Going to the Sun
Written by Jamie
After a week in Yellowstone, we were eager to get out of the park and continue exploring and were especially excited to enter Montana. This state is called Big Sky Country for a reason – rolling hills give way to lakes, which give way to giant rocky mountains!
We headed northwest from Yellowstone, towards the city of Bozeman, but there is some background information for this choice. One of our all-time favorite restaurants is a place called Ted’s Montana Grill. It is a chain/franchise restaurant, but they specialize in fresh, never frozen ingredients, including offering bison as another option for all their beef menu items. Our first experience at Ted’s was back in Tallahassee, FL, and we’ve since dined at a number of their other locations in the US. Since this was going to be our first time in Montana, we figured it would only be right to grab a bite at the restaurant’s namesake. Interestingly, the only TMG in all of Montana is located in Bozeman – so to Bozeman we went and had a delicious lunch at Ted’s! After lunch, we got back on the road headed for Missoula, where we planned to stop for the night and stay at Big Sky Brewing (another Harvest Host!). We got in around 3pm and parked in the big gravel lot behind the brewery next to another fellow Harvest Hoster, then headed in for some delicious beer sampling in their tasting room. After a few hours of work, we headed back out to Tamarack Brewing Company to grab a bite to eat, sip on some more beer, and watch the NBA finals.
We headed out early the next morning and enjoyed a beautiful drive around Flathead Lake, arriving at Glacier Campground in West Glacier by lunch. We planned to use the tiny little gateway town as a launch point to explore Glacier National Park over the next few days. West Glacier wound up being just a bit tinier than we expected (basically it’s just the park entrance); campground location was perfect though (just outside the park entrance) so we used the nearby town of Columbia Falls for our grocery shopping, gas, and even found a great little coffee shop, Montana Coffee Traders, to use as our office a few mornings 🙂
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as cooperative as we had hoped during our stay. While this took away from our time exploring and hiking in the park, it did allow us the opportunity to get some work done and explore the surrounding areas. We spent one rainy afternoon walking around the quaint downtown of nearby Whitefish, MT, popping in and out of the many shops and grabbing a delicious lunch at The Craggy Range. Another rainy morning was spent working at Montana Coffee Traders, but the rain gave way to a beautiful late afternoon, and we opted to hit up the local farmer’s market. After getting our fill of local beer, food trucks and farm stands, we headed just down the street where the Blue Moon bar hosts a rodeo! A $12 ticket buys you 2+ hours of awesome Montana rodeo entertainment, including tie-down roping, team roping, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bull riding and barrel racing! This was a first-time experience for me, and it did not disappoint. Boots on and Bud Light in hand, we couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a beautiful evening in the heart of Montana’s Glacier Country.
Thankfully, we had one full day of absolutely gorgeous weather and took full advantage of it. Glacier National Park is completely bisected by a monstrous portion of the Rockies, making for incredible scenery but difficult access. There is exactly 1 park route that weaves up over the mountain cliffs and connects the eastern and western sides of the park – the Going To The Sun Road. This road is a huge engineering feat and is the first to be registered as a National Historic Place, a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. There are strict vehicle size restrictions (21’ long x 8’ wide) and 45 mph max speed, but between the hairpin turns, gazing at the beauty around you, and sharing the road with bikers, no one is going much above 25 mph at any given point, so it takes at least 2 hours to drive the full 50 miles from one side of the park to the other. In the high summer months, there is a free shuttle provided along the span of the road, but we were visiting just a couple weeks shy of the shuttle start date.
Our goal that day was to do the 7.5-mile Grinnell Lake trail in the Many Glacier area on the east side of the park, so we started our drive along the road early in the morning to allow us the time to get over there – and we’re very glad we did. There are some beautiful sights to see along the road, including McDonald Falls, The Loop, Heaven’s Peak and the Weeping Wall west of Logan Pass, and then Jackson Glacier Overlook, Sunrift Gorge and Rising Sun Overlook east of Logan Pass.
We finally got to the Many Glacier area by mid-morning and started our hike. The hike starts at the road but quickly reaches the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and then Lake Josephine, 2 pristine subalpine glacier-fed lakes. There are ferries that cross both lakes as a non-hiking option, but the shoreline trails provide beautiful scenery.
After a few miles of strolling along the western shoreline of Lake Josephine, we crossed a suspension bridge and eventually arrived at the gorgeous Grinnell Lake. The water was crystal clear, shallow and frigid at the shoreline, and a beautiful turquoise blue in the deeper parts. Looking up the mountainside ahead, you could spot a small portion of Grinnell Glacier. We would have loved to take the more strenuous climb up to Grinnell Glacier itself, but we were warned that the trail was still covered in deep snow and difficult to traverse.
We picnicked with some PB&J and trail mix along the shoreline and then started our hike back, this time along the east side of Lake Josephine. This side of the trail was extremely muddy and shared with horses, so we also had to dodge the occasional “landmine”. However, there were more opportunities to approach the lake shore than the west side, and we found a perfect little shoreline to stop at for a few moments.
We got back to the trailhead by mid-afternoon and opted to take a different drive back to the campsite, this time out and around the park boundaries. While we thought this route could be quicker because of less traffic and less hairpin turns than on The Sun Road, we were definitely wrong but very glad to witness new incredible surroundings. We even found a little family-run ice cream shop in East Glacier Park and sipped on a huckleberry shake.
On our last day in Glacier, The Weather Channel was warning of snow in the high country, especially at Logan Pass. The weather in West Glacier was grey, overcast and intermittently rainy, but we really wanted to get out of the trailer and try for at least one more day of exploring in the park. We attempted to stop for a hike at the Trail of the Cedars but couldn’t find a parking spot at the trailhead, so decided to keep going up The Sun Road to see what the weather was doing. As we neared Logan Pass, the temperature steadily dropped, and when we hit the cloud-line, and our surroundings completely changed and visibility was no more than 10 feet in front of us. Thankfully everyone dropped their speed to a crawl, and we eventually reached Logan Pass, which clocked in at a nipping 37 degrees on the truck’s temperature gauge. We hoped to do a short hike up there, but we definitely weren’t dressed for a hike in 37-degree weather (it was in the 60s back at the campground!). So, we opted for a few pics and rushed back to the warm truck and back to our campsite for an afternoon of movie-watching.
While we would have LOVED more good-weather days in Glacier, we cherished the one great sunny day we had and enjoyed what the surrounding areas had to offer. Glacier is one of the national parks that just isn’t near anything else, but it is absolutely worth the trip north to see. Montana itself is an amazing state and we would love to come back again one day!
Trae and Jamie