Before we left on our trip, I was so stressed about Glacier. A few days before we left I’d found out about the Reynolds Creek Fire, which eventually burned nearly five thousand acres and had closed part of the Going-to-the-Sun Road… and the campground we were supposed to be staying in the night of the 29th. I had a few contingency plans, but ultimately had no idea what we would do if they didn’t open the campground in time, not to mention the fact that I had planned essentially our entire full day in the park around driving the road.
But, we pressed onward and headed to the park anyway, hoping to see what we could and just accept what we couldn’t. There was still a reasonable part of the road we could drive and a few hikes we could do, even if our biggest hike of the day was in a part of the park that was closed. I’ll be honest and say that it was really hard for me to have a positive outlook on this part of the trip, especially after an electric cooler mishap (no one’s fault, more of an accident than anything) spoiled the vast majority of the food that Brady and I had brought on the trip. (And we were super poor and couldn’t really afford to replace all of it… so I was pretty upset.) We pulled into West Glacier and all I really wanted to do was set up our tent, inflate our bed, and go to sleep. That’s honestly essentially what we did, after a nice relaxing campfire, and I will say that going to bed a little early definitely helped me wake up in a better place.
Our campground the first night was beautiful, and it was pleasant to wake up, heat our breakfast over the fire, and head out for the morning. My spirits were definitely lifted when we heard from a ranger passing through camp that St Mary Campground (where we were scheduled to spend the night) had opened that morning. The road wasn’t all the way open, which definitely complicated things, but we would still explore as much as we could.
First on the docket was a little stop at Lake McDonald, with a quick hike at McDonald Creek. The cedar forest was a biome I haven’t experienced much, and I told Brady several times that I couldn’t believe it had taken us so long to get to Glacier, and that we needed to return ASAP. I went to Glacier once when I was pretty little, and all I remember was seeing mountain goats (I think maybe at Logan Pass?), and taking this rad picture.
After that, we headed to the Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Creek hike. It was beautiful, but the highlight was definitely Avalanche Creek. All I wanted was an inner tube and some rope to play in that cool slot canyon!
When we’d arrived at the trailhead, the Going to the Sun Road was closed temporarily to uphill traffic, so we decided to play things a little bit by ear. We got down from our hike and right as we were coming out of the restrooms the road opened! We booked it to the cars and got in line and headed up the road.
They say the road is one of the highlights of the park, and boy are they right!! Oh my goodness. It’s so gorgeous. The views are flippin’ unreal. They only opened the road to Logan Pass, which was better than we’d hoped (but still a huge bummer, since it meant we’d have to drive back down and then out and around the park for a two hour detour to St Mary, rather than just driving straight through).
After the exciting bear encounter, it was off on our long circumnavigation of the park. And let me tell you… it was LONG. And parts of that road (Highway 89, which incidentally runs pretty much right past our house, haha) were beyond sketchy. It was definitely an adventure and we saw parts of Montana that I’m pretty sure the vast majority of the population never see. But I was happy to have a place to spend the night, and with hot showers! Even though we didn’t get to do the hike I had been most excited about (St Mary and Virginia Falls), we still had a blast, and I still am so incredibly grateful to the efforts of the firefighters who were able to contain the fire enough to reopen the St Mary area. They are genuinely the biggest heroes in the world- I cannot imagine anything much more miserable than being a wildland firefighter with an 80-pound pack on your back, roasting to death and trying to contain one of the most unstoppable forces of nature on earth. Seriously, those men and women deserve everything they earn and far more. It was pretty eerie to drive into the east side of the park and see all of the smoke (and how deserted it was). The turnoff to the campground was probably a hundred feet from where they closed the road. It was seriously intense.
After hot showers, a good night’s sleep, and a quick visit to the visitor center (and the post office in Babb to get Brady’s passport, which arrived after we left and our friend mailed it to us… she’s a SAINT), it was off to Canada (on our first wedding anniversary)! …and eventually our next American park, North Cascades.
Our Glacier National Park “Must Do”:
Besides the completely obvious Going to the Sun Road, our must do is Avalanche Creek! A small geographic area that packs a huge punch for beauty and exploration. Absolutely not to be missed!