Glacier (less) National Park

glacier  115glacier  001After visiting Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, we of course had to visit the U.S. side of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. And perhaps using the title Glacier (less) National Park is too harsh, but it reflects some astonishing facts we learned about the park.glacier  003

In 1850, there were 150 glaciers on the mountains in Glacier National Park, today only 25 of those remain. But even more concerning is this: it’s estimated that the remaining glaciers will be gone sometime between 2020 and 2030.glacier  002glacier  005

Those are chilling facts (pun intended). So to those that would like to see some of the glaciers, I say – visit the park sooner rather than later. As for what impact the disappearance of all glaciers will have on this ecosystem, I don’t know but I do know that researchers are trying to answer that question.

One thing that’s been decided is that the name will remain. These mountains were formed by glaciers, so the name Glacier National Park will always be appropriate.glacier  077

glacier  078And it is yet another absolutely stunning place. Towering mountains, wildlife, lakes, waterfalls… We are huge fans of the national parks (U.S. and Canada), and the ones we’ve visited recently are some of the most magnificent. I feel like I’ve been living in a postcard.

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glacier  004We stayed on the West side of the park, and, shortly after we arrived, we realized that we probably should have stayed on the East side. Mainly because we are wildlife enthusiasts and there is more diversity of wildlife on the East side of the park.

glacier  006glacier  010glacier  007glacier  009glacier  033glacier  019glacier  032The weather forecast was for sunny, somewhat warm weather for most of our stay.  And, Hector, who hates buses, informed me that he wanted to take one of the Red Bus Tours of the park.   Knowing that he’s a history buff and he’d been intrigued by the Yellow Bus Tours back when we were in Yellowstone, I wasn’t too surprised. And even though I wasn’t as interested as he was, I went along.

So we took a Red Bus Tour as our introduction to the area. On the morning of our tour, there were eight people that the company didn’t show reservations for, including us. The scheduled buses were full and one of the drivers was working to find a solution. Then he asked if anyone could take the tour another day and I volunteered, thinking that some of these folks might be on a one-time vacation. To which Hector added, “we’ll do it, but we are not amused”. He is so funny.

But they somehow found another driver who could take our group out. Now we were happy knowing that we’d be a group of eight where normally there would be sixteen. Ha!

We set out on the Going to the Sun Road, a famous and spectacular road. The story of the buses is fascinating: the first group of buses began service in 1914 then were replaced in 1927 by new buses.  The red buses now in use all date from the 1930s.  Amazingly they continued operating with their original technology until 1999, when they were taken out of service due to safety concerns. But the red buses had become part of the landscape of the park, and were much missed.

So, in 2002, Ford replaced each chassis with a modified and stretched Ford F-450 engine and rehabilitated the buses extensively. Today, 32 out of the original 35 buses continue to operate.glacier  035

All was going well with the tour.  Our driver informed us that the best was yet to come since the east side of the park was even more spectacular than the west (okay, rub it in). Suddenly, he had to stop and pull over while he had a coughing fit. This is when I realized that this guy had probably called in sick and was asked to come “rescue” our group. Oh, oh.glacier  034

glacier  015The driver continued to narrate the tour, but Hector and I noticed in the rear view mirror that he was blinking a lot and popping cough drops.

Next we stopped at the Lake McDonald Lodge. This historic lodge was built in 1914, a Swiss chalet style structure, partially built of stone. With an open lobby area that extends to the third floor, balconies all around on the second and third floors, a massive fireplace, mounted animal heads and beautiful leather lanterns, it is quite a stunner when you enter.glacier  013glacier  014glacier  029glacier  021

Especially interesting were the lamps and the fireplace. The lanterns are reproductions of original lamps crafted by members of the Kanai Nation from Southern Alberta.   The fireplace also has some native etchings, although the original fireplace was destroyed in a fire. This was my favorite hotel lobby, very cozy. And behind the hotel was the beautiful Lake McDonald, more on that later.

The young (and sick) man who was our guide put up a valiant effort but there were long gaps of time between narration. So, our “luck” at being a small group was kind of offset by a less than wonderful narrative.

But our group was really nice;  we enjoyed their company and the scenery was spectacular. And the cars are pretty cool with open tops that allow you to stand up and look at and photograph the views.

Our next stop was Logan Pass, a little less than 2/3 of the way to the east side of the park. This area is known for mountain goats and big-horned sheep, and we caught a glimpse of some mountain goats. Then after the pass is an area where some glaciers are viewable from the road.

glacier  026glacier  027Our final destination and our lunch stop was at the Many Glacier Hotel on the East side of the park. Another Swiss style hotel with an impressive structure and massive stone logs inside but in my view not as cozy as the Lake McDonald Lodge.glacier  028glacier  024

But from the back porch of the hotel, across from the road we spotted a cinnamon colored mama bear with two black cubs walking up the mountain. Apparently they are frequent visitors to the Swift Current Lake just behind the hotel.

glacier  088glacier  036glacier  018On our return trip, we had more time to appreciate the engineering marvel that is the Going to the Sun Road. On the east side of the park, the road is precariously perched on the side of very steep cliffs. There is a very interesting story about the two proposals for the road – one had 15 switchbacks, the other had only one switchback. The choice of the one switchback was daring, but the right choice. Read more here.glacier  008

At the end of the tour, we gave the sick driver a good tip, he did after all “rescue” us. My last comment about the tour is that I’m not sure I would have enjoyed being in the same bus with fourteen other people instead of six others.glacier  016glacier  031glacier  037glacier  030

glacier  076We drove over to the East side of the park with Angel a couple of more times.  It’s just a drag that she can’t even go on short hikes with us in the National Parks. glacier  040glacier  059

One of two trails that we did hike was the Hidden Lake Overlook, over on Logan Pass.  The roundtrip hike to the overlook is three miles but the trail continues on a steep downhill to the Hidden Lake for about 3 more miles roundtrip.glacier  058

We hiked in the late afternoon, when the trail was a bit less crowded. The first mile or so is developed with a number of sets of steps. On the way up, there are fields of flowers all around. Then towards the top, there are a number of ponds and creeks, some of which run across the path.glacier  041

glacier  065Our first wildlife sighting was a marmot. Hector loves marmots and is always looking for them in the mountains.  They have cute front teeth and look like stuffed toys.  We also saw some cute ground squirrels running around.glacier  038glacier  064

glacier  042glacier  063glacier  044glacier  047Then, almost at the overlook, we spotted three mountain goats on a snow bank. At first, I didn’t even see them, they blended in so well.glacier  056glacier  046glacier  048

We reached the overlook with sweeping views of the lake and surrounding mountains. And decided to continue on the trail past the overlook but not all the way down to the lake.glacier  043

glacier  049From that point on we continued to see mountain goat, there seemed to be several families throughout the mountain. We’d never seen mountain goats at this low altitude (around 6,000 feet), the last time we saw some was at the top of a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado.

glacier  055They are extremely docile, and although they don’t walk right up to you, they get very close. And people were getting very close to them to photograph them.glacier  057

Several of the adult mountain goats were collared. The babies were adorable with their soft fur and sweet faces. And someone on the trail was saying that the rangers have not been able to figure out why the mountain goats stayed so close to the trail this year.  Curious.glacier  045glacier  052

glacier  060Our next wildlife sighting was another little marmot in a field of flowers. I lost Hector to that one for a while, he was “Waiting for Marmot” to make some cute poses and he did.

glacier  066glacier  072Then, down at the bottom, near an interpretive walk by the visitor center, we saw a small crowd. And, about 100 yards away was a young grizzly bear, furiously digging. Huge clumps of dirt were flying out behind him. We identified him as a grizzly because of the hump on his shoulder, the “dish-shaped” face, and the extremely long claws.glacier  073

glacier  071He found what he was digging for – a ground squirrel – and pretty quickly ate it. Then he continued digging – apparently for the squirrel’s cache as we later discovered.   Black bears don’t typically eat as much meat as grizzlies, and they don’t dig because their claws are shorter and more curved – better for climbing trees.glacier  069glacier  070

At this point, about twenty people had gathered to watch the bear and he never even glanced at us. He knew he was the top predator here. Then when he finished digging, he set off, easily overturning huge rocks along the way, looking for more grub. The closest we’ve ever seen a grizzly bear and very cool.

This trail was a real gem.glacier  075

glacier  113glacier  112glacier  117Between hikes, we drove back over to Lake McDonald a few times to watch and photograph sunrise and sunset.glacier  114

The lake is very picturesque. It also happened to be close to our campground, and adjacent to Apgar Village, the largest tiny settlement in the vicinity.glacier  118glacier  119

glacier  120I had some yummy huckleberry ice cream at Apgar Village after having discovered huckleberry pie and shakes earlier in the week.  I’m hooked on huckleberries forever.glacier  123

Our next hike, Avalanche Lake, was on the West side of the park. About five relatively easy miles in a lovely forest.  And once again, we went hiking in the late afternoon to avoid crowds. glacier  124

glacier  125The earth was still a bit wet from a previous rain but not muddy, and there was lots of pretty moss around. As well as another of Hector’s favorite photography subjects – mushrooms.glacier  133

It was pretty cloudy and we had a moment of wondering whether we should turn back as the sun appeared to be going down much earlier than we expected. But we continued.

glacier  127glacier  131And we reached another lovely glacial lake, this one with some very deep green tones. We walked around the lake for different views. As we changed our point of view, the color of the lake changed, at one point much deeper. Beautiful.glacier  130glacier  128

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glacier  079glacier  084On another short drive with Angel we stopped at an overlook to a beautiful swimming hole in the river. We heard there was a bear by the river and found the crowd of bear watchers. He was a young black bear looking for food.  Munching on various plants and stretching to try to reach some higher branches. Very entertaining.

Our last wildlife sighting was at the Many Glacier area. A group of people were peering up at a mountain with scopes and binoculars at a grizzly bear that was walking in and out of trees far above us. Although he was very far up the mountain (too far for photos) he looked like a very big grizzly and his golden coloring and darker face reminded us of a panda.glacier  105

glacier  098Then someone in the crowd mentioned they’d just seen moose down by the lake.  We found out the location of the moose and walked down to the lake.

And we found them: a moose family standing in the small lake. Mom, dad and baby.

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glacier  101They were chomping on plants underwater – moose can actually dive to 20 feet and remain underwater for two minutes. And the baby nursed for a bit. Then they went off into the woods and we drove home across the park in beautiful evening light.

glacier  111glacier  109This is definitely one of the most beautiful national parks we have seen and the wildlife sightings were great. There are many great sounding hikes, especially on the East side of the park.  And for those interested in visiting, come soon if you want to see any of the remaining glaciers.

~ Brenda

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Note: We found a wonderful resource for detailed information on hikes at Glacier National Park – It lists over 60 trails with general features i.e. waterfalls etc., roundtrip distance, elevation gain and difficulty ratings. For most of those trails they also include a description, latitude and longitude of the parking lot, average elevation gain per mile, highest elevation and more.


25 thoughts on “Glacier (less) National Park

    • Thank you! I checked your post out, what an incredible variety of mushrooms, I don’t recall ever seeing so many. And you did a great job photographing them, I think we should all go on a photo expedition together soon! btw, It’s my own damn fault is from a Jimmy Buffet song.

  1. Spectacular Glacier National Park! I was there in June 1992 and found it breathtaking. You have had great luck in animal sightings! Again, thanks for sharing!

  2. I now feel like I have been to Glacier thanks to your wonderful narrative. When I think your photography can’t get any better Hector, it does! I find myself coming back to your posts over and over again to soak up the beauty of your images. Look forward to meeting you both soon. 🙂

  3. Wow, you were really fortunate on the wildlife sighting! If you do a search on Grizzly on the Highline trail in Glacier you will find an article about a bear taking over a narrow trail at the top of Going to the Sun Road and a photo of a hiker having to go over the cliff to get out of the bears way! This was early in August.

    • We wanted to go on that trail, but the combo of way east and length meant we’d be gone too long from Angel. I haven’t seen the photo, but will look. Can’t imagine what I would have done.

  4. Yet another fabulous tour with accompanying stunning photography. I agree with LuAnn, just when I thought Hector’s photos couldn’t get any better, you surprise me. See ya soon 🙂

  5. Wonderful wildlife sightings and absolutely amazing photography! It just takes my breath away! I felt sorry for the tour guide with the sore throat. Hope everyone tipped him well like Hector did. And I hope he wasn’t contagious!!

  6. Thanks for taking us back:) We really enjoyed staying on the east side of the park. While we didn’t have the best campgrounds and few places to eat or shop, the crowds were very small and many times were alone on the trails. I think that may be why the wildlife like it:) The hikes are longer with lots to see along the way. Two Medicine was my favorite area.

    Aren’t the mountain goats wonderful. We have seen so many up close this trip. Of course, I am always a sucker for any bear. The other morning in Jasper we had a nature alarm clock. A loud strange bugling sound got us both out of bed. There was a huge bull elk out behind the MH bugling away as his woman and child ate near by. I was so hoping to see this since I knew it was rutting season. This big guy must live near by since we have seen him every evening. Too say the least, I was in heaven:)

    • We’ll stay on the east side next time. We love the mountain goats. And we got to hear bugling finally in Grand Teton National Park, a bull elk running around his harem. Cool that you have a “resident bull”. They are very cool and the bugles are adorable.


  7. We visited Glacier in July of this year. The Going to the Sun road had only been open 2 weeks. There was still a lot of snow at Logan Pass. Such a beautiful park! Lake McDonald was so pretty in the early morning. My husband’s cousin works for the park. We had a personal tour guide. 🙂 Your pictures are great of the park!

    • Thanks and welcome to our blog. Wow, it must be beautiful with snow on the ground, and how great to have a personal tour.

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