This past summer, Rachel and I took time off work for a trip to Big Sky country, with the highlight of the trip being 3 days in Glacier National Park. My siblings, Casey, Charity & Julie joined us, which was particularly exciting because Charity and Julie had never been to Montana. Also, Casey had never been there besides one trip in the winter and I had never been to Glacier before. We were excited for lots of first-time experiences!
We flew from Boston on a Saturday morning, and arrived in Bozeman shortly after noon. That night, we were joined by Rachel (who had already been in Montana for a few days; the benefit of having unlimited PTO) and her parents for the last night of the Bozeman Stampede. We all agreed that the most surprising/entertaining event was the one where two groups of men volunteered to stand in chalk circles within the arena near the gate wherea bull was set loose. The winner was the last person standing in one of those circles. As you can imagine, there was carnage. In Bozeman, this event was called the Bull Scramble, but at other rodeos it is aptly referred to as the Circle of Fear. Here is a link to a video of it: www.facebook.com/BozemanStampedeScramble
I had been amazed at the amount of forest fire smoke when we arrived – we couldn’t see any of the surrounding mountain ranges. The next morning, I joined my siblings on a run before we packed up and hit the road for Kalispell and Whitefish. The air was crisp and cool, and the sky had cleared so that we could appreciate the beauty of the mountains which finally revealed themselves. Later we drove back roads en route to Glacier, and we passed through areas where wildfires were burning nearby. We worried that the scenery in Glacier would be impeded by the smoke, but fortunately, rain was in the forecast. After plenty of miles, candy, and excited conversations, we arrived at our hotel to drop off our bags before visiting Whitefish for shopping, exploring, food & drinks.
The next day, we woke early and ventured into Glacier National Park to secure a campsite at Apgar. After settling in, we got our legs moving with short hikes to Avalanche Lake and John’s Lake Loop. Avalanche Lake was beautiful, and we had a picnic lunch on the far end of the lake, but the trail and the lake were very crowded. Later, we took John’s Lake Loop Trail which didn’t provide the views of a mountain lake, but it was less popular, so we enjoyed having a piece of the park to ourselves for the moment. It drizzled while we hiked this trail, but that subsided shortly afterwards, and we made an impromptu decision to sunbathe, swim, and have a few beers at a quiet beach on Lake McDonald that we hiked to from the John’s Lake Loop trailhead. This was so enjoyable that we returned every night that we spent in the park. It was our secret spot on the lake.
The next day, we hiked the Highline Trail from Logan Pass down to The Loop parking lot. Initially, we planned to use the shuttle for accessing trailheads from Apgar because parking is known to be a problem along Going-to-the-Sun Road. We were disappointed when we were faced with an hour-plus wait at the Apgar shuttle stop, so instead we decided to take our chances and drive ourselves to the trailheads. Fortunately, we found parking at The Loop parking lot, and we waited for a shuttle to Logan Pass from there. The hiking was beautiful, and we were rewarded with a view of Grinnell Lake and Glacier from the Garden Wall. Then, we made our way down to Granite Park Chalet and back down to The Loop. After the Chalet, most of the forest was burned, so we hustled through the less-interesting scenery. We were baking in the sun with no tree cover, so afterwards we hurried back to our spot on Lake McDonald for more swimming and refreshments, which was perfect after the long hike. We closed out the day by pigging out on dinner and dessert in Apgar Village.
For our last day in Glacier, we drove to the east side of the park to the Two Medicine Visitor Center. Two Medicine is a much less popular destination compared to Apgar, which was a nice change. We hiked from the Visitor Center to Rockwell Falls; it was a quiet, mostly flat trail, and we were optimistic that we would see a grizzly. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, despite passing through thickets that seemed like great bear territory, even with a few matted down areas that looked like a bear had lain in them not long before. The waterfall, however, did not disappoint. Even with the dry summer, it was flowing, and there were at least a half of a dozen waterfalls stacked up on the hillside. We hiked up along them, and I even went for a dip in one of the upper pools! It was a magnificent spot, and I would have loved to have spent more time there. There was also a goat path up the hill from the falls, but we had run out of time.
Our drive back to Bozeman was bittersweet, but we still had lots to look forward to. The last two days were spent in and around Bozeman. First, we went and hiked Storm Castle, and then relaxed before going into town for Music on Main. For our final day, we rafted down the Madison River, with an extra tube for snacks and drinks, and we went through all of it! The floating lasted a few hours, but that wasn’t long enough. Just before pulling out, we found a spot to anchor, and we floated in place for a while longer before making our way to the river’s bank. Lots of laughs and great conversation were had for those few miles on the Madison. Later that night, we went out to dinner with the Hogues at Aleworks, and then capped off the trip with some Dairy Queen before settling in for our last night’s sleep in Montana.
I had a great time, and I think the first-timers did as well. A big thanks to Jim and Jeanette for once again giving us a great place to stay, and for lending us a vehicle for the whole week, we really appreciated it!
Can’t wait to return in the near future for more exploring!