Of all the parks on my five-week trip, Glacier National Park was the only one I had never visited in the past (though, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton since I was about seven or eight years old, so they barely count!)
We drove from Banff to Glacier and crossed the border into Montana at the Carway border crossing, which is by far the smallest crossing I’d ever been through. It was easy and with no line, a tiny teardrop camper and no real declarations besides a cooler full of Canadian craft beer, we were passed right through. I’d read horror stories about RV’s returning to the United States and being searched, and have watched episodes of “Canada Border Control” which had me scared about every inch searched for narcotics or cash or the raw meat Chinese travelers always get in trouble with on the TV show. (Shhh….. I did have a Kinder Surprise egg in the galley… it made it home unharmed!)
After reading reviews of it being “the best,” I’d booked a site at Many Glacier Campground. It’s a gorgeous campground with spacious sites (all of the trailer sites are pull throughs, even!) and lots of clean bathrooms. The reviews did not lie – this was an amazing campground. Our site was right at the base of a huge mountain where you could see mountain goats and even a mama grizzly bear and her two cubs, if you had binoculars, anyway.
Many Glacier is in the North East corner of the park, and doesn’t connect to the main parts of the park – you have to exit the park, take a highway then re-enter to get to the Going to the Sun Road, which I will talk about later. Many Glacier basically consists of the Many Glacier Hotel, a BEAUTIFUL 100+ year old hotel on the Swiftcurrent Lake, the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge which looks like a very cool place to stay with their tiny log cabin structures, and the Many Glacier campground.
The road into Many Glacier is hands down, the worst “paved” road I have ever driven on, and this was frustrating since we drove on it so many times to get to other areas of the park. I have no idea what happened to it, but it is BAD. We drove about 10 miles an hour or less and still were jostled around. It’s like they started repaving it, then quit. It’s rough, full of cracks and bumps and potholes and is just abysmal.
The Going to the Sun road is probably the biggest attraction at Glacier. It is one of the most epic roads I have ever driven on. Construction on it started in 1921, and tool 11 years to complete. It covers about 52 miles and connects the East and West sides of the park. The road is magnificent – built into the side of the mountains with two tunnels through the rock. There are hairpin turns, beautiful views, and no modern guardrails other than a few rocks placed here and there. It’s only open for a few months each year. The road takes a couple of months to clear of snow in the spring, because up to 80 feet of snow can cover it in winter. They use heavy machinery equipped with GPS to clear the road, and it usually is ready to open in mid to late June, and closes again in mid October.
I’ve driven on some cool roads – my home state Blue Ridge Parkway is pretty epic. The Icefields Parkway in Banff and Jasper, and the Slea Head Drive in Western Ireland just to name a few, but the Going to the Sun Road probably takes the prize for most epic!
On our first full day in Glacier, we left just after sunrise (to avoid the crowds!) and drove East to West to Logan Pass, which is the highest point on the Going to the Sun Road. My dad and I hiked the Hidden Lake trail, which is more like a super steep boardwalk of steps. We encountered mountain goats, and were at eye level with a number of glaciers. The wildflowers in the meadow were spectacular, and it was a great, easy hike, overall with countless photo ops (that I loved!).
We stopped for lunch at the Saint Mary Inn which is just outside the park… and what a disappointment it was. We actually never ordered a meal because the service was so terrible (we waited 15 minutes to order drinks, and the server could only tell us the color of the beer, not what style it was!). Instead we made our way to the Johnson’s of Saint Mary Family Restaurant, and it was out of this world! Family owned and operated for over 60 years, this place is a real gem in the tiny community just outside the St. Mary entrance to Glacier National Park.
Before dinner, we had cocktails (aka craft beer, for me!) at the Many Glacier Hotel. Half of the hotel was undergoing major renovations so I didn’t get to see the grand lobby, but it’s another beautiful, historic property. I can’t wait to return to see it in it’s full glory!
Our second full day in Glacier we left before Sunrise (stopping at Swiftcurrent Lake to watch the light show!) then drove East to West the entire Going to the Sun Road. We stopped at the Lake MacDonald Inn and marveled at the animal trophies and incredible architecture of the 100 year old hotel. Then we headed to Whitefish, where we had an outstanding brunch at the Bison Café (they had some of the best huevos rancheros I’ve ever had!) and a beer sampling at the Great Northern Brewing Company. (Which will receive it’s very own post later!)
We headed back to Glacier, and got to see the Going to the Sun Road from the west to the east, which is possibly more spectacular just because you drive straight towards the mountains and can see the incredible road above you, practically hanging off the side of the mountain.
In a nutshell, Glacier National Park is AMAZING and a must see, especially because those glaciers won’t be around for much longer.