Glacier National Park
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
- Chief Crowfoot, Blackfoot Nation (1836 - 1890)
It’s 4th of July, Independence Day, and we’ve been driving for hours from Spokane when we finally reach West Glacier just after 9:30PM. There were smoke everywhere from the fireworks launched from both side of Highway 2, the main street that goes through the town and the entry to Glacier National Park.
We often emphasize the greatness that is “America” during 4th of July, everybody would wear star spangled themed clothing, hats, bikinis; celebrate that which is USA. But I figured what better way to celebrate this day than to visit one of “America’s Best Idea,” a National Park.
The beautiful Lake McDonald greeted us when we entered the park. It was just after sunset and we got the boat docks all to ourselves. We didn't stopped long, but just enough to snap a few pictures and take in a preview of what's waiting for us just beyond the horizon. Typically during the day, this spot would be full of visitors playing in the water, kayaking, paddle boarding, or just picnicking by the water.
Going to the Sun Road / St. Mary Falls
Our first full day, we spent most of the time exploring Going to the Sun Road. The famed highway that drives straight through the park from West to East. As part of Stephen Mather’s project to make parks accessible to most people, the road is just impossibly scenic… and totally gnarly. Especially around Logan Pass, where the road winds tightly around the mountain side.
The road was designed to blend in as much as possible to the scenery, and very much before we have full size pickup trucks and winnebagos.
After circling for a bit, we parked our car at the St. Mary Falls parking lot to do our first hike in the park. The trail to St. Mary Falls is a relatively easy one-miler, but add on a slightly steeper 0.8 miles and you can also reach Virginia Falls. When you reached St. Mary, it’s hard not to noticed the deep glacial green color of the water.
Continuing on to the trail pass the bridge, it’s a generally easy 0.8 mile ascent to the base of Virginia Falls. It’s a really pretty trail that at some point follows along a cascading river, surrounded by fresh greenery. And the reward at the end of the trail is a tall heavily flowing waterfall. It was actually pretty difficult to photograph up close since the mist constantly splashes our way. But it was a nice respite on this 85-degrees day.
Driving further up from the St. Mary stop, the road quickly becomes even more gnarly as it makes its way to Logan Pass Visitor Center. It’s damn near impossible to find a parking spot in Logan Pass by mid morning, but you can always take a free shuttle from the next stop over.
There’s a group of big horned sheep that almost always hang around near the visitor center, in fact they often would just start grazing right next to the road or the parking lot.
Highline to the Loop Trail
Our second day, we got up really early to secure a parking spot in Logan Pass. After a quick breakfast and getting our gear ready, we jumped on the Highline trail just across the road from the visitor center. Highline to the Loop trail is actually a two-parter.
The first part starts right above the road and within minutes you hit the infamous granite ledge. Even though the trail is quite wide (in most sections), the sheer rocky hundreds-something feet drop down to the road just looks precarious.
Right after this portion of the trail, the trail very gently slopes down until about mile 4 when the trail starts an uphill climb to its highest point at 7,280 feet.... After crossing a few ice fields, of course.
From which it gently slopes down to Granite Park Chalet, a still working hiker’s hut much like what you might find in the Swiss alps. You can reserve a simple room here with bunk beds, and an extra $20 would get you linen service. With premium view of the snow covered peaks right outside the porch.
After a quick lunch here we started the second part, which is a steep straight downclimb back to the Sun Road. Where most hikers would catch a shuttle ride back up to Logan Pass to their cars.
All in all, the trail is 11.8 miles long, and it’s absolutely beautiful with plenty of wildlifes like marmots all along the trail. While previewing all the different geology and environments from subalpine forests to alpine tundras.
After reaching the end of the Loop and waiting around half an hour for a shuttle back to Logan Pass, we picked up our car and to head back to St. Mary camp to shower and dinner. We tried catching sunset by Goose Island Overlook, but it wasn’t really happening because it was too overcast.
But we got a nice little consolation prize when we came across a black bear just on the side of the road.
(Note: This was taken from inside the car, with a tele-zoom lens, and further cropped. You should NEVER get out of the car and stand close to wildlife, much less a bear)
And once we got close towards St. Mary Visitor Center, we saw the sky over the mountain turned absolutely epic.The perfect end cap to a nice day so far.
A storm passed by overnight and even though I was woken up a couple times because of the wind shaking our tent pretty hard, yesterday’s hike had got me completely wiped. But we woke up early again today to head back to Logan’s Pass to do one last hike before we finally drive out of the park.
Starting from behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, a gently sloped boardwalk leads up towards Hidden Lake Overlook. This 3-miles round trip hike is usually a relatively easy hike, but the fact that more than 75% of the trail was still covered by snow makes it just a tad more challenging.
But once you reach the overlook, the view is absolutely stunning.
I had to take multiple shots, because the clouds were moving fast and was constantly changing the light on Mount Clemens.
And as a bonus, a couple of mountain goats were grazing right by the overlook platform.
As we drive out of the park, taking in last views of the mountains and valley carved by glaciers thousands of millenia ago, I was thinking to myself that this was a pretty nice 4th of July holiday. But it’s kind of funny isn’t it, that we celebrate our independence as a country built by immigrants from all over Europe, we celebrate our Presidents, we celebrate Columbus… but we don’t celebrate the native Americans that have settled this country eons before us.
These days Glacier National Park is filled with visitors, foreign and local, who will try to claim a little bit of this slice of paradise as their own through photographs and instagram posts (myself included); but we should remember just as the Blackfeet tribes that have settled here thousands of years ago understood, that we never really own any of this but merely just visitors like a fleeting shadow across a field of grass.