Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Glacier National Park Road Trip

A few weeks into the spring, I knew I wanted to take a trip this summer that wasn't about work or a family destination. That may sound a bit mean, but when we sat down and thought about it there was only one trip we could recall taking that wasn't about work or family in the past ten years or so. (That trip was a long weekend road trip to Philly for the boy's birthday about two and a half years ago.) So, it wasn't really that mean of a thought.

We weren't going to go out of the country. (Expired passports.) We weren't going to head to the beach. (Eh.) I really wanted to do something outdoors. Something outdoors that didn't require paying someone hundreds (or more) of dollars to guide us around or house and feed us. So, I decided on a national park road trip and lots of hiking.

For whatever reason, Yellowstone National Park did not appeal to me. I wanted to go somewhere a little less talked about. Glacier National Park it is!

We drove from Champaign, Illinois to Glacier National Park over two days, spent a week in the area, and then took two more days to get back home. (Well, we stopped in Peoria to see family. See? I'm not all bad.)

My detailed trip report can be found after the (kick). If you are a a member of the TLDR crowd, feel free to head straight to my Flickr set of pictures.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
My last day of work before our trip, I left the office at the end of the day and picked up our rental car. I figured we would be putting a good amount of miles on some tires, so why not have those belong to someone not me. Thank you unlimited mileage!

We left town by 6:00pm and made it through Illinois, Wisconsin, and most of Minnesota before calling it a night around 2:00am.

Thursday, July 22, 2010
Bright and early, we continued on the road and finished off Minnesota to greet North Dakota. The goal was to get to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park by noon so we could make it to a campground near Great Falls, MT by the late evening.

We made a pit stop at Expresso in Dickinson, ND for a tea latte and vegan cookie treat. You should stop in and say hi to the local owner. Locally-owned and run caf├ęs/coffee shops are a rare thing. We also detoured to see some of the buffalo.

The albino buffalo hangs out with his non-albino family.
We did make it to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the northern side, in the afternoon, but rather than pay to explore and risk an after-dark arrival at the campground, we stopped at the rest area/visitor's center for some quick, appreciative views. The few moments we had there were well worth it. The hills set the boy's imagination blazing with hikes and exploration.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
We pushed on to tackle the ever so wide state of Montana. The roads were smooth and construction-free. Thank you northern states! We made it to Fort Ponderosa Campground in plenty of time for daylight and set up our tent for the night. Despite the colony of mosquitoes, the campground was a good decision for our night's rest. The owner was very helpful, the facilities were clean, the other campers were nice, and the layout allowed for the kids to enjoy each others company and burn off some energy.

We called it an early night and crossed our fingers that the serious thunderstorms we heard in the forecast would give our tent a pass.

Friday, July 23, 2010
I should note that across Montana, we started seeing many beautiful horses and distant deer. This was a nice reminder of all of the nature awaiting us in Glacier National Park.

We made an early get-away from the campground in the morning. The goal for Friday was to arrive at the St. Mary entrance of Glacier early enough to get a camp site on the east side. We would be camping one night in the park before heading over to Whitefish to stay in a rental I had found for the week. With no stops between Great Falls and St. Mary, we made it in plenty of time. (We ended up going through the East Glacier entrance and driving some of the roads through the park to get back out and north to St. Mary.)

Even with our little detour, we made it to the park early and snagged a spot just after "check out" time in the Rising Sun campground. We set up our tent, paid our fees, and then waited for the shuttle to go on our first hike.

The view from our tent.
We opted to go on the Sun Point Nature Trail and continue on to see the Baring, St. Mary, and Virginia Falls. Just a few minutes into our first hike, we spotted a deer walking down the trail toward us. We stood still while she ventured down the path, up the rocks next to us, and continuing on her way to nom some leaves before heading down the hill, away from the path.

Sun Point Nature Trail.
Om nom nom.
The waterfalls were beautiful and (of course) worth the flat, winding hike without a doubt. It was probably the perfect hike to start off our week in the park. Sun, views, easy trail, wildlife, flowers, and waterfalls.

Baring Falls.
Yellow flowers.
St. Mary Falls.
Virginia Falls.

Saturday, July 24, 2010
Since we couldn't check in at our rental until the late afternoon, we decided to drive the Going to the Sun Road over to Apgar and hike to Apgar Lookout. The boy kept saying he wanted to go to the top of one of the mountains, so this was going to be his chance.

I met a little friend by the road.
McDonald Creek.
Lake McDonald.
 The hike up to Apgar Lookout was a tough one for us flatlanders, but we eventually got there. (It took a little over two hours.) We saw a number of woodpeckers, five deer, and a great view from the top. You might be interested to know it took us only an hour and fifteen minutes to get back down. It is also an interesting drive to get to the trail head. I did wonder a couple of times if we were really meant to drive down the narrow, gravel road, but indeed we were. It is a long, mostly shadeless hike, but we still enjoyed the challenge of it. (Thankfully, we weren't the only ones struggling up the hill. Granted, two or three shirtless teenage boys trotted past us like it was your average day of walking except they weren't staring at their cell phones. I suppose looking up did help them go faster than us.) (I kid.)

Backlit woodpecker.
"Oh deer."
Apgar Lookout view.
After we got back down and traveled the windy road out to the west exit, we went on down the road to Whitefish, Montana.

Sunday, July 25, 2010
Sunday meant another day in the park despite a few moans about sore legs. We had had a night of rest in beds and "real" food, so I channeled my inner sadist and drove us back to Apgar. We were going to tackle the Hidden Lake and Avalanche Lake Trails, but by the time we got to Logan Pass, hiked to the Hidden Lake Overlook, and ridden the shuttle back down to Avalanche Creek, we decided the Trail of the Cedars was more our style. (I'm not so bad, see?)

Baby mountain goat at Logan Pass.
Big Horn sheep at Logan Pass.
Hidden Lake from the overlook.
Flowers at Logan Pass.

We saw all sorts of wildlife at Logan Pass. It took perhaps an hour and a half to get to the Hidden Lake overlook. The snow wasn't that bad, but it was a bit slippery and had a few narrow paths above steep slopes where you needed to take it slow. Our daily clothes were pants, t-shirts, hiking shoes, wide-brimmed hats, and our backpacks. The weather was perfect.

Trail of the Cedars.

One good outcome of our decision to skip going all the way to Avalanche Lake was a chance meeting with an artist (Peggy Gray?) painting along Avalanche Creek. A nice coincidence when you have a budding artist in tow.

Monday, July 26, 2010
At this point we had logged between eight and ten hours of hiking, so we decided Monday would be our day of "rest" with a zip line adventure in Whitefish. Unfortunately, the boy did not meet the 100lb weight minimum requirement to ride all six zip lines, but we did get to do four of them. Absolutely fun. Absolutely need to do more of these.

After the zip lines, we explored the main street area of Whitefish. Lunch was had at The Green Tea House. Rather than rehash everything, you can see my review on TripAdvisor.com.

The special of the day (chickpea curry with carrots and yams) and a bowl of fruit. Apologies for the bad camera-phone photo.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Tuesday was a real day of rest. We read books at Borders. We ate food we did not prepare ourselves. We read more books. Ahhh, bliss.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
With only two days left before our trek home, I couldn't give us two days of rest in a row. I decided we needed to get over to the Many Glacier side of the park, so we hauled ourselves All. The. Way. There. (Next time? We are going to spend multiple days in each area and work our way around in order rather than bouncing all over the place.)

Many Glacier meant a hike to Iceburg Lake. It sounded good to me, and I wanted to complete a 4+ mile hike (one way). It took us right around two hours to get to the lake. Ptarmigan Falls is the perfect rest stop in the middle of the hike. The trail has a few steep moments at the very beginning, but the rest is nearly flat.
Ptarmigan Falls.
Be careful which path you take around the edge of the lake, however. I ended up on one that turned into a muddy, shoe-sucking path of doom. Taking me back to the days of detassling corn in fields too muddy to allow the weight of the tractors in, the mud sucked my left shoe right off. Rather than putting it back on, (There was a significant amount of sludge inside.) I decided to walk back up the trail for a while in my socks. Oops. Who put that rock there? Cue broken toe, and the squishy shoe (and non-squishy shoe) goes back on. "Fortunately," I had broken my pinkie toe two years ago rather well, so I knew what I could (and couldn't do) about it. I could also tell it wasn't nearly as bad as before.

Day two of the broken toe saga.

There was nothing to do but hike the nearly five miles back to the car in the squishy shoe. Really, I just didn't want to get blisters from the wet sock and shoe combination. Oh well. (Do they make a shirt that says, "I went to Glacier National Park and I all I got was this stinking broken toe?" No? Then I am making a claim on that one.)

Iceburg Lake.
Iceburg Lake.

As we left Many Glacier, we had our one spotting of a bear. There was a grizzly up on a mountainside foraging for food. Even with the long zoom, the best photo I got was of his rump disappearing into the brush. Given the encounter Jack Hannah had in the park and the attack near Yellowstone in the preceding days, I was absolutely fine with this "encounter."

Folks were also pulled to the side of the road for a bull moose napping in the brush. Can you see him?

Bull moose.

Thursday, July 29, 2010
After all of the driving the day before, we decided to have one more lazy day before traveling home. It was not a bad decision. I would have liked to take part of the Highline Trail, but given the size of Glacier, I know we will have to come back to explore more of the trails and sights it has to offer. It won't hurt too much to leave the Highline to another day.

Friday, July 30, 2010
Friday morning we made sure to get on the road by 10am. The goal was to get to Mount Rushmore at 8am when the monument opened on Saturday. Our pit stop for the day was a little place called Gem Mountain. We bought seven buckets and spent a good five hours sorting through them in the hunt for sapphires. That is tiring work! We did walk away with a little batch of gem-quality sapphires, many non-gem quality, and quite a few nifty looking rocks. The boy even found a nice pink and grey sapphire.

We were back on the road by 6pm and made it most of the way to Gillette, Wyoming before calling it a night. Thank you, Wyoming, for the gorgeous orange-red moon and heat lightning to keep me entertained while driving. Gorgeous.

Saturday, August 1, 2010
We were in a bit of a rush to get to Peoria, Illinois to visit family so we pushed throughout the day to get there by midnight. Of course, I wasn't going to skip seeing Mount Rushmore. We were there right around 8:30am, so the crowds weren't too bad. The boy did complain about the 1-mile boardwalk "hike" around the area. (Oy.) We managed to enjoy it without any meltdowns, though. Phew.

The moon was an amazing orange-red the night before, but I couldn't stop for pictures. I had to be satisified with a shot of it hanging in the morning sky.

Day moon.
Mount Rushmore.
We pulled onto my aunt's street at 12:30am. After 28 hours of driving in 38 hours, I was ready for sleep!

Sunday, August 2, 2010
Sunday was a nice day spent with family and then finishing our trek back home to Champaign, Illinois and our poor, lonesome kitties.

"You're home!"

Amazingly, the transition back to work wasn't so bad, either.

I hope I didn't bore you. If I left out anything you would find useful about the hikes, camping, or the park, ask away!


caravan parks perth said...

5 days is not enough to tour the entire place. I wish I could go back there pretty soon.

balu said...

That was a comprehensive write up .. Thanks a lot, My Wife and I are planning to visit GNP for 5 days which includes 2 days of drive from California. Did you feel safe enough to hike ..We are little worried about Bears ..

Dana said...

Hi Bala,
Yes, we felt very safe. Most trails had other hikers, we made sure to hold conversations to give wildlife a heads up we were coming, and in general we weren't on trails with alerts for bears, though I realize that can change anytime. I recommend researching the trails you want to hike ahead of time since you will be there just a few days and follow tips for safety that make you feel comfortable. Enjoy the Park!