Our Trip To Glacier National Park – The Ups and Downs
Maybe it’s just a pipe dream. Or, possibly…. you are in the process of booking your plane tickets right now! Either way, we made the trip to Glacier National Park, Montana, all the way from the Panhandle of Florida in August of 2019. We spent a total of 11 days there. And this blog post is to share the ups and downs of our trip.
Disclaimer: I am a small-town sort of lady. Until we went to Montana, I hadn’t even been to the west half of the United States! But we have been traveling more and more these past several years, looking for adventures, fun, and beautiful places. And we found all of that on this trip to Glacier National Park!
I will be very upfront and tell you off the bat that this trip wasn’t exactly what I had expected. For various reasons. One of them being the fact that it was SO BUSY! I mean, we traveled 40 hours away…. WAY into the wild, wild wilderness…. on the edge of the United States. Where nature is… well…. natural. The animals roam free, and there is land, and mountains, and dirt trails for hours upon hours. And yet….. there seemed to be hardly any space for us! “Us” being me and my husband.
Parking lots filled up before 9 AM! Even the ones that were an hour into the park, designated for specific hiking trails. Buses were full and had lines of people waiting at all hours. The Going-To-The-Sun-Road, (the ONLY road going through the park), got SHUT DOWN twice while we were there, for a couple of hours at a time. Leaving you stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Does this chick have anything positive to say?”…. and the answer is yes! There are definitely positives, which I will get to next. But all in all, our trip…. that was supposed to be “stress-free” and “detoxing” and “away from it all”….. was instead very stressful. Talk about an adventure for sure!
My point in saying all of this to you: IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING A TRIP TO GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, DO YOUR RESEARCH, AND PLAN AHEAD.
And I mean WAY ahead. Have a scheduled itinerary. There are too many things to see and do there. Know ahead of time that you can’t do it all in one trip. So, pick out the things you do want to do, and know what days you’re going to do them. Well, now that I’ve ranted on about that, let me step down from the platform and share our positive experiences of Glacier National Park with you. I cannot possibly tell you everything that we did in one blog post, but I will tell you the highlights.
Where we stayed. The Commute.
I will be shamelessly honest with you and tell you that I like my modern conveniences; and I can be a hotel snob if given the choice. Ha! I like to have good food options close by when traveling, and some shopping, so you can take home some special memories from each trip. Given all of this, we opted for lodging in Whitefish, Montana. Which is about a 35-minute drive to the West entrance of the park. Yes, this added to the stress and inconveniences I mentioned before. But, it also added to a lot of the fun things that we did while in Montana. The closer you got to the actual park entrance, the less civilization there was. Less lodging, less food, JUST LESS.
- By staying in Whitefish we…..
- Got to see a larger area of Montana because we were closer to more things. (And had to drive every day).
- Got to do a little local shopping and brewery hopping
- Had multiple food options that were close and even within walking distance
- Went boating on Flathead lake, (and almost got lost on an island).
- Went to Whitefish City beach. (A beach with mountains; that was a first for this Florida gal).
- Got to site-see from the top of the Whitefish ski slopes. (Where you could see the US and Canada at the same time).
We ended up walking to the same breakfast place almost every day we were there, Swift Creek Cafe. It had great food, and great staff; we only had to wait one of the days, and we had multiple chats with the owner while we were eating. I was glad we had chosen to stay in Whitefish. It is a charming, quaint little town. With very welcoming and friendly people who are more than eager to give you vacation advice. We also rented a very nice loft to stay in. If interested, you can check it out here, (Whitefish Vacation Rentals) Side Note: Do keep in mind that Whitefish is a tourist-based town. We went in August, and a lot of things were closing early every day because we were near the end of their season. Including restaurants and stores, which made it hard to find food sometimes when we would come out of the park late, after a long day.
One of our first “ventures” in Glacier National Park was the Going-To-The-Sun-Road. It is THE MAIN road that goes all the way from the west entrance of the park, to the east entrance. It is a good place to start your vacation; and a good, easy way to get “acquainted” with the park without having to get out into the nitty-gritty immediately.
Best of all, it is paved! (Almost every other road in the park is not paved). It is basically a scenic highway. There are a lot of good scenic stops along the way, and many trailheads. But even if you had no interest in hiking, you could have a full day of gorgeous views on this road. It takes about 2 and a half hours to drive the road ONE WAY. Then, another 2 and a half hours to drive back. (Without stops) Sure, you can turn around at one of the turn-around spots if you didn’t want to drive that far. But, the Going-To-The-Sun-Road is an easy way to see the vast majority of the park. You drive along lakes, through valleys, and on the edge of cliffs. (Yes, some of them are scary).
I am afraid of heights, but overall I found that there were only a few short places where I felt the need to close my eyes. (I had this luxury because my hubby was the one driving. I do not recommend you close your eyes if you’re the one driving! *wink*)
We took one day to kayak and hang out on Lake McDonald. A very large, very popular lake right inside the west entrance of the park. Thankfully, it was easy to get to. And thankfully we were able to get a parking spot and a kayak rental. (As I mentioned earlier, we went closer to the end of their season, so supposedly fewer people were there…. *shrugging shoulders*)
I think I have to say that this was my favorite day and favorite part of our trip! We didn’t go super far. We are not experienced kayakers. But we were gone for about 3 hours. The water was crystal clear, and extremely blue when the sun hit it at certain angles. In the shallower spots you could see down to the bottom, where there were tons of colorful rocks and stones! Some of you may be familiar with what I’m talking about, but this was a first for me! We beached the kayak when we decided we didn’t want to go any further, and laid on the beach for a LONG time. Surrounded by mountains, having a snack, and picking through and playing with the colorful stones…. like kids.
I would definitely recommend taking a day out of your trip to spend around the Lake McDonald area. There are also a few stores there, a restaurant or two (I can’t remember), and ice cream! Huckleberry ice cream to be more precise. You will quickly learn that Montana is all about the huckleberries! (I didn’t even know they were a real berry. LOL. Yes, embarrassing).
Hiking. Where do I even start with hiking? Glacier National Park and hiking go hand-in-hand. You can buy hiking maps of Glacier, which show all of the hiking trails. Somebody added it all up and it amounted to some ungodly number of miles if you hiked them all!
I like a good hike. But, it’s not like hiking in Florida. (In Florida you really just walk around. Ha!) In Montana, there’s uneven terrain and it’s at a higher elevation for some people….. like me…. I don’t like super long, or strenuous hikes. Especially when I realized that the term “bear country” was no joke! We ended up doing 3 hikes during our trip. They took us about 4 or 5 hours each. I am personally ecstatic to report that we saw NO BEARS on our hikes….. although it seemed like everyone else around us was constantly talking about how they saw one earlier or the day before. (I personally believe the Lord was steering those bears away from me like the parting of the Red Sea! *Thank you, Jesus!*) Anyway, as you can see from the photos…. we got to see some beautiful things. We were even in an area that had previously been burned by one of the fires the previous year, and it was beautiful in its’ own way.
Things that surprised me…..
There are a few things that I just wanted to mention here, but won’t go into too much detail because I will talk more about these things in a future post: Things You Must Know Before Going to Glacier National Park.
I was surprised by the lack of food in the park and surrounding areas. You really had to plan ahead for being able to eat throughout the day.
Also, I was surprised by the lack of lodging that there was outside and inside the park. The east entrance is literally like a ghost town. Which is the entrance that you have to go in to get to some of the biggest, most popular hikes.
Next, I was bummed at the lack of NON-BEAR wildlife we saw. My husband and I are lovers of Colorado. We have been there multiple times, and plan to continue to go back as often as we can. This Montana trip was a random “detour” if you will. During our trips to Colorado, we have seen a LOT of different kinds of wildlife. And I was expecting to see even more in Glacier. That was not the case. We saw two mountain goats, or actually…. I think they were big-horned sheep. (Those two confuse me). We saw a few deer, which I see constantly in Florida. One moose a very far way off. And one little black bear, far way off. All-in-all….. it did not compare to Colorado
Lastly, you may call me a simpleton….. but I was genuinely surprised at the amount of BEAR. Ha! Although, as I stated before, I only actually saw one bear. The “presence” of bears was everywhere! Bear warning signs, bear rumors, bear sightings, bear stories, BEAR SPRAY, bear memorabilia, bear jokes, and certain trail and camping closures because of too many bears being cited in the area! Listen, my friend, this may all be normal to you, and you may think I am being overdramatic but I am here to tell things from my perspective. And my perspective is that of a Florida-raised, non-country gal. And for any of you out there who can relate to me…. I just want you to be aware of the bear activity that actually takes place out in Glacier. Because it highly affected my trip and how much I was able to enjoy myself.
In wrapping up this post…. I would have to say that I am grateful for having been able to go to Glacier National Park. I will never forget it. These are just the highlights of our trip. More specifically in Glacier National Park. I did not even go into detail about all of the things I listed that we did outside of the park.
It was an action-packed 11 days. And I wish I could share all 1,000 plus photos with you!
Yes, there were a lot of negative experiences, and also a lot of things I was not expecting. But, we saw some truly incredible sites and we definitely had some adventures!
I cannot say that I would want to go back again, Colorado still has my heart. (Maybe I’ll do a blog about some of our past trips there?) But I know that there are plenty of people who take their whole family year after year and have a great time. Maybe it was just too far out of my comfort zone, or maybe I put too many expectations on it; which is something you can avoid by doing your research! Hopefully, I will be sharing another adventure with you soon, just not one from Montana. *wink*
Hope to chat again in the next TLV blog post!