Wild Adventures At Crown of the Continent
Trip Start Sep 19, 2011
14Trip End Oct 30, 2011
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Glacier National Park, together with the Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, form the world's first International Peace Park. It is our 10th national park and is known for is glacier-carved jagged peaks, emerald lakes, and diverse animal and plan populations. While the peaks remain, many of the glaciers have melted and will all be gone in less than a decade. Visitors who come to Glacier National Park will only find about 25% of the glaciers that once was here in 1850. It is estimated that only 26 of the major glaciers still exist today and current projections estimate that by 2030 all glaciers inside of the park will be gone.
I arrived in Glacier with just a few hours of sunlight left so I quickly found a campsite and got the tent up and ready for the night. I decided to travel from the West Glacier entrance of the park up the Going to the Sun Road to the Avalanche Lake trail head. Since the rest of the road was blocked I headed back to camp and pulled off the road and watched the sun set on Lake McDonald. The jagged backbone of the Continental Divide was ablaze with color and I was able to sit by lake in complete solitude and watch as the light faded away. It was a great way to close out the day.
The next morning I woke up very early and wanted to see the sun rise on Lake McDonald. It was a brisk 38 degrees with clear skies. I scoped out a great view of the mountains at the boat launch near the Apgar Campground on the south end of the lake. I set up the camera and tripod to got to taking pictures. The light was amazing and dramatic. There was some steam coming off the lake and from time to time ducks crossed the lake witch added visual interest to my shots. There was one other photographer there and we chatted a bit. A local from Kalispell, MT who filled me in on the massive wildfire that impacted the park in 2003. From where we stood, the fire swept the entire northern side of Lake McDonald and burned several miles east towards Logan Pass and the St Mary's entrance of the park. Hundreds of thousands of old growth forests were lost and took weeks to completely extinguish the wildfire. It was very sad to find out the fire was caused by reckless people. After watching the sunrise over the mountains it was time to get going and see the park from the other side.
The Going to the Sun Road is an engineering marvel and was completed in 1932. It is the central artery through the park that connects the entrances of West Glacier and St Mary. The 50 mile connector normally closes early fall through late spring. On my trip a portion of the road had already been closed for construction. Locals tell me that the renovation and repaving project will take six years, but that the road is in desperate need of these repairs as much of it was in severe decline.
To get to the pass on this trip I had to travel several routes along the border of the southern part of the park to reconnect to the Going to the Sun Road in St Mary. A 60+ mile detour, but it gave me the opportunity to see several sites in spectacular fall color. Many of the aspen trees were at their peak color, but soon a second wave of fall color will ignite the hills in a golden hue as the tall larch trees will change color. When I entered the road from St Mary you first travel along a huge glacier lake that was again stunning. The road quickly gains elevation as it winded its way up towards the pass. About 12 miles from the pass we were stopped by construction crews and had to wait for the pace car. I was able to get out and stretch my legs and see some of the glacier fed waterfalls from three of the glaciers in view. I was amazed of the water coming just from the three ice fields I saw. Back in the car, the line of traffic snaked its way up to Logan Pass which is the Continental Divide.
Standing at the visitors center and taking in the views, I overheard several others was the view at Hidden Lake was something not be missed. Looking at the trail I knew that this trail was going to be a climb and at close to 8000 feet I was not sure of how the elevation would affect me, but I saw so many others headed up on the trail I went for it and I was so glad I did. The trail is a 3 mile jaunt with a 550 elevation gain at the start of the trail. Much of the trail is a wooden boardwalk with many uneven stairs. Once I reached the second ridge I met a local woman who had been hiking in the park for over 60 years. We talked about the geology and makeup of the park, why she saw Glacier as the most beautiful park in our national park program, glacier ice melt and global warming. While spared a bit over glacier melt and global warming she helped me make it up the mountain by taking the focus off the challenges of the hike. Once I reached the third ridge it was dirt and gravel and the wind was howling. Each time you reached a new ridge you were greeted with more and more spectacular vistas. The reward was so worth effort. At the observation area at the end of the trail you could see Hidden Lake and bears feeding off fish. Also at the top, a mountain goat came down from the cliffs and paraded down the trail to get his picture taken. I think he liked the feel of the paparazzi. After about 10 minutes at the top it was time to go as the wind was really gusting and storm clouds were a brewing. As I walked down the trail I met a couple from Chicago and chatted a bit with them about our impressions of Glacier. Soon I was back at the car and headed back to the West Glacier part of the park.
At first when I arrived to Glacier I was not that impressed. It looked very much like Rocky Mountain National Park and I felt it did not have its own special voice that would draw me back after I departed. It was after my hike that I found my inspiration that drew me in. I do want to come back to Glacier National Park to see the area around Many Glacier, hike to iceberg and Avalanche Lake, do the complete Going to the Sun Road, and travel the northern portion of the park that extends in to Canada. Adventures for my next journey here at Glacier.
From here I headed back to Bozeman for one evening and then on to Yellowstone. I am very excited to explore Yellowstone and is one place I have always wanted to visit. Bring on the geysers, bubbling mud pots, bison and more!
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