Glacier National Park: Magnificent

September 17, 2010 - 8:40 pm No Comments

It was still dark when we left Great Falls. It was cold and drizzling, which was not a good sign, because we knew all of that would turn to ice as we made our way north.

O'Haire Motor Inn

The dimly lit highway made things even more ominous. Sulfur lamps every few hundred yards illuminated the roadway ahead, but the absence of cars and pitch-blackness all around made us feel like we were on another planet. Oncoming headlights every thirty minutes reminded us that we were, indeed, still on Earth.

Things started getting hairy when we got low on gas. There wasn’t much around, and a few of the gas stations were closed because it was either too snowy or too early. We finally found an automatic pump station in the tiny town of Valier that saved us.

On these open stretches of road, radio stations come in and out, and there are never more than three or four on at a time. Stef impatiently tapped the scan button, hoping to find something to keep us interested. One station featured a woman enthusiastically describing what every local school and nursing home would be having for lunch that day. On September 17, in case you were wondering, Shelby Senior Center had Sloppy Joe’s.

Rain turned into snow. As the sun slowly came up, we could see that the empty fields on either side of us were covered with eerie, white stillness.

The snow was a little discouraging. I worried that parts of Going-to-the-Sun Road, the main thoroughfare through Glacier National Park, would be closed, throwing our finely tuned itinerary out of whack. I knew we were cutting it close, as the Going-to-the-Sun Road was scheduled to close for the season in three days.

On the Frozen Road

Frozen Grass

View of the Snowy Field

As we got closer to the park, the uphill roads became more slippery and more curvy, but we had enough daylight that things weren’t so scary anymore. The surrounding mountains were massive and picturesque, and all the trees looked like they were covered with powdered sugar. A veritable winter wonderland.

Curious Cows

Curve to the Right

We finally arrived at the eastern entrance to the park, a town called St. Mary. After breakfast, we found a gift shop filled with a variety of huckleberry products. They’re marketed quite aggressively because they are indigenous to the region. Wine, cream soda, salad dressing, ice cream, chocolate. I bought a chocolate bar that oozed huckleberry filling when you bit into it. Tastes like a mix of raspberry and blueberry.

A quick stop at the visitor center revealed that they had closed the Going-to-the-Sun Road about 30 minutes before we arrived. The snowstorm hit the park quite hard at the higher altitudes, making part of the road impassable. Consulting the map, we quickly came up with a new itinerary that would take us on the Going-to-the-Sun Road as far as we could go, then back out and up to Many Glacier for a hike.

Glacier National Park Sign

Inside Glacier National Park, the scenery is amazing. The massive mountains are dusted with snow, highlighting layers of folded rock. The sides of the mountains are covered with flecks of orange and yellow and green. Snow-covered alpine trees make the whole scene look like a Bob Ross painting.

Impressionist Trees

Road to the Mountain

Going-to-the-Sun Road

St. Mary Lake

Tree on the Mountain

Cloud on the Mountain

Conifers and a Mountain

Bob Ross

Ironically, there aren’t many glaciers in Glacier National Park. There may have been when the park was first founded in 1910, but most have melted away. Some blame global warming.

We pulled off the road for a quick hike to a waterfall down below. All of the guides and signs posted around the park warned us that there are bears around and that it’s best to be somewhat noisy to announce your presence. Stef and I wanted to see a bear, but we didn’t want to get mauled in the process, so I made stupid clicking noises with my mouth as we walked.

Wild Stef

Stef at St. Mary Falls

Jeff at St. Mary Falls

View from St. Mary Falls

St. Mary Falls

We finally got to where they blocked off Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s a shame, because the snow was letting up and it looked like we could have gone quite a ways further. But I guess the park rangers know what they’re doing.

End of the Road

At one of the viewpoints, we ran into a guy who had completed the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road the day before, he said the half we had seen was definitely the better half. That made us feel a bit better.

Mountains in the Clouds

Shore of St. Mary Lake

Glacier Pine Cones

Lichen on the Bridge

Aside from a couple of mountain goats wandering the road, we didn’t see much wildlife. Stef and I were a little discouraged, but I’m sure we’ll see more down in Yellowstone National Park.

Mountain Goat

Boat and the Mountain

We turned north and headed up to Many Glacier. More of the same scenery. After we stopped at Many Glacier Hotel for a tremendous view of Grinnell Point across Swiftcurrent Lake.

Grinnell Point

Stef and I parked the car and spent a few hours hiking through the mud and slush along Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. The views are simply breathtaking.

Grinnell Point

Grinnell Point

Grinnell Point

Stef on Swiftcurrent Lake

Mountain Stream

The Mountain Sun

Lake Josephine

Stef on the Bridge

We finally got to the end of the trail, a muddy embankment on the shore of Grinnell Lake. The view was simply breathtaking. Again, the whole scene looked like a painting. Standing on the water’s edge, Stef said that it looked I was in front of a backdrop.

Mount Gould in the Sun

Mount Gould in the Sun

Mount Gould & Grinnell Lake

We soaked in the scene as the sun began to set. Stef and I had to head back before it got dark. I didn’t want to know how cold and scary it would be after it got dark.

Lake Josephine

Trees on the Trail

Boat on Swiftcurrent Lake

Instead of hitting the road and driving through the snow all night, Stef and I decided to splurge and stay a night at the Many Glacier Hotel. It’s a charming snow lodge with a lot of local history. The lobby is dimly lit, with paintings and historical documents adorning the walls. High ceilings, a giant fireplace, guests sitting around and relaxing on warm, comfortable couches, staff prancing around in their lederhosen, and a violinist filling the room with catchy tunes.

We had dinner in the restaurant, which featured huge windows and a beautiful view across the lake. After having huckleberry ice cream and a huckleberry martini for dessert, we called it a night.

Huckeberry Martini

Glacier National Park is truly magnificent. I struggle to think of a more magical place in the US, and not even the Grand Canyon can match it’s grandeur. While the snow made driving a bit treacherous, it helped to make the views even more impressive. I could definitely see myself coming back and spending more time here.

In the morning, we head south to Yellowstone National Park.

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