Glacier National Park receives way more visitors than it can cope with. It’s tucked away at the most northern section of Montana, bordering Canada and should really be a pain in the butt to visit, yet the dramatic peaks have people driving cross country to get there. We arrived in the late afternoon and popped into the visitor center to find out the trail conditions. We ended up being served by a sweet man that literally must’ve been almost 100. He was totally on the ball still and clearly loved his job but he didn’t help us out much at all. He just had a speech prepared for every guest and warned everyone about bears, writing the three rules of bear awareness on our map “noise……noise…….noise” (it took a long time for those words to be put on paper with his arthritic hands). We really needed a ranger that had been on the trails recently as they usually give us the best advice, but we opted to just speed off and do an evening hike to Avalanche Lake. It was a 6 mile return hike and we plowed up without any stops while grabbing handfuls of trail mix to keep us going. The lake was beautiful, extremely shallow but crystal clear with a green tinge to it and dramatic mountains rising all around. Waterfalls gushed down the rocky slopes and the pointy peaks were reflected in the calm waters. The sun was shining when we arrived but soon after low lying clouds formed and drifted through the valley. As we walked along the shoreline we spotted a beaver diving for food and then swimming to the shore to gather some foliage. We didn’t get back to the van until 8:30pm and we were starving! It was very unusual of us to do a hike so late in the day but we had to as the main ‘Going To The Sun Road’ through the park that leads to Logan Pass really needs to be driven first thing in the morning as parking fills up by 8am. So if we hiked to Avalanche Lake the following morning we’d be too late to park at the pass.
We managed to free camp in a pull out right beside the noisy train tracks and then we woke at 6am to reenter the park. The forecast said clear blue skies but we drove through dense fog. As we climbed up the road the fog started to disperse and the vertical walls of mountains appeared all around us. The road switchbacked uphill and then we were blissfully driving above the clouds. The valleys below were filled with a thick layer of cloud and pointy peaks rose out the sides like a cake encircled with spiralled cream. The last time we drove this road there were wildfires nearby and smoke filled the sky so at least we could finally see it at it’s finest.
We stopped for breakfast at Logan Pass and then headed on the hike to Hidden Lake. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere on our last visit but now the ground was covered in snow. We even saw people hiking up mountains and skiing back down and some people wore snowshoes for the hike we were doing. The trail was easy though and it led us to a lovely overlook of the lake with a particular pyramid shaped peak rising behind it. Usually mountain goats hang around the path but we didn’t spot any this time – maybe because someone told us a grizzly bear had recently walked below the overlook.
We’d hoped to hike the parks legendary highline trail but it was closed due to dangerous ice bridges so we made the quick decision to head to Many Glaciers area to the north of the park. There’s native land around the park so free camping is very difficult and we figured we’d have to pay for a campground, but with them filling up so early we didn’t have long to get there and bag a place. Thankfully we got one of the last spots and paid up for two nights. As much as I hate paying to camp it felt quite nice having a base and a lot of trails led directly from the campground which saved us driving the horrendous pothole ridden entry road every day.
We opted for an afternoon trek up to the Grinnell Lake Overlook. We’d hiked it before but the views were incredible and worth a second visit. First we climbed up above Lake Josephine and then onto Grinnell which was the most amazing milky turquoise colour thanks to the glacier above. The wildflowers were blooming in this area as we were at a lower altitude to the pass so it made for a very colourful walk. There was bear activity right beside the trail with lots of dug up soil. In fact a lot of people we spoke to said they saw grizzlies on this trail but they must’ve been sleeping when we came through. The path was closed off from a point where a huge slab of ice covered the trail and caused hazardous conditions. It didn’t stop a mountain goat family from scaling it though.
The following morning we woke early to do the long hike to Cracker Lake. I actually spotted the lake on google earth due to its vibrant turquoise colour and found out we could hike the 20km in one day. The elevation change wasn’t much so it would be a steady but long trail. The sun was rising as we headed for the trailhead so we stopped for some photos of the mountains all lit up in the golden light and reflected in the still lake.
When we asked people about the trail to Cracker Lake we were continuously warned about grizzlies. Everyone said it went right through prime grizzly habitat and one lady said her friends did it and ended up spending two nights up a tree as a grizzly was below them and wouldn’t leave. It seemed like a bit of an exaggerated story though, unless it was 20+ years ago when no one else was on the trail. It was certainly a quiet hike though and we seemed to be the only people on the trail so we made plenty of noise to warn bears that we were coming through. The first mile or so was a muddy mess due to horse trekking and then we passed through many miles of dense forest. One section was horrible and narrow with a sort of overgrown jungle and we were a bit paranoid about bears but eventually, the bushes shrunk and the meadows opened up around us. Bright yellow Glacier Lilies were in full bloom along with many purple and pink flowers. The mountains were closing in around us as we approached the lake at the end of the valley and up on the steep slope across from us was a moose and her calf.
We finally reached the lake and it was as pretty as I’d expected. Sediment from the glacier gave it the milky opaqueness and it was a fabulous baby blue colour. We continued around the lake until we reached an outcrop above the water where we had lunch. A marmot was digging for food beside us and a few chipmunks tried to be sneaky and get some of our lunch, so it wasn’t the most relaxing picnic shooing them away but it was entertaining.
It was a long walk back and we didn’t see any wildlife until we were less than a kilometre from the car park. Craig said something with long legs ran across the path in front of him, too small for a deer or a cougar so we were unsure what it was. We figured it had ran away so we carefully continued along the trail and then heard a rustle in the bush beside us. It was a lynx (also called a bob cat) and it quickly moved away from us and then sat at eye level, beside a tree trunk and about two meters away from us. The gorgeous feline was just staring at us and we couldn’t believe our luck. I even had time to frantically change my camera lens and attempt a photo but it focused on a damn stick in front of it’s face and before I could attempt another photo a noisy couple walked by and scared him off. But we were so grateful to witness such a shy and elusive animal and have a close encounter with it. We’ve only seen three in all our travels and they are so beautiful; they look like a mix of domestic and wild African cat, with paws and legs too big for its body and cute spiky bits of fur poking up at the tips of its ears.
That seemed to be it for our good weather in Glacier, in fact we were lucky to get what we had as storms were on the forecast. We woke to them the next morning though with almost 1cm balls of hail falling hard onto our van. When it calmed down we heard a ranger clapping outside and quickly looked to see what was happening. We thought a bear was in the campground but it ended up being a moose and calf. The ranger actually had bear spray at the ready after his colleague was chased by a protective moose recently. We decided we would try one more hike and head to Iceberg Lake. More storms passed overhead as we headed up with roaring thunder and claps of lightning – I was paranoid about being electrocuted. Then the rain came and low lying clouds drifted around the base of the mountains. But it was a lovely open hike with great views down the valley and across the meadows. As the name suggested, the lake was filled with icebergs. We were standing in a natural amphitheater of steep mountains where the snow and ice was gradually slipping into the water. When we were almost back at the carpark we stopped for some water and an Asian couple said hello. Then they asked us how much further it was until Iceberg Lake and I almost spat my water out in shock. Suddenly I questioned where we were on the trail so I asked “you only just started the hike right…maybe 1km ago?” they said yes and I said “well you’ve got a hell of a way to go, your 1km into a 15.8km hike”.
Sadly it was time for us to not only leave Glacier National Park but to say goodbye to amazing America and cross back into Canada after three months travelling through the most incredible scenery in the world….We miss you already America!