Glacier National Park. The park that we were most excited to explore. Amazing lake hikes, beautiful waterfalls, and the most spectacular white peak mountain views. Glacier is also the park that kicked our asses. We cracked the radiator getting here. Our computer broke. Stan popped a tire on the bumpy roads and needed new brakes from all the mountain driving. And I suffered a mild case of Bell’s Palsy. Part I of our adventure had its ups and downs. Determined not to let Glacier beat us we decided to try again and headed to Apgar Village on the southwestern side of Glacier.
Apgar Village is on the southern side of Lake McDonald. Named after an early settler who became involved servicing park tourists. The village that stands today still holds this tradition. Restaurants, shops, inns, and non-motorized watercraft rentals can be easily found.
As you walk around you’ll notice everyone wearing a “side-arm” of bear spray. It kind of reminds you of the old west, but instead of six shooters, hikers have large canisters of pepper spray. Grizzly bears are in Glacier. Warning signs are everywhere and trail closures happen frequently. Bear spray is said to be more effective than a gun to stop an aggressive bear. Hey, if the rangers carry bear spray, it’s good enough for me. And I don’t want to be the odd man walking around without it!
If you’re planning to camp in the Apgar area, take note that it’s one of the busiest campgrounds. During peak season it fills around 10 am every day. Many people arriving at 10:01 are very disappointed to find this out.
We weren’t taking any chances. We left Whitefish at 5:30 am and were circling the campground loops by 6:30 waiting for early risers. Within 30 minutes we secured a site. As we set-up camp and had breakfast “rush hour” began and throughout the grounds people were swooping in to campsites that were vacated only moments before. No less than 5 people asked us when we were leaving while we ate.
When camping in Glacier there are reservation only and first-come-first-served campgrounds. If you’re doing first-come-first-served, check out the park’s website to find availability in all their campsites. It’s frequently updated and also tells what time the campground filled the day before. I suggest getting there early! You don’t want to be stuck out on the fringe of the park where private campgrounds could run you $50 to $60 a night.
We relaxed on the shore of Lake McDonald—a quick walk from the campsite. We enjoyed the water and amazing views of mountains to the east. Across the lake scars from the 2003 Robert fire can be seen. This fire burned 56,000 acres of the park and over 3,000 people were evacuated. The Robert fire, the Trapper fire, and 4 other massive blazes that summer burned 136,000 acres—13% of the park’s 1 million acres. Look out Game of Thrones, Glacier is the true Song of Ice and Fire.
The next day we braved the shuttle for a short ride to McDonald Lodge area, about 13 miles away on the north side of the lake. Built in 1913 this historic lodge was designed to continue the Swiss cottage style. It was established to attract guests searching for a destination with exceptional scenic views. Indeed they did! Before the Going to the Sun Road was built, the area was only accessible by boat from Apgar preceded by a 2 mile trip on a horse-drawn carriage. I wonder how long the wait for that was?
Hiking around this area got a little smelly. We didn’t realize one of the trails we planned to take doubled as a horse loop. We prestigiously dubbed the trail the “poop loop.” Needles to say it was not our favorite hike on the trip.
Glacier National Park is one of the most spectacular places we’ve gone. It is a reminder of the amazing world we have and the importance of preserving it. What you see in Glacier today has been carved by ice and scarred by fire. The scars however do not take away from how amazingly beautiful this place is. They are just reminders that these mountains and forests were here way before there was a park. New forests will grow and be there after we are gone.
If you’ve been to Glacier you’re probably like me and already want to go back. If you haven’t, put it on your list. If it’s on your list, move it up! Unless another ice age occurs in the next ten years it may be only 15 years or less until the last glacier in Glacier is gone. Whether it’s budget travel like us or living large in the lodge you’ll be amazed at what Glacier has to offer. Plan your trip, bring your bear spray, prepare for hiking, and go!
If things don’t go as planned, that’s okay! Things happen. Tires go flat. Computers crash. Facial paralysis occurs. Roll with it. By the end of our stay my face was already showing slight improvements. We have a lot of mountain driving ahead of us and we are now that much safer with new brakes. The worst thing we could have done was quit and say this was too much. If things go wrong, it just makes the story better! 😉
Has anyone been to Glacier National Park? If yes, what was your favorite experience there?