"The mountains are calling and I must go" - John Muir
12.09.2013 - 17.09.2013 18 °C
As we fly over the mountains in Montana and land in the tiny airport in Kalispel, I am filled with nervous anticipation. Planning this part of our trip was the most difficult, not only due to the remoteness of Glacier National Park, but also due to the limited times of year that the Going-To-The-Sun Road (the only road through the park) is open. We originally had planned to visit GNP in early October, but I had to reshuffle our entire itinerary to ensure we went in early September, a couple of weeks before sections of the Going-To-The-Sun Road closed. This was also my first time planning a camping trip to a National Park, and after so much planning, research, and anticipation, it was exhilarating to have the adventure truly begin.
View of Kalispell from plane
We get in the car and I am nervous - we had maps, but they weren't exactly the city street maps we were used to. We were reliant on the GPS and thankfully Garmin got us to an Applebees (for Vinnie's token American road trip lunch), a supermarket, a camping store (for bear spray(!) and gas for cooking stove), and our campsite with no hassles. We ended up deciding on staying in KOA Kabins; our excuse being that we were backpacking around the US and didn't have room for tents. But really, because we were inexperienced campers (who are scared of bears) and cabins seemed the easier option.
Our West Glacier KOA Kabin
Our first KOA site was in West Glacier. The cabins were quaint - a little swing on the porch, picnic benches and fire pit out front, a double bed and single bed, electrical outlets, and a little heater. The bathrooms were clean and had hot water. I felt like we were excited school kids on our first night “camping”. First time using the camping stove, first time starting a campfire, first time making s’mores over a campfire
Inside our Kabin
Vinnie enjoying brekky
After reading about the tight curves Going-To-The-Sun Road, the way it hugs the mountains, and how in some spots you can look over the edge of the road, I was pretty nervous at the thought of driving it. I was amazed at the cyclists who were zooming up the mountains. The speed limit remains at 25 mph, which helped ease my nerves. The scenery is so spectacular that I spent most of my time in awe, and I quickly forgot about the scariness of the road. As I’m writing this now, and listening to a song we played a lot during our time in Glacier National Park, I wish I could teleport back to driving and take in more of the peace and tranquility of the views from the Going-To-The-Sun Road.
Cyclist on Going-to-the-Sun Road
We went to Logan Pass to ask a ranger for some tips on the trails we wanted to hike whilst in the Park. Greg, my dear friend and avid hiker, had provided me with suggested trails, and one of the West Glacier suggestions was the Highline Trail. We asked the ranger about this trail and her reaction told us she was skeptical of our ability to hike it; warning us of the bears and the narrow, steep, and difficult parts of the trail. I'm sure she meant well by warning us, but after her persuasion and skepticism, we were scared off and decided to do the Hidden Lake Trail as our first hike instead.
Hidden Lake was a good introduction to Glacier National Park. The hike down to the lake was 5.4 miles (8.7 kilometres) round trip. We found it relatively easy terrain, despite some hills. It was a slightly chilly day, but after hiking in the sun for an hour and a half, I was shedding off the layers. Along the trail we came across some marmots and mountain goats that I was really excited to see. They were unaware that humans were around and fascinated by them.
Happy mountain goat along Hidden Lake trail
Itchy marmot along Hidden Lake trail
After a quick lunch break with some amazing panoramic views of Hidden Lake and the surrounding mountains at the Hidden Lake Lookout, we continued along the trail that headed down to the lake. The trail beyond the lookout was more steep and uneven, and going down hill made my knees ache. Once we arrived, we set our packs down at a small, rocky beach, and enjoyed the calmness. The water was steel blue and perfectly still, reflecting everything around it. I didn’t want to leave! But after soaking as much of the tranquility in as possible, we made our way back, with high ambitions to give the Highline Trail a shot. We were a bit nervous after seeing the bear warning signs at the start of the Highline Trail, but we had our bear spray and knew that as long as we made a lot of noise to let bears know we were there, we would be fine. We weren’t even 15 minutes in when we were stopped by a ranger because there was a grizzly sighting not much further down on the trail. We were a bit bummed, but it worked out for the best because there was no way we would have been able to complete in a couple of hours the entire hike.
View from Hidden Lake Lookout
On our way back, we stopped by the shops at the entrance of West Glacier and enjoyed some ice cream. I don’t know if it was me being my relaxed-self after reconnecting with nature, but the people seemed so friendly! Also, as cheesy as it is, I think being immersed in the serenity, I felt more open, allowing Vinnie and I to have a really great D&M. It was a great day hiking the Hidden Lake Trail, and after completing it with ease, we gained a lot of confidence in our hiking ability and were keen to check out the Highline Trail the next day.