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Montana: Glacier National Park

From Butte, we headed north up towards Glacier National Park which lies close to the border with Canada. Following the US 93 North from Missoula, we pass by some of the most wonderful scenery – still evident despite the weather. It is a very English thing to do to complain about the weather – with the weather we get in the Mother country this is more than justified – as is the complaint about this day. The US 93 circles west of the rather impressive Flathead Lake (the largest natural lake in the Western United States, with 160 miles of shoreline,) through the Flathead Indian reservation. This pristine lake is made all the more spectacular by the backdrop of snow-tipped mountains and rolling foothills.

Our layover for the couple of days we are spending in the Glacier area is the Kampground of America site in West Glacier (you’ll notice we stop at a lot of KOAs!) It is an unusually pretty site that is reasonably full as this was Memorial Day weekend. We later find out that the numbers have been bumped up by a large group of people from a church, who seem somewhat embarrassed to talk about their beliefs so we guess they are on the radical side of the religious spectrum! Indeed they pray for forgiveness after hearing another campers’ Billy Joel music! Anyway, apart from hogging the play area with their hoards of offspring they keep largely to themselves. Jack and Emily managed to avoid being dragged off into a religious cult and instead hooked up with a 9-year-old boy called Ryan, whose mum, Cindy, turned out to be the source of the Billy Joel tunes. 

We headed out to the National Park to find out what was open and what was closed. This far north and at this altitude things are just starting to thaw out but the main road through the park, known as the “Going-to-the-Sun” road, was still closed due to snow. From the Rangers, at the Visitor Centre in Apgar Village we found that if we drive up to where the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed, at a place called Avalanche, there is a nice walk up to Avalanche Lake. So off we set. The weather started to break almost as we hit the road and wound our way around Lake MacDonald, which is extremely calm and acted as a mirror, reflecting the adjacent mountains in its balmy waters. Time to break out the cameras

By the time we reached Avalanche, after stopping briefly along the way to take pictures, the sun is out and it is nicer day than had been forecast. Fueled by the sun’s unexpected appearance we headed off up the trail 2 miles to Avalanche Lake. The trail initially followed a fast flowing river, swollen by the snow melt, before climbing high into the forest. The climb to the Lake is quite steep, going up some 1000 plus feet in 2 miles, and is made all the more difficult by the boggy ground underfoot. Well, boggy is a bit of an under statement – swampy might be more accurate. The trail in many place was the easiest route for the water created by melting snow to flow down the mountainside – so the trail often resembled a stream rather than a path. Nearer the top of the trail the snow had not completely melted so we had to scramble our way across. But the view at the top is worth the effort. Avalanche Lake is in a bowl valley, cut by the vigorous action of glaciers. The sides of this bowl rise steeply thousands of feet upwards from the lake side. From this vantage point we can also see Mountain Goats balancing precariously on the sides of the cliffs high above us. After a few minutes to catch our breath we headed back down, our gravity-assisted return seeming much easier. A hike like this on such a glorious day really boosts the feelgood batteries and by the time we reached the base we are fully charged – only one thing left to do, find an ice cream shop.

Planning your visit to Glacier National Park

By Car

  • From the west, access to the Lake McDonald area, Park Headquarters, the Apgar Visitor Centre, and Going-to-the-Sun-Road is via Highway 2 east to the town of West Glacier (approximately 33 miles from Kalispell).
  • From the east, all three east-side entrances can be reached by taking Highway 89 north from Great Falls through the town of Browning (approximately 125 miles) and following signs from there. The St. Mary Entrance is the eastern entry point of Going-to-the-Sun-Road and provides access to the St. Mary Visitor Center.

By Air

  • Glacier Park International Airport is located near Kalispell and is approximately 30 miles west of the West Entrance.
  • Missoula International Airport is located approximately 150 miles south of the West Entrance.
  • Great Falls International Airport is located between 130 miles and 165 miles east of St Mary, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier Entrances.

By Train

  • Amtrak’s historic Empire Builder train line stops year-round at West Glacier (Belton), and the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, and seasonally at East Glacier Park. In the summer, Glacier National Park Lodges provides a shuttle (for a fee) that transports West Glacier Amtrak passengers between the train depot, Apgar Village, and the Lake McDonald Lodge. Reservations are required.
Address: 
Website:https://www.nps.gov/glac/
Telephone:T:+1 406-888-7800
Hours:

The park is open year-round, but park conditions and accessible areas vary greatly by season. Most businesses and services are only open during Glacier’s summer season, which generally runs from late May through September.

Admission Fees

Entrance Fee by Private Vehicle – 7 day pass – $35.00
(Winter Rate – $25.00, November 1 to April 30)

Entrance Fee by Individual – 7 day pass – $20.00
(Winter Rate – $15.00, November 1 to April 30)

Entrance Fee by motorcycle – 7 day pass – $30.00
(Winter Rate – $20.00, November 1 to April 30)

Best time to visit Glacier National Park

Summer is by far the busiest time of the year in Glacier National Park. The warm weather and clear roads attract thousands of tourists, and even though the park is over 1,500 square miles large, it can at times feel positively crowded. But if you’re willing to head a bit off the beaten path into the backcountry, you could very well be rewarded with stunning, clear views and maybe even a bit of solitude.

The winter is the slowest time of year. While it can be bitterly cold in the park during this time, it’s also arguably Glacier’s most beautiful season. The park can be difficult to navigate in the winter with road and trail closures, so don’t expect to be able to access all of it with a vehicle.

Only two small portions of Going-to-the-Sun Road remain open in the winter: from the west entrance leading to Lake McDonald and from the east entrance to St. Mary’s campground. From there, you can head out on foot, on Nordic skis, or snowshoes.

Where to stay near Glacier National Park

1. STAYING INSIDE THE PARK

The classic lodges of Glacier National Park still reflect the character of their early 20th-century heritage. Set within the incredible scenery of the park, the lodging options range from historic grand hotels and mid-century “motor inns” to rustic cabins. Wherever you stay, you’ll have the Crown of the Continent just out your door.

These charming lodges are a quaint departure from everyday life – a step back in time and a step closer to the rugged elements that define the American West. 

2. OUTLOOK INN BED & BREAKFAST

Located above the west shore of Flathead Lake in Somers, the Outlook Inn Bed and Breakfast features unparalleled lake views from every room.

Glacier Park International Airport is 16 mi from the property. The Inn is just a short drive to Glacier National Park, Kalispell, Bigfork, and Whitefish.

3. COYOTE BLUFF ESTATE

Located in Somers, 28 mi from Whitefish, Coyote Bluff Estate provides breathtaking views and free WiFi.

Coyote Bluff Estate offers a terrace. The accommodations also provides an office and guests can relax by the 80-ton fireplace at Coyote Bluff Estate.

Guests can go skiing or relax in the garden.

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