mount Brown Lookout and so we did. I did not love this hike on the way up but the views were unreal from the top. The hike is the steepest day hike in the park. You climb 4250 feet over the course of 5 miles and the switchbacks don’t make it easier. It was a tough one for sure and of course, there was still snow at the for our final ascent to the tower. But we had a close encounter with multiple mountain goats on the way up and this guy was chilling at the top and begging for food like my pug Milo used to do. This was also the only sunny day we had for the week and so the views at the top were even better because of the sunshine! This was also the first time we actually got a view of a glacier all week. The snowy trail closures had stopped us short every time before.
Day 7: End-of-Week Portraits and Goodbyes
On our last day we took portraits to document our looks at the end of the week and also to give our best “badass” face to the camera. Yup. We were tired and dirty but oh so tough. Lol! Then we headed four hours back toward Spokane and spent the evening taking well-earned hot showers and exploring the cute mountain town of Coeur d’Alene. We spent the night there before catching our flight home from Spokane the next day.
It was an amazing trip from start to finish. It was indeed good for the body and the soul. I came home refreshed and inspired and feeling incredibly grateful. Next on our list is Zion and Grand Canyon, but we are not done Glacier. Or should I say that Glacier is not done with us? We’ll be back one day to drive that pesky closed Going-to-the-Sun Road and hike out of Logan Pass and stand in silent awe of the mountains once again.