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.

How Beautiful Are the Feet

Romans 10:13-18 – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

2014-01-06 - How Beautiful Are the Feet (IMG_8226)Taking a break and enjoying the view after the long hike up to Iceberg LakeGlacier National Park, Montana.

Though the nature of my blog tends to focus on how God reveals himself to us through his creation, we also need to be reminded that we are called to a mission of evangelism.  As Jesus command his disciples in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation,” so too are we called to proclaim the gospel to the world.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is the good news, the gospel, that Christians have been blessed to know and believe.  It is also a message that needs to be shared in order for it to be effective.  Today’s passage reminds us that the only way others will hear of Christ, believe in him, and actually be able to call on his name and be saved, is if there are “preachers” who are sent.

When Paul writes about “those who preach the good news” I doubt that he is only referring to the ordained ministers who get up in front of a congregation every Sunday to preach a sermon.  I am certain that Christ’s imperative in Mark 16:15 to, “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel,” was not just a one-time command that applied only to the disciples.

As Christians we are all sent to proclaim, to preach, the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost world.  Our mission field could be as close as the house next door or as far away as “the ends of the world.”  The next person to “call on the name of the Lord” could be a co-worker in the cubicle across the hall or an orphan in some distant land.  But, whatever your calling may be, make sure that yours are some of those beautiful feet.

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

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

Splendor and Majesty Are Before Him

Psalm 96:1-6 – Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. 6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

2013-12-20 - Splendor and Majesty Are Before Him (IMG_8257)God’s splendor and majesty on display in an alpine meadow filled with summer wildflowers along the trail to Iceberg Lake.  Glacier National Park, Montana.

Many in our post-modern culture who hear the word idol immediately think of carved images of wood or stone, or statues cast in bronze, silver, or gold.  They see idols as nothing more than quaint artifacts from ages past when superstition and ignorance kept mankind from truly understanding the world around him.

To the modern-minded individual, science has solved countless problems and provided so many answers to how the earth, its creatures, and even the universe, function that there is really no further need for gods or religion.  “Maybe we don’t have all the answers,” they would say, “but we have already explained so much and are certainly on the road to discovering the rest if we can just have a little more time and money to do the research.”

Someone with a fairly basic science education seeing these alpine wildflowers could likely explain the general principles of photosynthesis and pollination.  And, with a more advanced education one could even explain the minutest details of the cellular structures and even the genetic makeup of each of these plants.

But, for most people looking at this scene, I suspect, their mind does not immediately turn to such dry, academic ponderings.  I believe that most people coming upon this scene would marvel at the splendor and majesty of the mountains, the vivid colors of the wildflowers, the green of the trees and grass, and the sheer magnificence of it all.  You see, one thing science cannot explain is beauty, nor can it explain why we have such feelings of awe and wonder when we are blessed to gaze upon such beauty as this.

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”  These words from Romans 1:22-23 capture well the essence of idolatry.  Quite simply it is the elevation of anything to the level of God.  Our modern idols may not be carved images of wood or stone, but they are idols just the same.  We have made an idol out of science, foolishly believing that there is no need for God since science has now explained it all.  We have even made an idol out of nature itself.

If you feel a sense of awe and wonder when you gaze upon the incredible world around you, it is a good thing.  You see, creation was designed with that purpose in mind, to point us to the one true God, our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.  He is calling out to you, if you would only pick up his Word and listen to his voice.

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

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

The Bear Shall Graze

Isaiah 11:6-76 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

2013-12-09 - The Bear Shall Graze (IMG_8271)Grizzly bear along the trail to Iceberg Lake.  Glacier National Park, Montana.

(Not my best photography, I’ll admit, but when you are thirty yards from a grizzly bear in the wild, you tend to forget about swapping lenses and adjusting camera settings)

Today’s passage from Isaiah sounds rather absurd to anyone who has hiked in grizzly country, even to those who have not, for that matter.  I suspect that a fear of large predators keeps many people from venturing very far into the wilderness of places like Glacier National Park.  This fear is not totally irrational, just read some of the precautions that hikers and backcountry campers are told to follow.

As beautiful as God’s creation and creatures are, most people understand that there are risks in the outdoors.  And, whether or not a person is aware of the Judeo-Christian concept of the fall, I think everyone will at least acknowledge there are dangers, suffering, and even death in our world.  We live in a fallen world, where everything is corrupted by sin.  As Romans 8:22 tells us, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

Faced with an understanding of the effects of the fall, the scenario described by Isaiah seems strange to us in two ways.  First, there is the very unusual behavior of the animals, not something you typically see on nature programs.  And, second there is this seemingly odd notion that “a little child shall lead them.”  Even for Christians it all sounds rather foreign, because we, too, know well the realities of life here on earth.  But, as Christians we are blessed to know who this little child is.  It is the same child, the predicted Messiah, written about in yesterday’s passage from Isaiah 9.

It is the Messiah whose coming we celebrate on Christmas, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It is only through his birth, perfect life, and undeserved death on the cross that these impossible sounding things become possible. It is only through his innocent blood shed on the cross that we will some-day be able to experience what we read about in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

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

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