Monday, February 16, 2015

Montana, Part 3: Hiking and Kayaking in Glacier National Park

Glacier was one of the main stops on our epic road trip from the Badlands to Yellowstone to Glacier and on to Seattle. We had spent much of the previous day touring Glacier National Park by car, so we were anxious to get out and experience the terrain first-hand on day two.

Mrs. Tries and I combed the Chimani GNP app the night before for the perfect hike, and landed on the Grinnell Glacier Trail. This was an appealing hike for many reasons. To get to the trailhead, we'd take a boat from the Many Glacier Hotel across Swiftcurrent Lake, then hike a bit to a second boat that would take us across Lake Josephine and drop us off close to the perimeter of Lake Grinnell. From there, we'd hike around the lake to the Grinnell Glacier Trail, then take a four mile hike to reach Grinnell Glacier.

We got an early start and made it to the Many Glacier Hotel in time to get on the waiting list for that morning's ride out. Reservations are highly recommended here, but there were enough drop-outs that day to let everyone onto the boat. During the first boat ride, we had our sixth and final bear sighting, as we could see one walking on a trail on the other side of the lake. We also got this shot, one of my favorites from the trip: 

As we drew closer to the first dock, Mrs. Tires admitted to me that she wasn't feeling well. She had been such a trooper the entire trip and she was truly enamored with GNP, so it was really hard for her to admit this, as she was still dead set on attempting the hardcore hiking trail to the glacier. With this in mind, we debated whether we should keep with the plan or scale it back a little. The difficult conversation carried on as we disembarked the first boat, hiked a bit and made it to the dock for the second boat. 

As we reassessed, we realized it was just too long a hike to go on without the resources she'd need to feel ok. Fortunately we had a two-step backup plan already in mind. Part one one was to spend some time hiking around Grinnell Lake, which sits at the base of the mountain that hosts Grinnell Glacier. This plan worked out great as there were many gorgeous sights to see and most of the people on our boat were planning on doing the same thing.

The hike around Grinnell Lake was fantastic. The trail was easy and well-marked, and the water was amazingly reflective. We also encountered a cute little waterfall and a fun wooden suspension bridge. I'll let the camera do the rest of the talking here: 

Mrs. Tires held up remarkably well as we toured the lake. I entertained her on the harmonica, which also served to ward off bears. (Yes, I'm that bad on the harmonica!)

On our way back to the boat, we turned a corner on the wooden path and surprised the heck out of a moose. He in turn ran across the trail and into the woods, which surprised the heck out of us.

A moose retreats into the forest
After a mad dash to get back to the boat, we reached the dock in time and got one more breathtaking shot. 

After our morning adventure, we headed back to the cabin to get some rest. Mrs. Tires was still not feeling well, but felt a bit better after a nap. Not one to let nature's inconveniences get in the way, she rebounded and we set off for backup plan part two, a mellow and rewarding hike to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. 

The trail to the falls was great, but more rugged than we had anticipated, so we immediately regretted our footwear choice, open toed sandals. Whoops! Definitely could have used the hiking boots there. Regardless, we had a wonderful time hiking from waterfall to waterfall, and we stopped many times along the way to enjoy the streams and smaller waterfalls that linked the two main ones. 

St. Mary Falls
Virginia Falls
At Virginia Falls, we busted out the Road Block Lager we bought in Yellowstone. It was disgusting!
After our hike to the falls, we made another stop at St. Mary Lake, one of our favorite views from the day before. 

The next day was our final day at Glacier National Park, and also one of two consecutive days we had intentionally left open so we could be spontaneous (a delightful oxymoron I call planned spontaneity). All we knew was that we'd start the day in Glacier and would end up in Seattle late the next day. As it worked out, we spent almost the entire day squeezing a bit more fun out of the park. We had already covered so much ground, but there was still more to see. 

After packing up the car and checking out, we headed back to Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only practical route. We made our way down the road pretty quickly this time, though we did stop at a few favorite spots along the way. One thing was noticeably different about the drive that day - the road was filled with many classic cars. I am not sure if there was a car show in town or if that's just what people do there on Sundays, but they added an extra level to the already extraordinary scenery. 

Mrs. Tires somehow convinced me to break from our breakfast-and-lunch-from-the-cooler rule for the second time on our trip, and again I was glad she did. We went to the Lake McDonald Hotel area and stopped at a fun-looking restaurant. It was there where I had the best meal of the entire trip - a bison sausage. It was so good it had me grinning ear to ear, and it was perfectly paired with yet another pint of Moose Drool.

This bison sausage may not look like much, but it. was. delicious.
After eating and stopping at a nearby gift shop, we got directions to our final destination within the park, a shack near the southern tip of Lake McDonald that rents out kayaks. We were outfitted with kayaks, oars, dry bags and wheels that allowed us to pull our kayaks to the water. Off we went. 

Our time kayaking Lake McDonald was relaxing, fun, and pretty much perfect. If I had to choose a moment to live out for the rest of my life, our time on the lake may very well be that time. After shoving ourselves off, we spotted some appealing shoreline on the other side of the lake, and with the wind at our backs, we paddled off. 

We raced and splashed around for a while, and eventually we made it to the shore. A bit tired from paddling, we pulled our boats up on to the shore and had a snack and a specially packed beer. Afterwards, Mrs. Tires meditated on the shoreline while I went for a swim and got some underwater shots with our waterproof camera. 

Well-rested and satisfied, we started our return trip. The way back was much more difficult as we were paddling into the wind, but we were having so much fun, we didn't much care. These poses speak to our states of mind. 

After returning the kayaks, we had one more item to attend to. Our friends Eric and Jen had highly recommended all things huckleberry, a tart berry similar to a blueberry that grows natively in the area. We found a nearby restaurant that serves huckleberry pie. A fantastic food find!

After another amazing day, it was time to bid farewell to Glacier National Park. This place was absolutely incredible and it left a lasting impression on both of us. It will be a special place for us for now on and we will always look back on it fondly. If you have a chance to go, Mrs. Tires and I highly recommend it! 

The drive away from Glacier was memorable, as it took us through a long stretch of the Rocky Mountains while the sun was setting. The mountains were massive and we were driving west, so we had three consecutive occurrences wherein we thought the sun had fully set, only to climb another hill and see the sun set all over again. 

That night's drive brought us out of Montana and into Idaho, bringing our stunning and momentous visit to Montana to a beautiful end.

Montana was an amazing road trip state. Its moments of profound beauty are interspersed with novel moments of quirk which add up to be pretty much everything I could possibly want in a road trip. I would welcome an opportunity to go back some day.

Must-See in Glacier National Park:
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Logan Pass
  • St. Mary Lake
  • Kayaking on Lake McDonald
Check it out:
  • Grinnell Lake
  • Trail of the Cedars
  • Many Glacier Hotel
  • Virginia Falls
The Next-Time List:
  • Explore the Many Glacier area
  • Hike to Grinnell Glacier
More on this Journey:

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