Planning and Overview
I had been dreaming of going to Glacier National Park for years. I had watched videos and read tour books. In the spring of 2016, I finally decided to be adventurous and plan the trip for the next year. (You have to book hotels in the park a year in advance.) It was only going to be my sister and I going on the trip. If you are single like me, don’t let that stop you from going on trips like this. My sister is even less athletic than I am, but I decided we would plan according to our abilities and make the best of it. We wanted to go while we were still healthy enough for hiking and before all the glaciers melted. I studied hiking and activity options to determine what areas we would like to spend our time. Then I decided to spend part of our trip in the west side of the park and the rest on the east side. I found the Moon Handbook of Glacier National Park and Day Hikes of Glacier National Park Map Guide by Hike 734 very helpful. I also watched videos of hikes and driving the Going to the Sun road on You Tube. This really helped my confidence about hiking the trails and driving. (I did have experience driving in Yosemite, Smokey Mountains, and the Ozark Mountains.) I highly recommend Hike 734. His guides and videos were extremely helpful. His guide shows the length of each trail and the steepness along the trail with topography.
I got on the park hotel reservation system exactly 1 year from the date we wanted to book our room at the Many Glacier Hotel. I was able to book 5 nights there for one of their less expensive rooms. The rooms book up quick, so you really have to book when they become available (especially in the peak season). We went at the end of July in 2017.
I booked 4 nights for the start of the trip at the Silver Wolf Log Chalet Resort. My sister and I really wanted to stay in a log cabin since we thought that would be the quintessential experience in Montana. The cabins were very well made and decorated. The grounds were immaculate and it was an easy drive to the west side of the park. You could also find shopping and food nearby. However, the maid service was very bad. It looked like the cabins were very rarely dusted and not done very well since there were dust bunnies in the corners. Also, there were a couple of days that we didn’t receive clean wash cloths. We hung up the towels to re-use, but expected new wash cloths. (I assume that is the normal type of service even for bread and breakfast.) They offered continental breakfast which generally consisted of milk, cereal, coffee, fruit and muffins. My sister and I don’t drink coffee and the food wasn’t that great, but we used it for a quick breakfast or took it along for snacks. (Especially since we usually only bought one meal a day since we were mostly hiking.)
We really loved the Many Glacier Hotel. It was very nice, but don’t expect a 4 or 5 star resort as far as amenities go. It met our expectations though since we only cared about a clean room, comfortable bed, and a bathroom with a shower. Who wants television or other amenities when you are in such magnificent surroundings? Be sure to plan on not communicating with the outside world. Phone reception is non existent (for me that’s part of the charm). We stocked up on food and drinks at a local grocery store on our fist day. Later we discovered that they had water refill stations at many of the ranger stations and welcome centers. (So bring your thermos.) We were also advised to pick up our bear spray there since it was less expensive than around or in the park. We got a can of bear spray for each of us. (You don’t want to skimp on safety.) Fortunately, we didn’t need it but it gave us peace of mind. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. Keep alert when outdoors, keep away from areas with bear activity warnings, make noise while hiking, and don’t hike alone. It is best to hike with 4 or more people when in bear country. Since my sister and I were alone, we stayed on more busy hiking trails and took some ranger led hikes. We also did some of the boat tours that were also combined with hikes.
Day 1 and 2
On our first day of our vacation we flew into Spokane Washington, rented a car, and drove to Silver Wolf Log Chalet Resort. I recommend flying into the airport near Glacier to save time, but we wanted Southwest and thought the drive would be scenic and fun. We stopped in Sand Point, ID and had lunch at Cedar Street Bistro. We each had their special which included a half sandwich and salad and gelato. It was delicious and we walked around and looked at the stores at the Cedar Street Bridge Market and a few around town. Then we drove to West Glacier. We stopped at the grocery store before checking in to our hotel. By that time, not much was open so we decided to go to A&W for dinner. We knew it wasn’t really a local restaurant, but we noticed on the sign that they had huckleberry soda. One of our goals was to try all sorts of huckleberry food. Also, we don’t have an A&W near our home and it brought back memories of the one we ate at as children. We each got a small hamburger and a huckleberry soda.
On our first day at the park we took a Red Bus Tour from West Glacier to Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road. I highly recommend this. Our tour guide gave us a lot of information and you can watch the scenery instead of paying attention to driving. We stopped several times to take pictures. This gave us a good overview of the west side of Glacier National Park. We spent the rest of the afternoon in West Glacier and Apgar looking at the souvenir shops and got lunch at Edys. We got the Izaac Walton Huckleberry Club (which came with huckleberry aioli) and huckleberry cobbler. We just got one of each and split them. The food was delicious, but expensive. The cobbler cost $8. However, the setting was perfect. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the weather and scenery. We decided to spend the rest of the day driving to Whitefish, MT and walked around the downtown area looking at shops. We each got iced tea at a quaint coffee shop called Red Caboose. We were pleased to find out that they made fresh brewed iced tea. The employee was very friendly and we enjoyed talking to her as she made each of us a coconut white tea. There were several souvenir shops to explore and we had no trouble finding a few things to bring home (mostly huckleberry or cherry food items).
On our third day of our trip we parked at the west glacier visitor center parking lot and took the park shuttle to Logan Pass. There is a large parking lot at the pass, but it fills up quickly. We tried to hike to the Hidden Lake overlook, but you couldn’t go very far before it was covered in snow. We had our hiking boots on and hiking poles, so we tried trudging through the snow. However, it got difficult and the path got narrower and we didn’t feel safe continuing, so we turned back. On the way back down, we decided to slide down through the meadow since trying to walk without falling was a lost cause anyway. It wasn’t very cold though and we had fun. There were wild flowers blooming below the snow line and we did see one mountain goat on the way back to the visitor center. We looked around and took pictures and then took the shuttle part way back and stopped at the Trail of the Cedars shuttle stop. We ate some snacks we brought along and of course had water in our thermos. (You can re-fill your thermos at the west glacier visitor center and Logan Pass visitor center.) We then hiked Trail of the Cedars (which is boardwalk through the trees and is handicapped accessible) until it reached the Avalanche Lake trail. This is a very popular hike, so there were a lot of people (which is why we took the shuttle). After reaching the lake you return the same way until you get back to the Trail of the Cedars and then continue that loop. The Trail of the Cedars is only .9 miles long and the Avalanche Lake Trail is about 4.6 miles. It took us over 3 hours to do the whole thing. This trail wasn’t overly steep, but you do go up and downhill a lot through a forest trail which did have a lot of rocks and tree roots. Our feet were very soar after doing this trail and we both got blisters. I’m not sure if it was due to the steel towed boots (we both wore them prior to going on the trip to get used to them and break them in) or stubbing our toes on the tree roots. Anyway, my sister didn’t like this trail at all due to the difficulty and soar feet.
After we returned to the visitor center, we drove to the area that had the shops and restaurants. Since it was late in the afternoon, we got soft serve huckleberry ice cream. It turned out to be one of our favorite memories and food at the park. (It was a reward after all the hiking.) After we looked around at the shops for a little while we drove back to Hungary Horse (which was near our cabins) and went to the Huckleberry Patch. We did a lot of shopping there and also split a hamburger. The food was good, but not remarkable. We did want to try their pancakes, but since we always left early to get to the hiking trails we didn’t have a chance for that.
Day 4 – Two Medicine
We had made reservations for a boat and ranger hike in two medicine which is in the southwest edge of the park. We stopped at Goat Lick on our way. It is listed as a trail, but is very short and paved. You look across from the overlook to see the mineral deposits that attract the goats. They are normally found here in the spring. It was July when we visited, so we didn’t see any. However, since it was on our way to Two Medicine and it only took a few minutes to walk, we decided to check it out. Then we stopped in Two Medicine and ate breakfast at the Whistle Stop. We had huckleberry stuffed french toast. That was my favorite meal during the whole trip. I sure don’t want to know how many calories were in that. I don’t think it mattered since we were doing a lot of hiking and were mostly having snacks. (Don’t count on dining out a lot when you go to national parks – at least not if you are hiking a lot.) I think we also got some food at Brownie’s bakery next door to eat later. The town was very small but cute. It looked like a touristy stop from the 1930’s or 1940’s.
After breakfast we headed into the park and stopped at the pullout for Running Eagle Falls. It was an easy .6 mile paved hike. The views were great and ended with a waterfall. After that, we drove to the visitor center where we caught the boat ride and ranger led hike. You can hike the whole distance, but taking the boat shortens the hike. We had signed up in advance for the tour. This area of the park is remote and not as many visitors. We decided it would be best to take a guided hike so we wouldn’t be hiking alone. Plus, you can learn new things from the park rangers. We took a boat across Two Medicine Lake and then everyone that was taking the guided hike followed the ranger to Twin Falls and then we continued on to the Upper Two Medicine Lake. The whole hike was about 4.4 miles round trip. The one problem I had was that the ranger kept the party moving so quickly that many people had trouble keeping up. I may have been able to, but my sister doesn’t walk that fast. Also there was an older couple with one of them being blind. Two other ladies were together with two young children. All of us left the lake early so we could make it back to the boat on time.
On our drive back we stopped at the East Glacier Lodge and the Izaak Walton Inn to walk around and take pictures. We also visited their souvenir shops. We wanted to stay at the Izaak Walton Inn since it had a railway theme. But we decided against that since it wasn’t close to the hiking areas and not near any town. Originally, this area was where they were going to build the entrance to the park, but after the hotel was built, the decision was made to build the entrance at the east and west side of the park.