I’m sick and tired of folks asking…”Spritzler…what’s your fav, National Park. You’re a nature photographer…seen them all. So?”.
I can’t possibly begin to answer that. Each park is an individual snowflake, special, unique with features that set it apart…errr…Ok. It’s Glacier Dagdamit! There I said it.
But seriously folks, Glacier combines amazing lakes (with mountains prominently featured in the background …poetic aren’t I!), out of this world hiking and the opportunity to view this stuff in solitude. I love Yellowstone, but not seeing it with 1,000 of my closet friends. Did I mention waterfalls…Glacier has that too!
The trick is knowing when to visit (hint: fall, specifically mid-Sept the last week the park hotels are open) , being ready to hike a long long way (for the good stuff) and being on the trail at first light (to beat any others to the punch).
I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map (Dora the Explorer…dont you watch cartoons)?
Ok, Glacier has 4 main areas to explore. Lake McDonald to the West, Logan Pass, Many Glacier and Two Medicine. The first three areas are connected by the Going to the Sun Road, one of the countries most iconic (aka bomber!) drives.
The easiest way to access Glacier is by flying into Kalispell, the nearest airport (45 mins away). Your first entry into the park is Lake McDonald.
The lake area is beautiful, but probably only worth one day of your time.
The views continue to improve as you wind up the road!
Eventually, when you reach the top of the pass, pull into the parking lot and hike up to Hidden Lake (takes about 75 mins one way). There’s a pretty good chance you’ll see some bighorn sheep!
After returning from Hidden Lake, you’ll continue along the Going to the sun road now losing altitude, having crested the pass. Eventually you’ll arrivie at the Many Glacier Lodge. This is the epicenter for the park’s best hiking (plan to spend at least 3 days here). The hotel fills up fast, reserve wayyy in advance.
Swiftcurrent Lake sits immediately in front of the lodge.
Ok, enough talk, let’s get to hiking.
My favorite place to start: the trek up to Grinnell Lake. Actually, the best way to see the lake is to take the traverse that climbs above. As I mentioned before, start hiking about 20 minutes before sunrise. You’ll have the entire place to yourself and the lighting (for you photo bugs) will be spectacular as you ascend.
Pictured below left is the view about 30 minutes into the hike. Check out the fall colors (Woooooo!!!). Below right is one of the great viewpoints (there are about 100) as you traverse your way up the mountain.
Ok, day 2! You loved Grinnell lake and are ready for more Cowbell!
Your in for a double treat…you can either hike to Iceberg Lake (an awesome hike by itself…below left)…or you can combine with a hike to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Doing both hikes involves about 3,400 verticle feet of climbing (if you’re in shape do both….Wooooo!!!).
On your way back from Iceberg Lake, I strongly recommend you take a brief (1/4 mile) detour off the trail to visit Fishercap Lake.
Nice to look & NEWSFLASH: its a great place to view moose and deer feeding. The lake has a high salt content on its bottom and attracts all sorts of critters.
Ok, once you’ve exhausted the Many Glacier area, I strongly suggest you go down to visit Two Medicine. Along the route down there is a detour to hike to explore Virginia & St Mary’s Falls (map below left). The detour takes about 20 mins in and out. It’s well worth the effort….great hike.
Once you’ve completed the waterfall trek, then backtrack to route 89 and continue on to Two Medicine.
When you arrive at Two Medicine, the view is!!!!!…Yes I’m crushing it behind the lens. Hint: Want to get the reflection of the water and the cool rocks underneath the surface…two words: Polarizing Filter! Enough said.
Hiking options: you can enjoy the view or take one of several amazing hikes. My #1 favorite is the Pitamaken Loop. It’s 15.4 miles and takes you through some magnificent scenery and great climbing. Again…not for those who are out of shape. Start at first light….it’s an all-day event.
Other stuff in the park I haven’t yet mentioned? Yes, in the fall, the larch trees begin to turn yellow. This is typically in early October after the park concessions have all closed. If you’re lucky enough to stay in nearby Whitefish you have the opportunity to explore some amazing areas that are hitting peak color.
One of these it Bowman Lake. The drive to the lake is along a lousy 4 wheel drive dirt road. It’s a bitch to navigate (very bumpy) but the lake is amazing, particularly at sunset. Don’t attempt without 4WD!
Pictured below is a view along the drive in.
Along the route is the small outpost of Polebridge. There’s a great country store with A+ baked goods. Stop, check out, have an Elephant Ear.
We done yet? Not by a long shot. It’s a short drive up to Canada, the Waterton district and Banff/Lake Louise. If you can spare an extra 2-3 days (or more), I highly recommend tacking that on to your trip!
Pictured left is Mirror Lake on a hike high above Lake Louise.
My favorite park in the USA…like I said…it’s hard to say…can’t think of anywhere I like better!