Friday, June 27, 2014

Montana & Wyoming - Part 1 Glacier National Park

This is the first in a three part series of our recent family trip to Montana and Wyoming.   Click here for Part 2 (Bozeman MT/Yellowstone) and click here for Part 3 (Grand Tetons National Park/Jackson WY).  It was an outstanding family vacation and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has been thinking about seeing this part of the country.


To quickly summarize the itinerary, we flew into Kalispell, Montana then drove to Glacier National Park and spent 3 nights there.  From there, we drove to Bozeman, MT and spent one night there.  Then drove to Yellowstone National Park and spent one night in West Yellowstone, MT.  Then we toured some more of Yellowstone and drove on to the Grand Tetons National Park and spent the last 3 nights in Jackson, WY, then flying home from there.  I'll get into more detail in each part below and subsequent posts.  Contact me here in the comments sections or privately if you're interested in more information.  

Our family has always had Montana and Wyoming on the vacation bucket list and we decided it was finally time to go check it out.  The National Parks were definitely tops on the list to visit, along with stops in the mountain towns of Bozeman and Jackson.  In doing our research, most of the folks we talked to said that if we had limited time (which we did - 9 days) to spend more time in Glacier and Grand Tetons National Parks and less time in Yellowstone.  After our trip, I would agree with that.  Although Yellowstone is very beautiful and you could spend a month there and still not see and do it all.  But that is a true statement for all the places we visited.  I would like to return to all these places we visited at some point again and spend more time on longer and higher elevation backcountry hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and skiing.

Mid June right after school let out was the only time we could make it happen this summer.  Good news is that means less crowds since July and August is the high season for those locations.  Bad news is its a roll of the dice with the weather.  We had it all - cold and warm weather, sun, clouds, wind, rain, and snow.  And the weather can change quickly there.  But we were prepared (dress in layers).

And the wildlife - wow.   Wildlife were everywhere.  Bears, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bison, elk, pronghorns, deer, and all the places we visited and some very close encounters.  We hunted them down with our cameras.  

Part 1 - Glacier National Park

One of the biggest features of Glacier National Park is Going To The Sun Road, a 50 mile road that cuts east/west through the middle of the park and has unbelievable views.  Its normally open between mid June and the end of September.  This year they had a lot of snow and most of Going To The Sun Road was still closed when we arrived.  We were only able to drive 15 miles of it out and back on the west side, after flying into Kalispell.  That meant we had to do an end around and drive an extra 2 hours to get to the Many Glacier Hotel on the east side of the park, our lodging for the first 3 nights.  On top of that, the two big trails (Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake trails) I had planned for our hiking in Many Glacier were still closed due to high snow and avalanche danger, and a bridge was out on one of the trails.  

So lesson learned - try to go to Glacier National Park in July or August if you want the full experience.  Despite that, there are many other hiking options and we were dressed for the first few cool days of cloudiness and rain.  With only 2 1/2 days and 3 nights in Glacier National Park, there was so much we didn't do, but we chose to spend most of that time in the Many Glacier area and it was gorgeous.  Following is a short video of the scenery in Glacier National Park, and pictures with commentary following that.  You can click on any picture to view it in large format and scroll through the set.  


The dining room at the Many Glacier Hotel

Morning rainbow, looking out at Mount Wilbur across Swiftcurrent Lake from the deck of the Many Glacier Hotel

One of the many moose we saw

This moose and her baby were seen daily across the lake from the hotel

The mountain goats - they blew me away with their ability to stand, walk, play, and live in the extremely high cliffs of the mountains

See them?

Those are giant waterfalls from the snow/glacier spring melt

a close - up

Getting our hiking on

Mountain goat and her baby very high up

That is straight down from where that mountain goat is standing on the cliff

Bighorn Sheep

Many Glacier Hotel, Mount Henkel behind it

Apikuni Falls, a nice hike to it

We saw three bears in the same day.  First, this "cinnamon" black bear.  Yep, black bears can have brown hair too.  We of course first thought it was a grizzly but other folks corrected us.  Grizzlies have humped shoulders, a more shoveled/scooped nose, and a different ear shape.

watch out for the mountain goats

The same cinnamon black bear up on the hill near the Many Glacier Hotel

When I was taking pictures of the cinnamon black bear, two more bears suddenly came walking out of the woods a lot closer to us.  What a surprise that was.

These are also brown hair black bears, although I'm still wondering about the one of the left (seen in the picture above).  Grizzly, brown bear, or black bear?  The one on the right is definitely a black bear (see 2 pics below), so would a grizzly or brown bear be hanging out with a black bear?

On the west side of the park, on our shortened Going To The Sun Road drive

Lake McDonald

Many Glacier Hotel

The Many Glacier Hotel rooms are old and very basic with classic claw foot tubs in the bathroom (no phone, no TV, no WiFi, etc)....just the way we like it.

The river flowing behind the Many Glacier Hotel from Swiftcurrent Lake into Lake Sheburne

The historic Many Glacier Hotel

One of our hikes - Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out to Bullhead Lake - 9 miles roundtrip (the next 14 pics)


Our lunch spot at Bullhead Lake

The first moose we saw - a young one just starting to grow his antlers just munching away right off the trail, but we almost walked right by and missed him

The deer were not afraid

Everyone was carrying bear spray

Another great view of the Many Glacier Hotel

The historic Many Glacier Hotel opened in 1915.  Back then, it was the epitome of luxury.  By today's standards, its certainly not.  But what it lacks in amenities it makes up for with its historical ambience, amazing scenery, and quick access to trails.   One of the best features of the hotel is the lobby, especially with the giant fireplace.  Everyone gathered here with drinks or coffee and their books or laptops/iPads since this was the only spot to get WiFi, which was extremely slow due to their poor satellite internet connection.

Lake Josephine

Hidden Falls

The hike up to Apikuni Falls

Swiftcurrent Lake as seen from the Many Glacier Hotel's deck and lobby

The open road leaving Glacier National Park and headed to Bozeman.  This is why they call it Big Sky country.  What a beautiful drive.