Havre to Glacier National OR How Tragedy Struck

Trip Start Jun 27, 2009
Trip End Aug 07, 2009

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Where I stayed
Avalanche Campground

Flag of United States  , Montana
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Havre to Glacier National Park 7-8-09

We were quite content leaving the sleepy hamlet of Havre, MT behind. In fact, we made sure to leave by 7am! It's not that Havre was bad…it just wasn’t good. Anyway…

We packed up the car, all our camping gear fully charged and ready to go for Glacier National. Before leaving though we made sure to stop at a grocery store to get some good camping food (beans and marshmellows) and a coffee place to get us ready for the day.

By comparison, this was a very short trip at only 3.5 hours. Yet, because it was to be the highlight of our cross country journey…the drive seemed endless. Montana is beautiful, but after 10 hours of driving through it the scenery becomes repetitive. Rolling hills and pastures punctuated by small towns, followed by more sweeping turns and open meadows with grazing cows. Yes, this was Montana…and we were ready for something new.

On Route 2, perhaps 40 miles from Glacier National, we crested a hill much like any other hill. This time though, the other side was not cow pastures (well that’s a lie…there were still cows) but instead the majestic Rocky Mountains.

You always read about them in books, or see them in movies, or hear me ramble about the West in my class. But to SEE them rise out of nothing, out of prairie and flat farm land, is simply remarkable. They were huge structures, with pure white snow adorning their peaks and valleys. This was better than any movie…it was even better than hearing about it in my class!

This beautiful vista continued on for a while until we were left in a deep and dark pine forest that led to the park. You could see almost nothing since the trees were so thick. The only thing you knew for certain was that you were going….up. And the only thing that told you this was the constant popping of your ears. Of course my GPS also confirmed that we had passed 5500 feet above sea level. (Parsippany is around 200 feet in most spots).

After miles of dense forest we finally came into a clearing, but the clearing was odd in that it was still the forest..but stripped bare from forest fires. Thousands of acres, in valleys and high up on mountains, were completely burned and charred away from fire.

After what seemed like an endless journey, we finally reached the gate to Glacier National Park. We decided to stop at the visitor center, and when we got out of the car we were greeted with a harsh surprise: it was about 55 degrees with a very high wind. We were wearing shorts and t-shirts. Whoops!

After continuing past the visitor center we began the 18 mile ride to our camp site. This was going to be over the famous Going to the Sun Road. You have to drive on it to imagine it…but I’ll try to give you a visual: narrow lanes, sheer rock faces on one side, steep 3,000 foot drop off on the other, no guardrail, lots of cars, and the most surreal scenery you’ve ever seen. This was Going to the Sun Road.

There are many pull of points along the journey since it is so scenic. Please check out those photos. Of course the pictures do no justice for what it actually was like. Crystal clear lakes, azure blue skies, clouds concealing the tops of mountains, waterfalls created by snow melt crashing down mountain sides and ravines. It was by far the most amazing thing I have seen in my entire life.

It did take awhile to drive to our campsite, called Avalanche Campground, because the speed limit is 25mph. The road makes hairpin turns and can ascend or descend thousands of feet in less than a mile. Combine that with endless construction and other vehicular traffic and you have the making of over an hour long journey just to go 16 miles. It was worth it though to see the scenery.

Our campsite is in a forest of ancient cedar trees (smells like one giant hamster cage). The sites are well maintained and we chose one set back from the road and near other campers (more on that in a minute). This particular campground was chosen because of the good hiking trails that are easily accessible from it.

Anyway…we decided to be close to other people at the campsite because of….dun dun dun!!! BEARS! That’s right, big Grizzly Bears. Bears are a main feature of the park, and all garbage cans are bear proof. You can’t step 15 feet in the park without a sign warning you of bears. You cannot leave any food out, you should not use deodorants, you should not wear perfumes or colognes, etc. All of these attract bears. And let’s be clear, we’re not talking about those cute fuzzy black bears we have in Jersey. Oh no, these are 10 foot high monsters that have four inch long claws. In fact, we were fortunate enough to hear a story of a 12 year old girl who was dragged from her tent in the middle of the night by a bear and of course..eaten. Sure made me feel safe!

Well, once we set up our tent we went off on a hike to Avalanche Lake. The hike was about 2 miles in each direction, through cedar forest that had numerous alpine streams coming down the mountains that could be seen through the canopy. We had been told the trail was….just ok, but the real surprise was at the end.

As we cleared the trees at the end of the trail we were staring at the most gorgeous lake and mountain scene possible. No really, it was like a painting. There were maybe 20 other people there too….just staring. Nearly all of them silent to some degree, caught in the moment of such a beautiful view. We even met a really nice guy named Tim who was a professional photographer who got a shot of us at the lake.

We arrived back at our camp about 3 hours after setting out and started to make dinner over our fire. Very delicious after a long day! We of course made sure to leave no traces of food, and followed all other bear warnings.

I think that’s about it for today! Glacier is amazing. If you’re reading this journal…it means you have an internet connection. If you have an internet connection, it means you’re not at Glacier National Park! What are you waiting for?!!!! Get in the car and go! You would never ever regret it.

SOOOO if you made it this far in the entry perhaps you’re wondering why it was called Havre to Glacier National OR How Tragedy Struck! Well, here’s the tragedy part. You see, Jen and I love small furry animals..and prairie dogs have always been one of our favorites. Well, prairie dogs are basically Montana’s version of the 'dumb squirrel.’ So sadly, while driving along a stretch of Route 2….a little furry prairie dog jumped out in front of my car. It was hopeless trying to avoid him. Smoosh. Needless to say I’m going to need years of therapy to get over this incident. Jen however enjoys making fun of me!
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