Glacier National Park: Vast, Wild, and Wonderful

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Morning mountain reflection on the still waters of Swiftcurrent Lake in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park.

The vastness of Glacier National Park is incredible! Its beauty is impossible to capture in mere words, and photographs only partially convey the wonders we discovered in this amazing corner of God’s great creation. It really needs to be experienced in person to be fully comprehended!

Traveling to Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is located in northwestern Montana and borders Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) in the southwestern corner of the province of Alberta. If you plan to visit Canada bring your passport and do some research, so you know what items you are allowed to bring with you going into Canada, as well as returning to the US.

The closest airport is the aptly named Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana, about 30 miles from the western entrance of the park. Kalispell is also large enough that you can find any gear and supplies you might need for your adventure, at competitive prices. The tables and chart below will help orient you with the area, and also provide drive times and distances between major areas around the park, as well as to other airports in the region.

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When to Visit

While you can visit Glacier any time of year, keep in mind much of the park is inaccessible in the winter, and the season when all the roads are open is relatively short. Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only road that fully spans the interior of the park from east to west, typically opens in early July and closes in late October; but, I strongly urge you to check the NPS website regardless of when you plan to visit as construction and weather can influence that timing; for example, a portion of Going-to-the-Sun Road will be closed earlier than normal (late September) in 2015 due to construction.

Where to Stay

Whether you plan to stay in one of the grand old lodges, a rustic cabin, a front country campground, or do some backcountry camping, there are plenty of options available. The one common element, regardless of your choice, is the need to plan well in advance of your trip. The lodges book early; and, while there is a mix of reserved, as well as first-come-first-serve campsites, you want to know what to expect. Rather than going into great detail here I suggest starting your research at the following pages on the NPS website:

Camping: There are 13 campgrounds with over 1000 sites, which should keep my fellow Campstake users busy for many years posting photos and reviews!

Backcountry Camping: As with any national park, if you plan to go backpacking and backcountry camping many regulations apply and permits are required, so do your homework.

Lodging: There is a variety of lodging options in and around the park, though the prime months of July and August book up quickly, so make reservations as early as possible. We booked in January for a mid-August trip and could only find openings in the East Motel of the St. Mary Lodge & Resort. The room was quite expensive. It was clean and adequate, but very small with no frills! Remember you are paying for the location, and hopefully you haven’t traveled all this way just to sit around in your hotel room! The food and service were good and the stores appeared to have everything you might need at fairly reasonable prices, though we had stocked up in Kalispell before heading to the park, just in case.

Be Prepared

Glacier National Park is a vast wilderness and, depending on which trails you hike, the number of people you encounter can vary significantly. Even on the busiest trails we sometimes went a while without encountering other hikers. Also, do not expect to be able to use your cell phone to call for help as service fades quickly once you enter the park.

As with any mountain wilderness outing, you need to be equipped with proper clothing, gear, and supplies, including extra warm layers, raingear, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, some form of makeshift shelter, sufficient water and/or a way to purify water, food, first aid kit, flashlight or headlamp, whistle, emergency fire starting materials, and, finally, a good map and compass.

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Grizzly bear eating berries along the Iceberg Lake Trail.

This is also bear country, home to both grizzly and black bears. We saw several of both during our visit, most from the safety of our vehicle, though we did encounter one grizzly, about 30 yards away, while hiking the Iceberg Lake Trail. Read up on bear safety and heed the recommendations to not hike alone and have every adult carry bear spray. Also, if you are traveling by air, you cannot transport bear spray in either your carry-on or checked luggage, so you will need to purchase it upon arrival. I did some research when we took our trip and found a used sporting goods store in Kalispell, Replay Sports, where we were able to purchase bear spray for $25 a canister and return it for a $10 refund (2012 rates), assuming the canister was not discharged. Considering a canister of bear spray currently costs around $50, this is a good option to explore to save a bit of money.

Hiking

There are six major areas of the park including, Logan Pass, St. Mary Valley, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, Lake McDonald Valley, and Goat Haunt which is in the remote, northern end of the park. We did not do any hiking in the Lake McDonald Valley, though we did drive through on Going-to-the-Sun Road, but never even came close to Goat Haunt.

There is a great shuttle system with numerous stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road that is available at no extra cost. This is a convenient way to do some point-to-point hikes along Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is also a great way to get to Logan Pass without the concern of finding a parking spot; plus, you get to watch the scenery along the way rather than the road and other vehicles. Pay close attention to the shuttle times, though, especially later in the day, as you do not want to get stranded at the end of a long hike without a way back to your vehicle, except a long walk in the dark.

In all, we hiked about 45 miles over seven days and barely scratched the surface of the 740 miles of trails Glacier has to offer. As I said earlier mere words cannot do justice to this magnificent place, so I will provide only brief technical information about each hike and let the my photographs do the rest. All the trails we hiked were well marked so navigation was not difficult, though having good topographic maps does provide an added measure of confidence.

Highline Trail to Haystack Butte from the Logan Pass Visitor Center; 7.2 miles out-and-back; some ups and downs along the way with a sizeable climb at Haystack Butte.

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Bighorn sheep ram charging down the narrow Highline Trail and frightening hikers near Logan Pass.

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Indian paintbrushes with Haystack Butte in the background.

St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls from the St. Mary Falls trailhead (St. Mary Valley); 2.9 miles out-and-back; some minor ups and downs along the way with a moderate climb to get up to Virginia Falls.

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St. Mary Falls.

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Posing in front of Virginia Falls.

Siyeh Bend to St. Mary Falls from the Siyeh Bend/Piegan Pass trailhead on Going-to-the-Sun Road just east of Logan Pass; 5.0 miles one-way with a return trip via the park shuttle. There is about a mile of uphill hiking at the beginning of this route, but then it is all downhill except a brief, easy climb to the St. Mary Falls trailhead and shuttle stop at the end.

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Todd the Hiker at the Siyeh Bend trailhead. (Photo credit: Leah Nystrom)

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Deadwood Falls on Reynolds Creek in the St. Mary Valley.

Upper Two Medicine Lake from the Boat Landing on the west end of Two Medicine Lake; 4.6 miles out-and-back; this is a moderate uphill hike on the way to Upper Two Medicine Lake and downhill on the return. We chose to ride the boat out to the trailhead (for a fee); this is not required, though it is almost triple the distance if you choose to hike the whole route starting near the Two Medicine Visitor Center.

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The windblown waters of Upper Two Medicine Lake.

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I recommend a stop to see Running Eagle Falls on the way up to Two Medicine.

Iceberg Lake from the Many Glacier Visitor Center; 10 miles out-and-back; there is about a two thousand foot elevation gain on this hike, all uphill on the way out and all downhill on the way back. This is a tough hike so give yourself plenty of time, with margin built in to rest and take in the scenery at the top.

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Beargrass and the incredible mountain views along the Iceberg Lake Trail.

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Mountain meadow wildflowers with Iceberg Lake in the distance.

Grinnell Glacier from the Swiftcurrent trailhead (Many Glacier); 9.6 miles out-and-back; this is pretty much the same configuration as the Iceberg Lake hike, with about a two thousand foot elevation gain, all uphill on the way out and all downhill on the way back. This is another tough hike so, again, give yourself plenty of time to rest and take in the scenery at the top.

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Fireweed accents the view overlooking the sparkling blue waters of Grinnell Lake.

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Spectacular view from above Grinnell Glacier.

Hidden Lake Overlook from the Logan Pass Visitor Center; 2.6 miles out-and-back; this is a short and fairly easy hike, though it is all uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back.

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Enjoying the view from the Hidden Lake Overlook.

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Mountain goats in the snow above the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Our time in Glacier National Park was an amazing experience! The most difficult task I faced in writing this post was deciding which of the over 1000 photographs to include. I hope the ones I chose provide you with the inspiration to take a trip there yourself, you won’t regret it!

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No visit to Glacier National Park would be complete without a stop to snap a shot of the iconic St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island from the scenic overlook along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

New Page: Red River Gorge – Off-Trail

I have added a new page to Todd the Hiker titled “Red River Gorge – Off-Trail”. If you want to explore the backcountry of Red River Gorge this page will give you some tips to get started:

Take a look:  Red River Gorge – Off-Trail.

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© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014

For to Us a Child is Born

2nd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 9:6-7 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

2013-12-08 - For to Us a Child is Born (IMG_7069)Anticipating the sunrise on a cold March morning in the hills of eastern Ohio.  Pathfinder School property, near Jackson, Ohio.

If you have ever camped out in cold weather you know a little something about anticipation.  The dark hours of early morning, before even the faintest rays of sunshine begin to grace the eastern sky, seem endless.  There is certainly some trepidation knowing that you have to climb out of a warm sleeping bag into the freezing morning air.  But, there is also excitement for those good things you know await you, stoking the smoldering embers of last night’s fire back to a blaze by which to warm yourself, that first steaming cup of coffee, and, perhaps, a hot cinnamon roll baked in a Dutch oven over the coals.

Those in Isaiah’s time knew a lot about anticipation.  In fact, it would be many generations before the promised Messiah arrived.  Fortunately for us, we have the advantage of knowing how the story of the Messiah unfolds.  Advent is a time of waiting for Christmas, that day we have set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ.  But, as Christians, our real anticipation is for the coming of God’s eternal kingdom, that time when we can celebrate the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:9) with our Lord and Savior in heaven.  If a warm campfire, a steaming cup of coffee, and a hot cinnamon roll on a cold morning sound good, try to imagine what awaits us in heaven!

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.

The Most Valuable Pursuit of All

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Most of us have heard the term most valuable player, or MVP, in the context of the secular, sports world, and understand it as an honor bestowed upon individual athletes who excel in their chosen sport.  In 2011 the youth pastor at our church (North Cincinnati Community Church in Mason, Ohio) decided to take a different approach to summertime youth ministry.  Rather than offering one of the traditional Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs found in many churches across America, he chose to design a new program.  The name chosen for this program was MVP, which in this case stands for Most Valuable Pursuit.

The idea behind MVP Camp is to expose children to the gospel message through the arts (art, music, & ballet), athletics (baseball, basketball, football, soccer, & golf), and outdoor adventure (cool stuff like hiking, camping, orienteering, & roasting marshmallows over a campfire), activities pursued passionately by many in today’s society, Christian and non-Christian alike.  We teach the children skills in their chosen pursuit, and that these activities are wonderful gifts from God that should always be pursued with honor and excellence; but, ultimately, the Most Valuable Pursuit of all is a personal and life-long relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

At the start of each evening the children gather in the church sanctuary to hear an opening speaker who is a leader in one of the offered pursuits, and who is also a devoted follower of Christ, demonstrating that the pursuit of these activities can indeed be God honoring, and that Jesus is our Most Valuable Pursuit of all.  The children then disperse into smaller groups for instruction in their chosen activity for the remainder of the evening.  On Friday evening, the final night of the week long MVP Camp, we hold one large gathering where parents are invited to attend, along with their children, to learn about the week’s activities and hear a closing speaker’s testimony.

From the beginning of the MVP program I have been blessed to lead the camp’s outdoor adventure track.  I frequently tell others that I have just as much fun as (maybe even more than) the kids in my camp, and that serving Christ in this manner is a tremendous growth opportunity and blessing for me personally.  In the interest of keeping this post from getting too long I will save a more detailed description of my outdoor adventure camp activities for a future post.

In the first two years MVP Camp has been well received by those within our church and by those in the community around us.  We started big the first year, with around 150 children, and had nice growth in participation the second year, with nearly half of the children coming from outside our church both years.  We are now preparing for our third year and praying that the growth trend continues, despite a major road construction project limiting access to our church driveway.

By taking advantage of society’s fascination with sports and other extracurricular activities the hope is to attract a more diverse cross section of the community, particularly those who are un-churched and may shy away from the more traditional VBS offerings.  I believe this mission is being accomplished and that the gospel message is being proclaimed quite effectively through this ministry.

To God be the glory!!!

Yours in Christ,
Todd the Hiker

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.