Jim & Mary’s RV Park to Glacier Campground, West Glacier, Glacier National Park, MT
Friday, September 8, 2006 … 149 Camper Miles – Total 7,255
Sunny, hazy, high 70s
We got on the road by 8:30, continuing up US-93. We hit a few more miles of gravel-paved road construction and noted the heavy smoke haze over the Mission Range of the Rocky mountains. It was disappointing that we’d continue to be plagued by smoke at Glacier National Park.
A NOTE: Glacier National Park is actually part of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site. The site spans across our border with Canada and they were joined in 1932. Only one road traverses the park, the Going to the Sun Road. It has many entrances from its perimeter, though, you simply have to drive around the outside of the park to access many of the areas. Plants and animals from diverse climates come together, here. All the native carnivores survive here including wolves and black and grizzly bears. And, the park contains the headwaters of rivers that flow to the Pacific (Columbia), the Hudson Bay (Saskatchewan) and the Gulf of Mexico (Missouri). While many of the park’s glaciers have melted and most of the remaining ones are receding, the park is, by any measure, a spectacular place.
We took a site at Glacier Campground in West Glacier, just outside the western entrance to the park, and drove into the Apgar Visitor Center for an orientation to the park. We then drove just a few miles into the famous Going to the Sun Highway, the only road to cross the park, for a hike. We did the Trail of the Cedars and one linked to it, the Avalanche Lake Trail. Trail of the Cedars winds through spectacular virgin stands of hemlock and western red cedar. Most of the trail is actually a boardwalk through the boggy woods. The forest is quite old, determined to have last suffered a fire in the early 1500s! Growing conditions are good here and many of the trees are huge.
The Avalanche Lake Trail starts at the furthest part of the Cedars Trail Loop and first visits a beautiful, potholed waterfalls. Then it winds up along the fast flowing stream, finally opening onto spectacular a lake for which the trail is named. The lake is nestled in an impossibly steep valley and is fed from several melting glaciers out of view more than a mile higher than the lake. The water enters the lake from four waterfalls that are thin but hundreds of feet high. It is quite a sight. We walked to the end of the lake and enjoyed the nearer, but still distant, view of the falls.
Back at camp, we enjoyed a teriyaki stir-fry with turkey, cabbage, carrots and onions. What could be better?
Saturday, September 9, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 7,255
Low 50s, sunny with haze, high low 80s
The Going to Sun Road is said to be one of the most spectacular drives on the planet. We drove it two times this day, first to the Polebridge Merchantile Served Up Tasty Baked Goodseast, then returning to the west. We stopped at most of the overlook areas and walked several trails along the way. Highlights included Hidden Lake overlook, a trail that begins at the road’s high point at Logan Pass Visitor Center. The lake is beautiful and we even got to see mountain goats high on the surrounding mountains in the distance. Saint Mary’s Falls and Virginia Falls were striking as was Sun Rift Gorge, an arrow straight slot canyon with a fast-flowing stream.
At the east end of the drive, we drove into Saint Mary’s and had a bite to eat at cozy Park Café. Cute!
One of the neat features of the park is the “Big Red Touring Cars”. Years ago the park was equipped with large Ford touring cars that were used to transport visitors. After many years of use, they were in poor repair. However, the Ford Motor Company recently completely rebuilt them and they are back in service. It must be a huge fleet because you see them everywhere including the Going to the Sun Road. We didn’t measure, but we’re willing to bet that the 21 ft length limit on the “Road” was written to just barely accommodate them.
We won’t argue the “neatest drive on the planet” claim. It was really neat, and a bit scary. But we could only imagine what it must be like when the air is clear. Yeah, the forest fire smoke messed up all the long views. Our advice, do the park early in the season when the air is pretty much guaranteed to be clear.
Sunday, September 10, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 7,255
Clear and sunny, low 40s am to high of 80, still hazy
We started the day with an early breakfast at West Glacier Restaurant. While there, we met a couple who started the ranger volunteer program at the park. They are no longer active because of complications from a stroke suffered by the woman. But they still get together with volunteers and retain a keen sense of humor.
Today, we drove the outside-the-park North Fork Road to Polebridge then on to Bowman Lake. We hiked a trail that bordered the lake. The lake, itself, was beautiful and the trail was easy walking but it stayed too deep in the woods for good views of the lake and we got bored. So we turned around after a couple of miles and headed back out.
Along the way, we stopped at the Polebridge Mercantile. Polebridge is a tiny, quirky little settlement, reminding us of an old hippie commune gone legit. The Mercantile offers general merchandise but they mainly feature a wide range of excellent baked goodies. They even make a gluten free nut/fruit bar that Sandy could have. We bought and consumed those treasures on the wicker chairs on the front porch. Of course, the local dogs stopped by to beg for handouts.
Returning to West Glacier, we drove to nearby Coram for gas, groceries and a huckleberry shake. Then it was back to camp so Bill could work on the log while Sandy did laundry and went to Apgar Village to explore.