The Spanish word for mountain is Montaña. While driving through the state, however, that’s hardly how I’d describe what I saw. It wasn’t until we were just a few miles outside Glacier National Park that the mountains actually presented themselves. But, once we arrived, this section of the Rockies did not disappoint. Jagged peaks, glacial lakes, and abundance of wildlife made for an unforgettable trip.
Our time there was unforgettable but for a slightly different reason. On the drive up there seemed to be an almost faint campfire like smell that I mostly ignored. As it turned out, the wildfires of 2017 had not been kind to the northern and western portions of the US. The “campfire” I was smelling was actually a series of raging wildfires stretching from eastern Washington into Canada and on down into the park. Needless to say, this presented a slight problem. There was no way we were going to be able to hike through the heavily smoke filled forest. So, instead of hiking, we opted for a drive through the southern section park.
Going to the Sun Highway is touted as one of the most beautiful drives in the US…blah, blah, blah. Not to say that the views were spectacular but every park from California to Maine seems to have a similar claim. We did see a black bear along the way but aside from that, it wasn’t much different from your typical National Park highway. The one saving grace that day happened to be a small place just outside the park called Kips Beer Garden. I’m always on the hunt for little, out of the way spots that carry more weight with the locals than a “Joe Schmoe’s Tourist Trap” who recently earned their 2,698th positive review on Trip Advisor! Good for them. Show me a place with a local vibe and lively people (good food helps too) and that’s where I’ll be. After sampling a couple local beers, we decided to drive over to the trailhead and settle in for the night.
The next morning came with a 5:30am wakeup call. Tip: if you’re looking for the best way to avoid heavy crowds and maybe even see some wildlife, GET ON THE TRAIL EARLY! It may require an extra cup of coffee but if you’re willing to make the small sacrifice, you’ll be glad you did. When you’re outdoors, there’s a certain sense of peace and anticipation that the rising sun brings. In my opinion, this is the best way to start a day. No people, no noise, no email or cellphones, just a hot cup of coffee and the anticipation of the adventures that lie ahead.
If our first day was a bit of a bust because of the raging wildfires, then the hike to Grinnell Glacier more than compensated. Jagged skyline views replaced the smoke filled valleys. The burning trees below substituted for glacial lakes and tiny icebergs. The trek up offered two routes, one to Grinnell Lake and the other to the glacier. Being that neither Amanda nor myself had actually seen a glacier, the latter was definitely the route for us. I’m not sure that you can ever classify a 12-mile hike as “easy” but compared to what we’re used to in Colorado, it literally felt like an easy walk in the park. The trail never got overly steep and aside from a few tricky steps through a waterfall, it offers a great way to experience some amazing views and increasingly rare glaciers. Yes, the moose, bighorn sheep, waterfalls, wildflowers, and rumors of a grizzly sighting more than made up for yesterday’s misfortune. All in all, western Montana was what I had hoped it would be…wild, untamed, unpopulated, and full of adventure.