Thursday, September 12, 2013

Getting a little taste of glorious Glacier

September 7-9, 2013
West Glacier, Montana
West Glacier KOA Campground

Our trip from Flathead Lake to West Glacier only took about two and half hours on the road. After lots of research on my part, we learned that most of the national park campsites in Glacier are not big-rig friendly.  St. Mary’s and Many Glacier campgrounds on the East Side can accommodate rigs up to 35’ (we are 36’); Apgar in West Glacier has 25 sites that can accommodate 40’ RVs but this time of year all the campgrounds are first-come, first serve which means getting there early in the morning and risking not finding a large enough site. Another factor is all the park campgrounds are dry camping sites which can be problematic for leaving the dogs while we are out on day-long adventures.

If you read RV Park Reviews, the closest privately-owned park with the highest ratings is West Glacier KOA.  We don’t usually like KOAs but we do have a membership and this one turned out to be great.  It is about two miles from the West Glacier entrance, has lovely gravel pull-throughs with picnic tables, fire rings, and plenty of room for the slides. The downside was the cost—especially compared to the national park campgrounds. However, we were able to get a satellite signal at the KOA allowing us to watch the Oregon State Beavers beat the University of Hawaii 34:14.  Almost priceless to Vic in spite of having witnessed the Beaver’s lackluster performance in their opening game against Eastern Washington University. 
Vic and I have both been to Glacier before, but that was twenty years ago or more, so other than remembering the amazing views, the experience seemed new to us. Plus, we wanted to be here long enough to do some hiking and kayaking, unlike other visits that mostly involved just seeing the sights from the  Going to the Sun Road. It didn’t take long for us to discover that some of the places we most wanted to go were on the east side of the park, a 90-minute drive away. In order to see both sides of the park without having to drive so far everyday, we decided to split our time here by staying a few days on each side of the park. 

glacier national park map

We used our first day on the west side of the park to get prepared for our adventures. We started by going to the Apgar Visitor Center to get permits for our kayaks (the permits were free and only required a self-inspection). We also met with a ranger about day hikes and kayaking possibilities, and left armed with lots of brochures, maps, and, yes, even bear spray. 


I was hesitant about doling out $45 for the spray, but Vic insisted. (They actual recommend that each person carries his/her own spray with easy access. The good thing is that it is a handy thing to have for human intruders as well—just hope we never need to use it in either case. (Consider yourself forewarned!) 

Next up was the Beaver Game on TV Saturday night, so we were happy to go back to the campground and root for our hometown team. To avoid potential weekend crowds in the park, our Sunday plan was to head into Whitefish, a lively ski resort town and once thriving railroad mecca for the Great Northern Railway (and still an Amtrak destination along the Empire Builder).

I have taken the Amtrak from here to Chicago a few times in my younger years, once even with a sleeper, so it was a bit nostalgic for me to revisit this historic station.

Vic thought it would be fun to weigh himself on the old baggage scale inside the depot. By the way, it looks just the same inside as I remember it thirty-five years ago.

The ski area in Whitefish, Big Mountain Ski Resort, was a college destination for me. I have some fun memories of Whitefish trips to the ski area. My brother recently sent me this photo of me taken in Whitefish when I was 20, almost forty years ago!

pam in whitefish age 20

I  wanted to check out the summer activities at Big Mountain--gondola or chair lift rides, a bobsled run, and a 7 station zip line—all of which were high on my list of possibilities. These adventures were all dashed by the weather.  A pretty good storm blew in on Sunday closing down the bobsled and zip-line and making the gondola ride undesirable as there was zero visibility at even the base of the mountain.This day brought the most rain we have experienced since leaving Florida last April. We can’t complain about that, so we made the most of it and headed to one of the many colorful bars in Whitefish for a bowl of hearty soup, and some local Porter. The only photo I managed to take was of this beautiful ski cabin at Big Mountain.

The storm was supposed to pass by Monday morning, but when we woke up everything was socked in. Our plan was to drive the Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass, then hike the Hidden Lake Trail but we were not too anxious to do this with rain, limited visibility, and temps in the low 50s. We felt sorry for those who were visiting Glacier on a set timetable as we had already decided to extend our time to wait out the weather. It didn’t’ take long. By noon on Monday, the skies were starting to clear and our Weatherbug App showed totally clear skies forecast by late afternoon, so we decided to go for it. Even with some cloud cover at the higher elevations, the scenes were breathtaking.

An hour later, when we parked at the Logan Pass visitor center, the skies were already starting to clear.

The hike to the Hidden Lake overlook was only three miles round trip with 500’ elevation gain; a good hike for us beginners. We ended up being pretty lucky as the clouds added a ethereal quality to the atmosphere. The scenery was so exhilarating that we hardly noticed the gradual climb through the alpine fields to the overlook.

The Hidden Lake Trail takes you through beautiful alpine meadows with a few small waterfalls and trickling streams.  Even the rocks in the stream beds were stunning.

Our animal sightings were limited to just a few marmots who were gorging themselves on plants to prepare for their nine-month hibernation, but they sure were cute. Our hopes are that the east side might be more active in terms of wildlife sightings. 

I was an English major at the University of Montana who avoided science and math classes as much as possible. When I went back to school to get a teaching degree at Oregon State, they said I was devoid of science credits so I reluctantly looked for something that seemed remotely interesting to me. As a result, I took a series of geology classes that sent my head spinning. Had I done so earlier, I may have changed my major to Geology! I remember being blown away by the definition of glaciers as moving rivers of ice and learning the reason I loved the Oregon Coast vs. the Eastern shoreboard had to do with erosive vs. depositional qualities. Previous to my studies, geology conjured up visions of  something static and boring.  But thanks to Oregon State grad requirements, I have a much deeper appreciation for glaciers, tundra, cirques, talus, alpine meadows, and moraine.  
It was difficult to choose just a few photos from this day. Check out this amazing geology:

It is hard not to feel spiritual in this holy place. The geologic drama of Glacier seems to put human concerns in perspective. Photos do not communicate the impact of what it feels like to be in the presence of such stunning beauty.  At each stopping place along our hike, I could literally feel the landscape open my heart and diminish my ego.

I found a quotation from Mark Twain, a surprising source, that better captures my sentiment:
". . . a man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by. The Alps and the glaciers together are able to take every bit of conceit out of a man and reduce his self-importance to zero if he will only remain within the influence of their sublime presence long enough to give it a fair and reasonable chance to do its work." -- A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain 

Enthralled with our first hike, we both feel more ambitious about future hikes. Vic is now even talking about doing the Highline Trail, an 11-mile hike,  on our next visit here which really surprised me as his fear of heights and narrow ledges usually wins out. With this renewed enthusiasm, we decided to make the two and a half hour trek by motorhome (via US 2 and Duck Lake Road) to the St. Mary KOA in East Glacier today.  Next up, kayaking on Swiftcurrent Lake and hiking Grinnell Glacier. Whoo-hoo!

Follow your bliss.


  1. How beautiful your pics are and they made me excited about our plan to visit there next year!!!!

    1. You will love Montana. Maybe we will both "settle" here someday. :>)

  2. What a gorgeous post and so beautifully written. We were in Glacier in 2011 and felt just as you have so perfectly expressed. And then I broke my ankle and our hiking time was over. But it is #1 on our list for our next trip west. Thank you so much for taking me back there.

    1. A broken ankle in Glacier would be a terrible disappointment. I look forward to reading about your next visit here as I know it will be inspiring.

  3. Most of the time we spent in Glacier this past August, I was speechless. The quote from Mark Twain is perfect!

    We never made it to the west side...another year perhaps. But we sure enjoyed Many Glacier and Two Medicine. Can't wait to see your pictures from Grinnell Glacier. We didn't make it all the way. And I hope you go to Virginia's spectacular!

    Have a great time!

    1. Speechless is another good way to explain one's experience of Glacier. I found myself sucking in my breath on several stops along the train--hence, the term breathtaking takes on new meaning.

      We did not make it to Virginia Falls or Two Medicine. Another year for sure!

  4. Amazingly beautiful! I am not sure which picture I like the best. I found myself smiling as I drooled through your photos. Fall is definitely showing her face which enhances the already beautiful scenery. The low clouds add extra beauty to the background. I love the photos of you and Vic:) One needs to visit Glacier in all three seasons that it is open. Each season has its own character.

    We hadn't discovered our love for hiking when we made our second visit to Glacier. I can hardly wait to revisit and hit the trails. One trail I did want to hike when we were there last spring was the Grinnell Glacier since it won't be around too much longer. But, it wasn't open yet:( I am looking forward to your hike there. Take lots of pictures!!

    One of the many advantages to this life style is out staying the weather. Sure makes visiting these beautiful parks a better experience.

    Enjoy the rest of your visit. I am looking forward to the photos!!

    1. Glacier in three seasons would be something. Winter too if it were open.

      I am amazed you were not into hiking yet on your last visit here. You seem like such wiley veterans. Guess that means there is hope for us. . . .

  5. looked good back then and good now! Some things just don't change.

    Never saw a marmot up close and personal. Great shot.

    We didn't get to Glacier Lake. It looks absolutely gorgeous. I guess the snow never really all melts up there.

    1. You are too kind. . . . A lot has changed. :>)

  6. Absolutely gorgeous photos. I loved your Mark Twain quote. I totally agree with the oneness of nature! Our Fulltime adventure does not start until next June, but I am soaking up everyones blogs and taking notes! We also love to hike, kayak, bike and fish, so I'll definitely be keeping up on your blog. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Debbie, you are a woman after my own heart. After almost thirty years of being in the classroom, I am love having time to reclaim my adventuresome spirit.

      The planning time before you actually start your new life on the road is also thrilling, so revel in it. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions as we started with zero RVing experience when we became full-timers.

  7. The photos look great. I am sure it was interesting visiting some areas you had visited in the past. Judy and I drove across country when I was transferred from FL to CA when I was in the Navy. We are looking forward to visiting the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert and a few other places after 35 yrs or so. I am sure they will still be awesome.

    1. I find it quite emotionally stirring to revisit places that I haven't been to since I was a young woman. It causes me to run through all the things that happened to me since then in order to merge my youth with my current age. :>)

      Places sure do change, but the feelings associated with them are still there to reclaim.


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