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.

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They Shall Become One Flesh

Genesis 2:23-25 – Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

2014-02-14 - They Shall Become One Flesh (IMG_7972)On our 10th anniversary trip at Virginia Falls, Glacier National Park, Montana.

Before the fall in the Garden of Eden becoming “one flesh” would have been an easy prospect.  The fall has affected all of all our relationships.  For marriages to work in the world after the fall, for us to truly “become one flesh” with our spouse now takes time, effort, and a commitment to each other, but most importantly it takes a commitment to keep Christ as the central focus in our lives.

Shared interests and friendship are also keys to keeping the love for one another alive and growing.  For my wife, Leah, and me that shared interest is hiking.  Our honeymoon, 5th anniversary, and 10th anniversary were all celebrated with hiking as the central theme, with many, wonderful, shared adventures in between, and God willing, many more to come.  Hiking and the outdoors may not be your “thing,” but do yourselves a favor and take the time to find something that you enjoy doing together as a couple.  It is sure to bring you closer with each passing year.

To the best wife and hiking partner a man could ever hope to have!

Happy Valentine’s Day Leah!

With Love,
Todd

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

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

The Wind Blows Where It Wishes

John 3:1-8 – Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

2014-01-31 - The Wind Blows Where It Wishes (IMG_8140)The wind-blown waters of Upper Two Medicine LakeGlacier National Park, Montana.

We cannot see the wind, but we can certainly see and feel its effects; and, when you are hiking in the mountains the wind can get rather chilly, even on a warm summer day.  On the particular August day that this photo was taken the temperatures were probably near 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but by the time we got to Upper Two Medicine Lake the wind coming down off the mountains was cold enough to warrant putting on a jacket.  Never underestimate the weather in the mountains.  Always be prepared and carry extra layers of clothing, even if it is warm when you are starting out on your hike.

Today’s passage from John’s gospel recounts a late night discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees.  Although Nicodemus seems to acknowledge Jesus’ authority, at least as “a teacher come from God,” he clearly does not understand, or does not want to understand, what Jesus is telling him when he says, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The term “born again” is not just some catchy phrase used by Christians; it is a real transformation that takes place in the hearts and minds of those who come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.  The term “born again” is often the subject of much debate, but there is another term also used to describe this transformation, that term is “regeneration,” found in Titus 3:4-7,

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Christ’s words in John 3:5 and Paul’s words in Titus 3:5 definitely appear to be describing the same process, “born of water and the Spirit,” and “by washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  In both passages it is clear that this process is not of the individual believer’s own doing, it is only by the action of the Holy Spirit that this transformation takes place.

How exactly this regeneration, or rebirth, happens is a mystery, and Christ basically tells us just that when he says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  We know that we cannot see the wind, but we certainly can see and feel its effects, so it is for those who have come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.

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

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

The High Mountains Are For the Wild Goats

Psalm 104:1, 18 1 Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty. 18 The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.

yyyy-mm-dd - The High Mountains Are For the Wild Goats (IMG_8388)Mountain goat along the Hidden Lake Overlook trail at Logan Pass. Glacier National Park, Montana.

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

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