Glacier National Park is not just known for its scenery. It has over 700 miles of hiking trails and most of the park is in the wilderness. The park has combination of vertical, glacier-scoured banded mountains, pristine turquoise lakes and streams, dense ancient forests and an unrivaled assemblage of plants and animals makes superlatives inadequate. It is also home to black bears, grizzly bears, mountain goats, , lynx, mountain lions, wolverines, bighorn sheep, elk, moose and wolves. It has the most pristine ecosystem of the lower 48 states. If you take a trip there, make sure to drive along the “going to the sun road”. Your heart might skip a beat as its one of the top 10 drives in the world according to National Geographic. This article is about how I spent a week in glacier park and some recommendations for readers to spend theirs.
I stayed in Polebridge which is a tiny village on the northwest edge of glacier national park near Flathead country close to the Canadian border. It has an entrance to glacier national park but this village is barely accessible with a gravel road and the nearest town with electricity (Columbia falls) being 35 miles away. Use Polebridge as your base camp for your hikes for at least 2 to 3 days.
Day 1 – Bowman lake hike and drive along North Fork Road:
I spent the first day hiking bowman lake and did the bowman lake lookout which was around 9 mile hike. The views from the parking lot of the bowman lake is breathtaking. It is tucked between the livingston mountain range and the lake is formed by snow melt from the mountains. Due to the gravel road and so easy accessibility, it is one of the hidden gems of the park. The trail starts along the lake shore and runs parallel to the lake with gorgeous views of the livingston mountain range. The hike to the lookout was lonely but amazing views once you cross the thick forest around mile 3 or so. The switchbacks do get crazy at the top, so make sure you are fit enough to do this. Also be prepared to carry your mosquito repellent with you if you don’t want to be eaten alive. If you are on top of the lookout point, you will see amazing view of bowman lake nestled between mountain ranges.
After the hike back down, relax your feet and drive to the Apgar visitor center on a logging road called North Fork road. Folks, this road is straight from wonderland. This is unpaved gravel road along the mountains with streams and lakes on either side and amazing campgrounds on this logging road. Not a lot of people dare to take this route as its open only for 4 months in a year. This road is also extremely dangerous and you might notice only one or two cars on the 28 mile stretch. If you have a 4 wheel drive or a rental car, don’t hesitate to burn some rubber along these roads, they are so much fun to drive. When you are at the visitor center, go and grab yourself hot coffee and grab more info about hikes, road closures, things to do etc.
Day 2 – Mt.Brown Lookout and Avalanche lake
Wake up early the next day, head to polebridge mercantile, a general store in Polebridge and have some of their pastries.
I had a scone and bagel for breakfast and bought some supplies for my much bigger hike for the second day. I talked to some people in the hostel and they recommended Mt.Brown lookout, which is a difficult hike. I drove along the north fork road and got to trail base for Mt.Brown lookout. It’s about 8 mile round trip hike and watch out for the steep elevation on this hike. It climbs more than 4200 feet in only 5 miles, making it one of the toughest hikes in Glacier park. The top of the lookout is around 7600 feet and it is covered in snow for most of the year. If its not, the snow melts and the upper parts of the trail are real wet.
Once you get to the top, you will see a lookout house on the top and only after you get to the lookout, you will be able to see the views. On one side, you will see Edwards mountain and the other side you will see the beautiful Lake McDonald nestled between the mountain ranges. Spend a good hour at the top, rest your feet, stretch your legs, write your name on the log book and enjoy the views if you go there.
If you still have the energy, drive to Avalanche lake and walk on the Avalanche lake trail which is a flat 2 mile round trip. This is a fairly busy trail as its easily accessible and it has no elevation gain making it ideal for families and kids to take this tail. The trail all of a sudden opens up into a gorgeous lake with mountains surrounding 3 sides and you will see numerous waterfalls into the lake.
As the sun went down, I headed back to Polebridge and chilled out with some hostel mates, drank some local brews with some hostel folks and enjoyed the camp fire.
Day 3 – Going to the sun road and St.Mary’s lake
Start the day off by having a good breakfast at Polebridge Mercantile and head to the visitor center and spend a morning drinking coffee by lake McDonald. It is the largest lake in glacier park and one of the few lakes where boating is allowed.
I took Day 3 off pretty easy and drove along “going to the sun road” and checked out some sweet views. It is a 47 mile road that connects the east and west sides of Glacier National Park, climbing spectacularly over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, elevation 6,680 feet. The outer edge of the road drops off at least 1000 feet into the valley below. Driving can be a bit intimidating on a busy summer day because there is very little clearance with oncoming traffic and ongoing constructions on the road.
There is also a small waterfall and tunnel which make an interesting combination along the road. The waterfall drains under the road and then continues down the cliff.
Views of the spectacular Continental Divide are also plentiful. The tallest peaks are about 10,000 feet in this area. However the northern climate provides plenty of snow cover and numerous small glaciers. The peaks also tend to be steep and jagged which adds to the beauty. Stop by Logan pass and check out the continental divide. Finding parking at the visitor center will be pretty daunting. There are numerous trails from the visitor center. Take the hidden lake trail from visitor center which leads you to an amazing hidden lake. Check out the picture and judge for yourself.
After this, head to a couple of smaller hikes along the main road and enjoy the views from St.Mary’s lake. The view of the lake are extremely pretty and it has a very small island in the middle of the lake. Once you get to the other side of glacier, have your dinner at Park Cafe. They have the best apple pie and amazing bison burger. You will not be disappointed!. After day 3, I decided to stay in East Glacier and explore the park from here. East glacier has many lodges and campground and also a hostel for accommodation.
Check out the Part 2 of my trip where I covered Two Medicine, Grinnel glacier, Dawson pass and many glacier.