Sunday, August 3, 2014

Glacier National Park

Time: July 11-14, 2014

Place: Glacier National Park

Company: Wife and daughter

Highlights:

Overview – Totally forgot how we got hold of this location but the more we started researching, the more we liked it. Specifically the Going-to-the-Sun road with its numerous vista points, Logan Pass with the Continental Divide, multiple trails, etc. The glaciers were attraction too but the rate at which they were diminishing, we knew it was hard to see a glacier but still the place had lots to offer. This was one of the vacations which was booked way ahead in advance (2.5 months) which is not typical of our vacations. July 11th being our wedding anniversary, it seemed the right vacation at the right time, since this park is pretty inaccessible at any time other than summer months. After we had booked, we found out that this was one of the top ten national parks.

Day 1: Initially planned for working from home (since flight was at 5 pm) but thought better of it and instead took the entire day off. Left home at about 2 pm and was at the Oakland airport by about 3 pm (off-airport parking). For the first time ever, had booked a lesser-known Allegiant Air which flew direct from Oakland to Kalispell. A short 2 hour economy flight. Reached Kalispell at about 8 pm and then took the Thrifty rental car from on-airport Hertz (since Thrifty was closed after 5 pm). Had used the “Specialty - Wild Card” type of car, for the first time ever after learning about it and it was a great deal since I got the Chevy Impala. Regular Economy sized cars were way too expensive as compared to the specialty option. After about half an hour drive, stopped at a Pizza Hut for nice dinner. Continued thereon to city of West Glacier where we had booked a room at West Glacier Motel. Retired for the night.

Day 2: Had a nice sumptuous breakfast at West Glacier Restaurant, filled up the fuel (due to lack of availability inside the park) and headed to the entrance of the national park which is also the commencement of Going-to-the-Sun road. We had planned on things to do and as per plan, headed straight to Logan Pass which was the highest point on the road. The road is closed for most of winter and usually opens up in June-July timeframe after all the snow is cleared. This year, it was opened a week ago on 7/4. Our planning on the date was right-on.

So, despite all the attractions that started coming by on the Going-to-the-Sun road, we skipped them all and the road started ascending. The scenery was mesmerizing. It is a constant ascent. Soon, far-away snow starts coming nearer and nearer until you stop and start playing with it! The weather was perfect. It was in fact very warm – nearing 80s and all the snow was very quickly melting away. There were waterfalls on the road every other mile.

Even though we had planned for Logan Pass to be our first stop, we did stop at about couple of locations (The Loop and Weeping Wall) – for taking picture of the scenery and to play with snow. Finally by the time we reached Logan Pass it was almost 2 PM. Our first trail in the park was Hidden Lake Overlook which started from Logan Pass. To our dismay, much of the trail was covered with snow. It was continuous snow as well as with a gradient. At that altitude and with our pre-schooler daughter, the hike became hectic. We somehow managed to go at least to a certain altitude beyond which it was very difficult to continue. The warm weather also was turning chillier and hence we decided to head back. Nevertheless it was fun to hike in the slippery snow. It also gave Paavani to build a small snow man.

Next, we took some snaps at the Continental Divide – a great spot for geologists due to its importance. We also had plans of going a short distance on the Highline Trail too because of its spectacular views. However, due to extreme snow, this trail was closed right at the beginning. So had to abort the plan.

It was already 6 pm. So we decided to head to our night stay which was almost 2 hours away at East Glacier Motel in East Glacier city, outside the national park. Even though we had planned this trip in advance, all the hotels and resorts inside the national park were already booked out for the summer in April itself. The ones remaining were almost 300 USD per night. So did not have much choice but to choose a motel very far away. On the way, we stopped at Jackson Glacier overlook which was our first view of a glacier. Although it was very far, it was still spectacular.

By the time we reached our motel, it was already 8 pm. It was a nice different motel in the sense that it was more like independent cottages. Ours had complete kitchenette with double room and 2 TVs, etc. We relaxed, watched a movie and retired.

Day 3: Again, had a nice breakfast at a local restaurant directly in front of our motel. Our first stop was at Many Glacier area. We had plans of trekking the Grinnell Lake trail at least a short distance but it was way too hot and there were too many flies and mosquitoes and what-nots that irritated our daughter that we did a u-turn after walking just few minutes. Yet, we enjoyed the nice scenery at Swiftcurrent lake and took some nice snaps. The magnificent Many Glacier Hotel with its chalet-like appearance is a pristine beauty. There were even some mountain goats grazing near the hotel.
We decided next to head to St Mary’s Falls hike which Missus had marked as not-to-miss. This was originally our day 4 plan but since Grinnell did not happen, we decided to save ourselves some time on last day. So after about an hour’s drive, we reached the trailhead. There was much adventure since there was no parking and we had to park a short distance away. Daughter was still against the whole hiking since she was terrified of the flies, and it was too strenuous. So we picked her up and started off, coaxing her all the while. Finally, she started walking and it became much easier. Most of the trek towards the falls is downhill. After about an hour’s walk, finally reached the falls. It was a glorious sight. We just sat there and looked at it for a long time. The color of the water turned aqua-green after the falls and it was an amazing sight. After some more pics, headed uphill back to the car. It was 5 pm by the time we reached the car and we headed back to the motel. Reached motel at 7.15 pm, relaxed, took a short walk and retired.

Day 4: Not-so-great breakfast this time. First stop for the day was Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine area. This was a short 0.3 mile trek that led to a great spot – there was a nice water falls, a short wooden bridge that was installed just a few days back to cross the gushing stream of water, the water itself, etc. It was very pleasant and extremely soothing. Even Paavani enjoyed a lot at this place. If we had more time, perhaps we could have spent more time but we had a lot to cover today, so we left after about 30 mins.

We re-entered the Going-to-the-Sun road for the third time in as many days. This time, the drive was very relaxing. As many have mentioned, this road has to be enjoyed from both directions. This is very true. Enjoyed the scenery from the car itself. There was road construction going on at multiple places and vehicles were being stopped intermittently. Did not stop at any attraction but just chugged along slowly up the mountains to Logan Pass and then started descending. At Weeping Wall, there was a huge gush of waterfalls coming from atop the mountain onto roadside. Drove the car underneath for an auto car wash! 
That was a nice experience. There was one more spot at the base of the mountain where color of river was aqua-green. Took some snaps and finally reached our next destination: 

Trail of the Cedars in Lake MacDonald area. This is a nice loop trail on a boardwalk (not too many flies nor mosquitoes here!) that weaves through some of the oldest and tallest trees. As a backdrop, there is Avalanche creek and a small falls that gives the right effect for a perfect trail. It was a very relaxed walk amidst the cedars.

Then, we headed to the Apgar Loop road to gain access to Lake MacDonald itself. The lake was extremely serene and with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, it was simply beautiful. The water was completely transparent and we could see the lake bed very easily even though it was pretty deep. Had some nice “nature” time and by then, it was getting cloudy with thunderstorms and hence it was dark. This was our last stop in the Glacier National Park. Just as we made our way towards the airport, it started raining in torrents. We made good time and by the time we reached the Kalispell airport and finished off the rental car return formalities, it was almost 7 pm. For some reason, it seemed to take forever to reach Oakland. By the time we reached home, it was almost midnight. Thankfully, everything went well and we reached safe without any issues.

Summary: Glacier National Park in Montana is a beautiful place. It almost feels like the Switzerland, especially when seen from the airport, with its snow-capped mountains. The national park is famous for its immense number of trails. Sadly though, most of the trails are fairly long meaning over a mile. This causes an issue for those with small children. Yet, trails like Running Eagle and St Mary Falls are still within reach and thoroughly enjoyable by one and all. Anyways, trail or no trail – the park still has enough natural beauty to mesmerize everyone. This website was very helpful in planning - amongst many other. Another check mark to one of our dream vacations.

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