Flashpacking Yellowstone v.6: Visiting Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park river

We’ll be visiting Glacier National Park today, but… I think it’s safe to say I may have overdone it last night. I’m sure a combination of factors led to me feeling pretty poorly this morning (the altitude, a horrible but free Jaegermeister shot, drinking another high-percentage beer, etc.), but mostly, I probably just drank more than I should have.


A Six-Hour Drive Before Visiting Glacier National Park

I’ll spare you the finer details, but the good news was that we had a six hour drive ahead of us. That was fun. At least there was a gorgeous double-rainbow right outside our hotel on check-out to [sort of] cheer me up. (The finer details may or may not have involved me hugging the back of our rental car and vomiting in a convenient store/casino parking lot while a senior tour group bus pulled up. It’s not called “Global Debauchery” for nuthin’, folks.)

I’d finally started feeling like a normal human being again when we detoured through the Lewis and Clark National Forest on our way to Browning, a small town by the east entrance of Glacier National Park. We pulled over for a couple of photo opps here and there; aside from the wind, the only thing we could hear were coyotes yipping in the distance.

Rural Montana town

The Big Sky State

Continuing north, we left forested terrain and entered rolling farmlands. Normally, farmland would be fairly boring, but these views seemed to stretch for miles and miles, making Montana truly deserving of its “Big Sky” nickname. We passed a lot of tiny towns, some of which we didn’t see a single actual person in. This sort of added to the foreignness of the trip; we’re used to constant hustle and bustle.

Our hotel was on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, connected to a huge casino. The two establishments surely provided the vast majority of employment opportunities in the small town of 1,000. Outside the hotel doors, a friendly stray mama dog repeatedly approached us and then laid down, whimpering, when we didn’t pay her any mind. Hurts my heart, poor thing. We ordered pizza and got an early night, excited for the possibility of endless bear and mountain lion sightings the next day. Excited to finally be visiting Glacier National Park for a couple of days!

It seems the poor pup from the day before may have slept outside all night and excitedly approached us on check-out. Lucky for her, I’d grabbed a leftover piece of pizza and tore it into small pieces. Probably not the healthiest dog food, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. Someone told me that lots of people feed her and that an animal shelter regularly makes it rounds to pick up the stray dogs, so that’s good I guess. Maybe she’d have a warm place to stay soon enough.

Glacier National Park

Going-To-The-Sun Road While Visiting Glacier National Park

We began the crawl around winding roads to the St. Mary entrance of Glacier National Park. When we got there, the park ranger gave us a pamphlet on “roadside bears.” Very exciting indeed. We stopped into the visitor’s center to get the scoop on which entrances were open and exactly how bad the roads were and how far we could go on each. Some of them were still partially closed in May, which makes me wonder what Glacier in the winter is like!

We were able to go about halfway down Going-to-the-Sun Road before we had to turn around and head back due to closure. Unfortunately, we saw zero wildlife, but the scenery was particularly beautiful. (I thought bears were supposed to just walk right up to you on the road here. Roadside bears, right? Nope.) We headed north to Many Glacier Road; our book said this area was “teeming” with bears.

The road was a touch sketchy here, but not too bad. We made it all the way down and had to turn around at a campground. As we were turning, we saw an elk just hanging out by a picnic table. Several folks walking nearby didn’t even seem to notice its existence. After Many Glacier, we decided to drive Two Medicine Road, which was also purported to be a wildlife hotspot. These roads were really small and winding and it started to rain a little. Fortunately, it never got too terrible out. Again, saw no bears, but we did catch a bull moose behind a restroom stop. Big guy. Once again, a few hikers were in the immediate area and seemed to be oblivious.

Flathead National Forest

After driving every entrance on the east side of the park, we began the drive to our hotel; we had to drive all the way around the south border of the park since Going-to-the-Sun Road was closed in the middle. We were excited about this, though, because we got to drive through Flathead National Forest and Great Bear Wilderness Area. Still hope for more bear sightings, we figured. To no avail, but the trek was a beautiful highway that curved through mountains and along rivers.

We arrived at the Belton Chalet in West Glacier, which has a well-renowned restaurant on site. Came to find that the restaurant actually opened the day after we left, so that was a little disappointing. Got to walk a few yards down the road to a small diner for all our meals. The Chalet was really nice. There was no TV again, but the room and location was relaxing. It actually took some time to fall asleep because it was so, so quiet out.

We slept in for once and embarked on a tour of Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, which was partially open on the west entrance. Truthfully, the scenery, while never dull, was very much the same as the day before, though we did stop off and view all the recommended stops. A turquoise glacial river wound through the forest.

A Night in Kalispell Before Heading Home

We drove as far as we could on Going-to-the-Sun and turned around to head to Kalispell, where we’d spend a single night before flying back home. I’d actually booked the same hotel Jeff and I stayed at on our Pacific Northwest road trip; it’s a little reminiscent of “The Shining” inside, but is a historic building right in the middle of Kalispell’s tiny downtown. As with all trips, this one, too, must come to an end. …But that just means I get to start planning the next one!

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Cheers, Jordan