Saturday, September 14, 2013
Checking out water, wildlife, and hikes at Many Glacier
September 9-11, 2013
St. Mary, Montana
St, Mary East Glacier KOA
Glacier National Park covers almost 16,000 square miles! You can access the east side of Glacier from the west side one of two ways: driving fifty miles on the Going to the Sun Road at 25 mph or driving around the south side of the park to Browning and then up to St. Mary, about an hour and a half drive. Since we also wanted to explore the east side of the park, and didn't want to be driving that far every day, we moved to the closest campground we could find to the Many Glacier area, the St. Mary KOA, about a half hour drive from the Many Glacier Hotel.
Our first day here, we decided to check out the Hotel, get information about taking boat to shorten one of our intended hikes to Grinnell Glacier, and find a good spot for kayaking on Swiftcurrent Lake. We also wanted to get in a 3-4 mile hike to help strengthen our legs for the Grinnell hike.
Before we even made it to the hotel, we were sidetracked by wildlife sightings along Many Glacier Road. Fortunately, there were some pull out areas as you are not supposed to stop and create wildlife sighting traffic jams. Our first exciting sighting were two black bears on a hillside. We were about 200 ft. away from these bears.
Less than half a mile later, we saw a few bighorn sheep but this was the only one I was able to capture in focus. The sheep were about 400 ft. away, but my 42X zoom made this photo possible:
When we turned the corner and saw the Many Glacier Hotel we were both blown away by its beauty and historic charm. This Swiss style chalet opened July 4, 1915 making it nearly 100 years old. When we walked in, it immediately felt like we were transported back to a simpler time. There was even a violinist playing to a casual grouping of hotel guests in the lobby which is filled with historic memorabilia and photographs.
This shot better captures the Swiss feeling of the setting of Many Glacier Hotel. I have heard this side of the park referred to as Little Switzerland.
Adding to the historic charm are the fleet of 1930s restored tour buses that runs on propane. Visitors can take these buses (for $30 and up) to see and learn about the most notable areas of the park viewable from the road. We have never taken one of these tours, but they are a good way to see the park without having to worry about being distracted by the breathtaking views.
When I looked at the old posters in the hotel, for some reason, I burst into tears. (I am not making this up.) The violinist, the old musty smell of the lodge, and the mountain vistas gave me an inexplicable feeling of nostalgia--as though I had once taken the Great Northern Railway to visit this place. Who knows? Maybe a previous lifetime would explain my long-standing love affair with Montana. . . .
Before leaving the hotel, we purchased boat tickets for our hike to Grinnell Glacier which we would do on our last full day here. They have a special trip at 8:30 a.m. for those who want to shorten the Grinnell hike by four miles which sounded good to us as we are novice hikers who have not done the kind of conditioning we should for this seven mile round-trip hike with 1600 ft. elevation. (Thanks go out to fellow bloggers Pam and John, Lisa and Hans, and Gay and Joe for inspiring us with their hiking adventures.)
From the hotel, we drove just a short way to a boat ramp just before you get to the Swift Current Motor Inn. It looked like a perfect place to launch our kayaks the next day. We then drove on to the Motor Inn where there are several trailheads. Since it was already late in the day, we chose the 4.2 mile hike to Redrock Falls.
This mostly forested trail was relatively flat (285 ft. elevation) with a few openings leading to great views of two different lakes and the surrounding mountains. We were told that the lakes were a favorite hangout for moose, but we were not so lucky to see any. This area is also known as a favorite place for bears as there were huckleberry and thimbleberries patches all along the trail. Vic carried the bear spray. We noticed most other hikers each carried his/her own spray, so I didn't let Vic get too far ahead of me on the trail. There were lots of stretches where it was just the two of us, so I also took to singing as an added protection.
At one point, I felt like something was following me on the trail and turned around to see this deer. I was happy to see it was a friendly creature.
The aspen trees were another lovely part of this hike. I imagine it won’t be too many weeks before the leaves turn their shimmering gold color. Little touches of autumn are starting to show (like the color of this Notherrn Checkerspot butterfly--even though it always has these autumnal colors), but the 75 degree temps make it still feel like summer.
The first lake you come to on the Redrocks Fall trail, Fishercap Lake, seemed quite inviting for a swim or a picnic lunch on its sandy beach.
The second lake, Redrock Lake, has more dramatic views of the mountains and the sound of the falls in the distance adds to the enchantment.
Reaching the falls, it become easy to see how they got their name. What beautiful red rocks!
The next day we spent the morning doing earthly chores, then packed up our kayaking gear and headed to Swiftcurrent Lake. Other than the tour boat and one canoe, we were the only other boaters on the lake. The water was much more shallow than it looked from afar, so we paddled (vs. pedaled) a fair amount. The views were glorious, but we thought the lake extended further into the valley. I had also heard that there was a small water passage to Lake Josephine, but I tried going up it and it did not seem navigable. So, we just enjoyed paddling the whole perimeter of the lake happy to be in the presence of this awesome landscape.
On the drive back to the campground, we saw another bear. No grizzlies, just a black bear, but the griz are definitely out there.
That night we opted to get a bite to eat at The Park Café in St. Mary. Aside from just good food, their claim to fame is their seventeen different kinds of pies baked each day. Vic is a pushover for pie, so it was easy to convince him we should go there. Even before ordering his dinner, he reserved one of their last slices of lemon meringue. It did not disappoint! Our server said their lemon meringue was the best in the United State. Vic said his grandmother’s lemon meringue was the best, but since she passed away years ago, he had to agree with him--after tasting it, of course. Sadly. the Park Café is closing its doors forever this fall. Hopefully, the tribe that is taking over will be able to replicate their delicious cuisine. Gotta love their motto and logo: Pies for Strength. Seems like a good omen for our challenging hike to follow.