Columbia Falls, Montana

Glacier National Park is more than just the Going-to-the-Sun Road. With so many trails, creeks, and lakes to explore we could have easily spent a whole month there. Hmmm, something to consider for the future.

Here are a few other places we managed to explore.

Johns Lake and Trail

Situated just past the north end of Lake McDonald, is a trail that loops around Johns Lake, through a forest, and along the banks of McDonald Creek.

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Johns Lake Trail

We could barely see Johns Lake through the overgrown forest and vegetation that surrounded it.

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Johns Lake—No Way To Fish Here

In some areas along the trail, lodge pole pines looked like a game of pick-up-sticks.

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Let’s Play Pick-Up Sticks

The best part of the short hike was McDonald Creek where water rushing over the rocks and boulders was deafening.

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McDonald Creek

I don’t recall seeing a creek with such a beautiful shade of turquoise.

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McDonald Creek

A few people stuck more than a toe into the icy water. Although it was a warm day, we decided to pass on a dip.

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McDonald Creek

The way the fallen trees provide nourishment for the new growth reminded me of the Hoh Rain Forest west of the State of Washington’s Olympic National Park. In the Hoh Rain Forest, the infant trees grow in a row on the fallen tree trunks.

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Baby Pines

Camas Road and Forests and Fire Nature Trail

The Camas Road took us on the west side of the park to the Forests and Fire Nature Trail. Along the way, we stopped at Fish Creek Campground to see what they offered. There were a few spots that might have worked for our rig, except for the ones tucked into the vegetation. Visions of creepy crawlies around the vegetation discouraged us from attempting to stay there. Rain threatened to pour from the sky so we were unable to take the Forests and Fire Nature Trail, but we did see a few sections where the cycle of forest regeneration of the woods progresses.

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Forest Regeneration in Process
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More Recent Burn Area

Near the burn areas, tightly clustered trees surrounded what we thought were meadows. Actually, they were fens, a type of wetland. According to Wikipedia, fens are an area that is pH neutral or alkaline with high mineral content but few plant nutrients. Streams and springs provide the necessary nutrients for the grasses and wildflowers to grow.

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A Fen Looking West
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A Fen Looking East

Avalanche Creek, Trail of Cedars Nature Trail, and Avalanche Lake

The park service picked one of the most beautiful places for the ADA accessible Trail of Cedars. A boardwalk marks the trail, which winds through old growth cedar and hemlock forest along a stream. There are places to stop and gaze at fallen tree stumps showing off their roots and ferns carpeting the forest floor.

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Decomposing Tree Roots
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Ferns Blanket Forest Floor
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Ferns in the Sun

The sandstone cliffs covered in moss and ferns reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie. There’s a way to the hidden treasure somewhere among the cliffs, I just know it.

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Where’s The Entrance to the Treasure Chest?

Sparkling clear water cuts a path between moss covered cliffs.

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Avalanche Creek
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Avalanche Creek

The 5.8-mile round trip hike to Avalanche Lake has an elevation rise of only 500 feet. Or so the map says. They forgot to mention that the trail goes up hill and downhill at least ten times. That was okay. It was better than a constant incline.

There were a few spider webs near the trail that kept us busy rubbing our faces and arms to brush them off. I liked the way this one glistened from the filtered sunlight.

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“Here buggy, buggy, buggy. Won’t you rest awhile on my web?

We were so glad to come across vault toilets a few yards before reaching the lake. I feared I’d have to veer off the trail and squat.

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There Are Two Vault Toilets Near Avalanche Lake

The closer we came to the lake the more Spanish moss covered the tree branches.

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Tree Branches Wearing Their Spanish Moss Scarves

When I saw this photographer with his entire collection of gear strapped to his body, I feared he would fall in. Sadly, he and his buddy had arrived a bit late to capture the perfect photo.

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Watch Your Step

The sunlight through the haze made it difficult to photograph the falls. Here’s the best I could do, with a lot of help from Lightroom. Thank goodness for the dehaze function.

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Avalanche Lake and Waterfalls

A half hour after we arrived, crowds descended on the shoreline. Time to head back down.

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Let’s Go Swimming

Whitefish, Montana

Curious to see the towns surrounding Columbia Falls, we drove through Whitefish. There we found a quaint resort town with the typical restaurants, gifts shops, art galleries, and such. We checked out the train depot and museum, which included bronze statues of an engineer and a little boy.

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Whitefish Train Depot
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Where Are All Those Tankers Headed?
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Inside the Train Depot
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“Yes, sir. I want to be an engineer just like you when I grow up.”

Casey’s looked like a good place to stop for a dark and stormy.

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Casey’s in Whitefish, Montana

Served in copper mugs, of course.

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Copper Mugs of Dark & Stormies

We had to fork over our driver’s licenses in exchange for the mugs. Apparently, some patrons erroneously thought they bought the cup along with the contents.

There were plenty of other sights to see and things to do in Glacier. Unfortunately, the limited time we had didn’t allow us to tick off all the trails, boat rides, and other activities that had piqued our interest. We were glad for the days we had to visit Glacier National Park. Only now we are saddened to learn of the destructive fires caused by lightning that broke out in August. Logically I know that fire is a good thing for the forests. I only wish it didn’t have to be that way.

Glacier Fire Update

I checked out the Glacier webcams on September 8, 2017. The smoke from the fires obliterated the view across Lake McDonald revealing only a few feet of the lake from the shore. On September 14, although still a bit hazy, I was glad to see the smoke had lifted allowing full view of the lake, mountains, and cloudy sky. Smoke had also cleared from other parts of the park.

As of noon on September 13, 2017, Glacier National Park and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department issued an evacuation warning for the Apgar area within Glacier National Park and portions of West Glacier due to a shift in high winds forecasted. According to the incident report, the Spraque fire has gobbled up 14,795 acres, is 60% contained, and full containment is not expected until November 1, 2017. For updates, go to https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5510/

While hurricanes pummel and flood Texas, the Caribbean, and Florida, the western states battle their fires. It’s been a tough year so far.

Safe Travels

 

 

Columbia Falls, Montana

Going-To-The-Sun Road (GTTSR) was first on our list of things to do in Glacier National Park. The fifty mile road includes several points of interest for fantastic views of the wildflowers, snow-capped mountain peaks, and valleys below.

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Wildflowers, Peaks, Valleys, and Snow

Going-To-The-Sun Road

With speed limits ranging from 25 to 45 miles per hour, drivers can’t be in a hurry to reach the other end of the park. The park recommends an early start to avoid the traffic jams. This is fine if you don’t want to stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center or are only traveling one-way. For a round trip drive, however, plan on spending a full day and encountering significant traffic on the way back.

The road is an engineering marvel for the 1920s. Instead of creating a solid tunnel with no view, portholes were created so passengers can catch glimpses of the scenery as they drive through. This is an example of one of the tunnels.

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One of the Tunnels on GTTSR

Weeping wall is a remnant from construction of the GTTSR. Engineers created a cliff when they carved through the rock in this section. Water from springs and melting snow pour over and onto the road surface below.

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Weeping Wall

It was a good thing we took photos on our way eastbound because on our return trip it felt like driving through downtown San Francisco during critical mass when all the bicyclists arrive to disrupt traffic flow. Wildlife traffic jams are a common occurrence in national parks. On our return trip later in the day, the wildlife turned out to be two young women. One woman posed on the wall side of the road with the water pouring down behind her while her friend stood on the other side taking a photo. The vehicles going in both directions inched their way between them. It always amazes me how people put their lives in jeopardy all for the sake of a photo.

Enjoy a few more renderings of the scenery along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

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Peaks, Valleys, and River
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Peaks, Forests, and Snow
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Falls Along the GTTSR
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More Falls
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More Peaks, Valleys, Snow and Falls
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Quite a Bit of Snow for July 8
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Hanging Valleys

We thought we had left early enough to make a stop at Logan’s Pass Visitor Center. Not so. We drove into the parking lot along with other cars circling around in search for a space. We spotted people getting into their car. Jon turned on his blinker and left room for other vehicles to pass. The car’s back up lights came on. A lady pulled up next to us. We thought she would drive on. No such luck. I got out and told her we were waiting for the car to leave, didn’t she see our blinker? Her reply, “I followed them from way over there. It’s my spot.” Really? Is that a thing? It wasn’t worth arguing about so we ended up taking turns driving around the parking lot so we could visit the restrooms. If we come back to Glacier, we’ll take the shuttle to Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Further down the road, only a few cars had parked along St. Mary Lake leaving plenty of opportunity to take pictures.

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St. Mary Lake

Many Glacier

We exited the park in St. Mary and headed toward Many Glacier. The road into Many Glaciers travels through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Although evidence of recent road work was visible, huge potholes and washboard areas made for a very slow and bumpy ride to the park entrance. A few yards from the gate, this cub was too busy foraging for his meal to raise his head for a photo op.

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Foraging Bear Cub

The Many Glacier Hotel in the Historic Swiss Chalet, looked like a great place to get a bite of lunch.

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Many Glacier Swiss Chalet

The rich wood paneling, high ceilings, gleaming floors, and stone fireplace created a sense of warmth that invited us into Ptarmigan Dining Room.

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Ptarmigan Dining Room

The view from our table could not be beat.

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View of Swift Current Lake
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Cabin and Dock at Swift Current Lake
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Swift Current Lake and Mount Wilbur
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Swift Creek Lake and Jagged Peaks

The food? Not the best part of our experience. My bison sloppy joe wasn’t the most enticing dish when the server placed it in front of me. Although it tasted okay, it was nothing special.

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Bison Sloppy Joe

Unfortunately, after Jon took a spoonful of his bison chili, he wanted to ask the server, “Where’s the bison?” The chili was mostly beans. We found the reviews on Travelocity similarly mixed.

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Bison Chili

After our meal, we walked along the Swift Current Trail that wraps around the lake in a loop.

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Swift Current Nature Trail
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View of Many Glacier Hotel from Swift Current Creek Nature Trail
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Swift Current Creek
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Clear Water in Swift Current Creek
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Deer Crossing Trail

If we make our way back to Glacier National Park, I’d like to spend a few days on the east side and explore the numerous trails around Many Glaciers, maybe even take a boat ride, or try out a kayak or stand-up paddle board.

Good to Know Information about Going-To-The-Sun Road

An audio tour of the road is available to download on the NPS website here. Transcripts of each recording are also available.

Tours:

  • Sun Tours imparts information about the Blackfeet Indian culture and the importance of Glacier National Park to their heritage
  • Ride in a historic Red Bus and enjoy the scenery in a convertible vehicle
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road Shuttle System travels between Apgar and St. Mary visitor centers making stops along the way, including Logan’s Pass

A few precautions:

  • Vehicles longer than 21 feet, wider than 8 feet, and/or taller than 10 feet are restricted. Visit the website for more information about the road conditions here.
  • Don’t be in a hurry
  • Watch out for
    • Construction zones
    • Bicyclists on portions of the narrow road
    • People walking into traffic at trailheads and points of interest stops
  • Cell and WiFi service is pretty much non-existent throughout the park
  • Pack snacks and/or a lunch

Stay tuned for more of Glacier National Park and a visit to Whitefish, Montana in next week’s post.

Safe Travels