Vacation Learning: Glacier National Park

DSC_5622We are coming off a fabulous week.  After several months in the planning stage we finally took our trip to Glacier National Park.

IMG_1939As the time for our trip got closer and closer we had to consider alternate plans due to wildfires in the park and surrounding area.  While the fires were no longer burning in the park, the air quality was extremely poor due to nearby fires.  We decided to hope the rain in the forecast would materialize and stick to our plan.  Flying in on Saturday,  the mountains were covered in smoke and we could even see some areas smoldering.  It was a very sobering to see the enormity of the wildfires.

Lake McDonald Smoky vs. clearOur first day the air had a campfire quality to it.  Thankfully for everyone, rains moved in and the air cleared.   The above pictures show the difference in air quality between Saturday (8/29) and Tuesday (9/1).

Hidden Lake Trail BoardwalkI absolutely love visiting the mountains.  Pictures and documentaries can never give you anything close to the full experience.  The vastness of it all is so impossible to capture.

High Ropes CollageWhile we spent most of our time in the park we did take a day to do “fun touristy stuff”.  I put that in quotes because my family considers a high ropes course fun.   A long time ago I heard a psychologist say, “Shared adversity strengthens relationships.”  I decided to view the high ropes course as a chance to strengthen my relationship with my family – although I’m not sure it counts if they aren’t facing adversity.  I happen to think it is a positive thing for the kids to see me get outside of my comfort zone and do things I’m not particularly good at. The ropes course had 4 levels of difficulty and the course rules said no one under 13 on the most difficult level so the boys and I did levels 1-3.  The beginner courses were actually somewhat fun.  E did the level 3 course with his dad and they had a good time.  C and I found the level 3 course more challenging.  We would have taken the chicken exit, if one had been offered, instead we ended up feeling proud of ourselves for completing the  course.

Swiftcurrent Lake Many Glacier HotelOne day we hiked around Swiftcurrent Lake.  The Many Glacier Hotel is located along the shore and there are beautiful vistas all around the lake.   As we were hiking back the tour boat went past.   It was our first day hiking at altitude and while we faired okay for the hike we did, it was obvious the much longer hike I wanted to do wasn’t going to happen when combined with the car trip to get to the east side of the park.

DSC_5668The next day we took a chance to rest and just enjoy Lake McDonald.  Even though the winds were blowing well in excess of 20 mph most of the time the boys still enjoyed playing at the edge of the water.

Lake McDonaldWe drove around the lake to Apgar Village and it was apparent why this vantage point is such an iconic representation of Glacier Park.  It is very near the west entrance, within a few yards of a parking lot, and stunningly beautiful.

DSC_5761Once we were acclimated to the climate and understood how we needed to prepare for hikes, we decided to explore a section of the Highline Trial from Logan Pass.  When my husband mentioned the trail passed above Going to the Sun Road and a chain was provided as a handhold along the narrow passage,  I nearly refused to go.  Fortunately I knew it was probably our best chance to see a pika. Pikas are adorable little creatures that only live high in the mountains.  All summer long they gather plant materials and dry them in little hay piles.  They are lagamorphs, like rabbits and hares, and they happen to be C’s favorite animal.

IMG_2014That’s me inching my way along the Highline Trail.  See the road down below?  Thankfully that part of the trail was reasonably short.

Hidden Lake Glacier National ParkWe kept our hike along the Highline trail to a couple of hours so we could have a quick lunch in the car then hike the Hidden Lake trail on the other side of the Logan Pass.  It was a steep climb up boardwalk stairs but the views of Hidden Lake were truly gorgeous.

DSC_5798We all had a good laugh when a ground squirrel ran right up to E.  While entertaining it was a reminder that people do feed them, which is detrimental to their survival as the small creatures sometimes fail to store food for winter.

DSC_5861Another day we hiked to Avalanche Lake.  The highlight of the day was seeing a bear at the shore of the lake.

Chipmunk feeding on berriesWe also saw loads of chipmunks along the trail.

IMG_2047Our rental cabin was very comfortable and homey.  The owners live next door and their Labrador would come over and play with the boys every night.  Our last night, Jake, the rental dog, stopped their game of fetch to tree a black bear!  Quite a memory!

Bighorn sheepTips for traveling to Glacier:

I was making our reservations about nine months in advance so I wasn’t able to piece together a cohesive in park stay and opted for a cabin outside the park.  Most of the available lodging outside the park is on the west side which makes for a LONG drive to the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas.  I wish I had been able to split our stay between the east and west sides of the park.  On the other had it was very nice to have a large cabin outside the park.

We opted for a fall trip due to scheduling, which made it easier to determine glacier versus seasonal snow, but we didn’t have views of snow capped mountains.

Good outdoor clothes that layer are a must.

Hope you enjoyed all the pictures!

(Special thanks to my husband who does almost all the photography when we are on vacation.)

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