Glacier National Park: scenery, summertime snow, and big-horned sheep

Today begins a series of blogs featuring our US National Parks. 
Here’s the first installment, an interview with Bernie, who loves Glacier National Park. 
Have questions?  I am here to help.  Email me here.
Bernie, welcome to the Tough Love Travel blog.   I hear you’re a Glacier NP expert, so tell us…
Q:  Did you know that people often confuse Glacier National Park with Glacier Bay National Park? 
A:  Yes, some people find it confusing, but I have visited Glacier National Park in Montana, for 3 different summer vacations!

Q:  Getting to our remote national parks is often a dilemma for the traveler.   How did you physically arrive at Glacier, and why did you choose this method?
A:  We flew in to Kalispell, MT, the closest airport to the park.   
This minimizes travel time (it’s only a half hour by car to the west entrance), but airline tickets to FCA can be expensive.
Q:  If you have only one overnight in the park (2 days, 1 night), where would you stay and what would you do?
A:  If you are the hiking sort, I would drive the Going To The Sun Road to the east side of the park (assuming you are coming from the west) and spend the night at the Many Glacier Hotel.  There are many beautiful day hikes in the area.  
boardwalk trail over tundra by pass

The famed road is a treat.  It bisects the park from west to east, covering 53 miles.  Allow 2-2.5 hours driving time, plus stops at viewing points along the way.  Stop at Logan Pass and hike a mile or two on the Hidden Lake trail or the Highline trail – both are flat and easy, and the views are stunning!  In the Many Glacier area, there are numerous trails – the Swiftcurrent Pass trail is virtually flat for the first 3-4 miles and passes two lakes along the way.  There is also the Iceberg Lake trail, a 9-mile out and back to a pristine, blue lake that actually has icebergs on it until early August!

down, down, down to Wonder Lake

trail down to Wonder Lake
If you’re not into hiking, you could stay at McDonald Lodge and take one of the red “jammer” bus tours.  The busses are fully restored 1930’s White busses.  They got the nickname “jammers” because the drivers were constantly jamming the gears going up and down the grades on the road.  They have modern engines and automatic transmissions nowadays, so the jamming factor is no more.  They have open tops so that you have an unobstructed view of the peaks as you ride along listening to the guide.  Blankets are provided, because even in the summer it can be chilly early in the morning in an open vehicle.
Q: What is the optimal length of time to spend at the park in your opinion?
A:  It depends on how much you like to hike.  If you are “road bound”, perhaps a day or two is fine.  But with only one road, yet over 700 miles of maintained trails, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise.  I go for a week.
Q:  Best wildlife viewing opportunity?
A:  The wildlife will best be encountered away from the road, which gets a lot of traffic.  On an 8 mile hike on the Highline trail from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet, I walked to within a few feet of a mule deer doe, saw a small herd of big horn sheep from a hundred yards, mountain goats, and hoary marmots.
Q:  Best of most unique meals/foods?
A:   Just about anything that comes off my backpacking stove is guaranteed to be “unique”.  

But for lodge guests, I’d suggest the dining rooms at McDonald Lodge or Many Glacier Hotel, which offer a varied menu similar to other national parks.  But honestly, you don’t come here for the food; the mountains are the star of the show.

Q:  Best photography shot?
A:  Probably the one of a mule deer buck sniffing the hand sanitizer at the door of the restroom at Granite Park Chalet.  He looks as if he is waiting to go in.  

But if you like landscape photography, just point the camera in any direction.
Q:  What problems have you encountered there?
I haven’t encountered a grizzly on the trail…yet, but if you spend much time in the back country, you need to take the usual precautions.
 Q:  I hear you think that Glacier NP is a rare find.  What is the rare find within Glacier NP?  (this can be a lodge, a trail, a moment, a program)
A:  That’s easy.  The two remaining chalets built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914 as part of an 8- or 9-chalet system, each one a day’s ride by horse apart, by which the early visitors used to experience the park.  The two that remain are the Sperry Chalet and the Granite Park Chalet.  

Sperry Chalet

Sperry can best be reached by the iconic 13.3-mile Gunsight Pass Trail, which begins at the Jackson Glacier Turnout on the Going To The Sun Road about half way between Logan Pass and the St. Mary Visitor Center. This trail is on any hikers bucket list.  It’s another 6.5 miles from the chalet down to McDonald Lodge via the Sperry trail.  Sperry Chalet is rustic, with no electricity, no heat, no showers.  But they provide dinner the night of your arrival, breakfast the next morning, and boxed lunch or the trail when you depart.

Granite Park is a similar set up, except that you have to bring your own food, which you cook in the kitchen there.  The best way to get there is by another of Glacier’s iconic trails, The Highline, which departs from Logan Pass and travels 7.5 miles along the Garden Wall all the way to Granite Park.  The ridge of the Garden Wall is the Continental Divide, and you have breathtaking views every step of the way.
Q:  Any words of warning, or wisdom, for the Glacier NP planner?
A:  Although Glacier is technically open year round, the road is not completely plowed clear of snow until late June or early July, and the higher elevation trails are not clear until then too.  So, the best time to visit is July-August better to assure full access to the park.  Because the season is so short and lodgings are relatively limited, PLAN EARLY if you intend to stay within the park.  Reservations typically open a year in advance and book up quickly.  Reservations for the two chalets open in October for the following season, and will completely book up within a few days.
The other thing is the weather.  Although daytime summer temperatures are usually comfortable, nights can be chilly, dipping into the low 40’s and upper 30’s at higher elevations (around 6500 ft.).  Bring rain gear and even a couple of items of warmer clothing.  You never know what kind of weather Glacier is capable of – in mid-June this year, they received 15-20 inches of snow above 6500 ft!

If you’re interested in National Park experiences, stay tuned to this Tough Love Travel blog over the next 10 days. 
Coming up:   Carlsbad Caverns,  Isle Royale, the Channel Islands, and Katmai!

Would you like to have the help of an expert? 
I’m Melanie Tucker, owner and chief travel designer at Tough Love Travel.

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