…our adventure to Glacier National Park in summer 2016…
Our first night near Glacier National Park (GNP) was also our first experience “glamping” (glamorous camping), featuring a real bed, a cushy couch, clawfoot tub, and wood burning stove in a safari-style canvas tent. It was actually the most comfortable bed we had the entire trip (beating out indoor hotel beds!), and the wood-burning stove made for a very cozy space.
The next morning we fueled up on coffee and headed across GNP on the Going to the Sun Road — a scenic roadway with lots of overlooks and trails.
This park has SO MANY TRAILS. Seriously, we could stay for a whole summer and not get to them all. Over the next two days we did a few warm up hikes based out of Many Glacier to prepare us for our big backpacking trek.
Obligatory PSA: Climate change is real, y’all. And we are on a disastrous path. Glacier National Park is a dramatic example of the effects of climate change. In 1850, there were more than 150 glaciers in the park. Now there are only 25 glaciers left. Conservative models are predicting the GNP glaciers to be gone by 2030, and rangers told us it’s likely to happen in the next five years. So do your part. Try to consume less, waste less, and drive less (walk, bike, car pool, or take the bus). Put pressure on your Senators and Representatives (call or write a letter!) and other leaders to support the Clean Power Plan, end fossil fuel subsidies, and grow our clean energy economy. End PSA.
On the the main event: our six-day backcountry hike! A fun coincidence is that we started our backpacking trip in Glacier National Park on the 100th birthday of the National Park Service!
Here’s the birds-eye view of our backcountry itinerary.
- Day 1: Enter at Chief Mountain Trailhead and hike 10.3 miles along the Belly River Trail and the Stony Indian Trail to Glenns Lake Foot Campground.
- Day 2: Continue along Stony Indian Trail a mere 2.6 miles to Glenns Lake Head Campground; and then a 4.5 mile spur trail to Mokawanis Lake.
- Day 3: Hike 14.2 miles up 2,448 ft over Stoney Indian Pass and down 3,125 ft through the Waterton Valley to Goat Haunt Hiker Shelters.
- Day 4: Hike 6.3 miles up 1,055 ft on the Waterton Lake and Boulder Pass Trails to Lake Francis.
- Day 5: Hike 4.4 miles up 1,385 ft over the Brown Pass and the Continental Divide to Hole in the Wall campsite.
- Day 6: Hike 10.7 miles back down 2,440 ft to Goat Haunt and catch a 2pm boat to Canada to eat and shower!
One of these days is not like the others… more to come on that.
Bears are a big deal in GNP. Several of the trails we wanted to hike were closed for “bear frequenting” or “carcass on trail.” Bear spray is recommended when hiking anywhere in the park. When you are backcountry, there are strict rules for where and how you eat. When first entering the campsite you must take out your food immediately and hang it from a 20 foot pole in a weatherproof bag. The rangers told us to even put our toothpaste in the bag! All food-related activities (cooking, snacking, etc.) must occur in the designated food preparation area. No food is allowed in your tent area or anywhere else in the campsite.
We thankfully didn’t see any bears on the trail, though rangers told us there had been two bears and three cubs inside the food prep area of one of our campsites earlier in the day.
Since Day 2 only had us hop over a few miles to set up camp, we had the time and energy to go on a spur trail (without our 20 – 35lb packs, makes a big difference!) to check out Mokawanis Lake and an unexpectedly beautiful series of waterfalls. I’m obsessed with waterfalls, and this was one of the coolest I’ve seen. Deep red rocks and cascades for days! It was impossible to capture the epic-ness of this set of waterfalls with our dinky phone camera.
Day 3 was scheduled to be 14+ miles, and I’m not gonna lie — I had some anxiety about it even before we started. Not only was this our longest day, it was the day with the most incline (2,400ft) and decline (3,100 ft). Downhill is always rougher on my legs, knees, and feet, and with a 25lb pack I was feeling pretty exhausted. I may have burst into tears in mile 12 when Anthony briefly questioned if we had taken a wrong turn (we hadn’t).
But overall the views, especially on the way up to Stony Indian Pass, were stunning.
AND there were wild raspberries! And thimbleberries! And wild HUCKLEBERRIES. YUM! No wonder this is bear country. No joke — the best hiking comes with snacks! Also berry picking slowed Anthony down enough for me to keep up with him.
Night 3 we slept in a three-wall shelter near the Goat Haunt Ranger Station. It didn’t boast the grand views of our other campsites, but I was so relieved to be horizontal after 14 miles, I did not care.
It’s amazing how a good night’s sleep can really refresh you, and we continued our journey. And it’s a good thing, because the next two days proved to display some incredible scenery.
We got lucky and bagged Lake Francis Campground (my favorite of the route) for Night 4. This little gem hosts only two tent sites and has a private rock beach on a teal-water, alpine lake fed by a waterfall cascading down from the Dixon Glacier. Since I hadn’t showered for four days, I decided to take a polar plunge. IT. WAS. SO. COLD. But so amazing! I felt truly refreshed after my little dip in glacial runoff. And where else can you swim in this color water? Photos don’t do it justice.
Day 5 in the backcountry took us across the continental divide and past a few glaciers and multiple streams, cascades, and alpine lakes to the the Hole in the Wall Campground.
This campsite had the perfect panorama vantage point looking out across Thunderbird Mountain. That evening a crazy storm rolled in over the mountains and we watched the billowy clouds form and change and move as the sun set.
Day 6 we hiked 10.7 miles down from Hole in the Wall back to Goat Haunt just in time to catch a boat across Waterton Lake into Canada.
Glacier National Park is actually part of an International Peace Park, with protected land on both sides of the US-Canada border. The border is actually marked by a 20ft clearing and is apparently the longest stretch of undefended border in the world.
The funny thing is when you reach the other side of the lake in Canada, you are supposed to call Canadian Border Patrol to let them know you’ve arrived. Polite, eh?
The Canadian sister park to GNP is Waterton Lakes National Park. We had a lovely time recovering from our excursion in the main townsite, which had its own impressive sights and lots of delicious food (we had to recalibrate the calorie deficit somehow!).
Although we didn’t see bears on the backcountry trails (both a huge relief and disappointment), we did catch a few glimpses of some wildlife in the townsite — including a mama bear and cub!
One of the most striking landscapes in Waterton Lakes National Park was Red Rocks Canyon. Apparently you can swim there, but it was cold and rainy (which actually made for less crowds and better photos).
We drove back to Spokane through Alberta and northen Idaho, which ended up being quite a scenic route.
Our last night was spent at Northside School B&B in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. This B&B had scholastic details throughout — maps, desks, chalkboards, books, pencil drawings, and globes galore. The breakfast may have been the best part though: homemade huckleberry-stuffed french toast made by the owner, who had actually attended first grade in that very dining room. This may be the most charming B&B I’ve ever visited. And yes, I diagramed a sentence on the chalkboard 🙂
Overall, a fantastic adventure! National Parks are the best. While you are writing your congressperson about climate change measures, tell him or her to fund the parks!