If you’re like me, you’ve had serious FOMO when perusing through instagram’s #hiking #mountainlife #nationalparks on your lunch break from your fluorescent-lit cubicle, wondering when you will accrue enough PTO to take your next adventure. When you do though, you should seriously consider putting that time towards a Glacier National Park trip.
Travel & Lodging // Getting to Montana by any other form of transportation than driving can be tricky. I highly recommend signing up for an Alaska credit card which provides an annual $99 companion fare. Alaska has a small puddle-jumper plane which takes you from Seattle to Kalispell, MT which is a short drive to Whitefish and the GNP entrance. If you’re like most people who head off into national parks to explore and spend the day hiking, you’ll want to camp. If you’re like me and my boyfriend, you may prefer a hot shower, a real bathroom and a plush bed (sorry, not sorry). We chose to take the Air BnB route, which my go-to for any domestic or international travel, and stayed in Columbia Falls. We found this extremely convenient as it was half-way between the quaint town of Whitefish (dinner, drinks, shopping) and the park entrance.
Getting started // By the time our four day trip had concluded, we had our routine down to a science. Wake up around 6:30am (I know what you’re thinking, yes we missed the sunrise, but I’ll remind you, despite this being an active trip, it is still my vacation) and head straight to Montana Coffee Traders for a quick breakfast, coffee and some conveniently pre-packed, but delish sandwiches for our mid-afternoon lunch overlooking a vast ravine. I’m not a hiking or trail expert, so I won’t attempt to go there, but I will tell you the highlights of my experience. We were in the park by 8am each day and on the trails shortly thereafter. I would suggest taking at least 2 days to simply cover the Going-The-Sun Road, as only allocating one day won’t allow you to get out and explore.
Hiking // Hands down, the best experience was our 6 hour hike on the Highline Trail. For those of you who have done this hike (correctly) you will wonder how on earth we did the entire hike in such a short amount of time. For those of you who have not hiked this trail, you are also wondering why in the world one would contemplate venturing out on this long of a hike. We did not go the entire length of the trail, which eventually will drop you at Grinnell Glacier and allows for overnight camping, due to a plethora of factors. The first being, the trail was shut down for the first few hours of the day due to a grizzly and her cubs. The second being, the winds were extreme and the trail requires you scale a portion of a wall (no wider than a few feet in width) by hanging onto a cable. The third, being that it was late September and freezing. Sound fun yet? The views on this trail are literally, TO DIE FOR. Like you could possible die if you slipped, as mentioned previously. The vast ravines, the sweeping backdrop of endless miles of mountain tops and the fresh air at 7,300 feet will make everything in your life disappear. Except for your hiking partner in crime, as I do not recommend doing this trail alone if you are a “casual hiker”, such as myself. We hiked out to the steepest point, then turned around once we reached this crest. The trail continues to the Grinnell Glacier overlook on the backside of the mountain.
My second favorite hike takes off from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead wrapping around the north-eastern shoreline of Swiftcurrent lake and onward to Lake Josephine before arriving at Grinnell Glacier Lake. This trail is fairly flat, and picturesque. I recommend parking at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. This parking lot serves as a wonderful home base for various levels of hiking and numerous trails. Beware this is Moose country. We know this for certain as we came within 10 feet of a female moose and her babies. I’ve never felt my legs crumble beneath me and my heart race faster. The last time I encountered a moose was from a small plane above northern Minnesota and the time before that I was in a small car with my friends heading up to a cabin at midnight. This time there was nothing between us. I froze, my boyfriend gently grabbed my shoulders, turned me around and then proceeded to propel me forward and in the loudest whisper ever said, “GO, NOW, QUICKLY”. In hindsight we laughed because this moose never posed a threat. She simply continued to graze despite the eye piercing soul to soul connection I thought we had made. In order to attempt to avoid these encounters, I would suggest taking the east side of Lake Josephine. If you are looking for moose, take the west shore. Once you arrive at the north end, you will be greeted by a small boat dock, and an antique looking outhouse with a moon carved into the door. There is a picture-perfect spot at the footbridge over a creek just beyond and a great place to sit for a moment and reflect. Not too far thereafter you will approach an open shoreline: Grinnell Glacier Lake. It is breathtaking year-round and you will want to spend some time here taking pics and soaking in the view. In total we spent 3 hours exploring, which included at least 20 minutes of backtracking after arriving at the blockade of moose; our attempt at taking the west shore of Lake Josephine back to the trail head.
Hidden Lake Overlook – easy + great views
St. Mary Falls – short hike to an incredible view point at the falls. If you have it in you, continue up the mountain to Virginia Falls, a breath taking, 50-foot waterfall.
The After Party // You’ve hiked all day, you’re exhausted, you’ve earned it (what I tell myself every day after work). It’s time to kick up your dirty hiking boots and sip on a cocktail or beer at the Lake McDonald Lodge, near the park’s west entrance. You can take your drink to the back of the lodge and sit at the water’s edge. It’s a perfect end to a great day.
Next, sip on some locally distilled spirits at my favorite watering hole just outside the park’s west entrance in Columbia Falls: Glacier Distilling Co. The place appears to be a roadside general store upon passing, but inside is a bountiful supply of gin, bourbon, whisky, brandy, vodka and other liquors. Montana is know for the flavors of Huckleberry and this place provides in the best form since the scone, GIN! They have a cocktail bar inside and also offer tasters if you prefer your booze straight. Montana liquor license only allow 1 oz shots though, so be prepared to head out for your next post-hike libation.
Whitefish is home to year-round outdoor adventures and is the closest modernized town for your après–ski/hike entertainment. I suggest getting dinner here and if you’re lucky, catching some local musicians in one of the breweries. Bonsai Brewing and Buffalo Cafe, a traditional, no-fuss, beef stroganoff kind-of diner, were on our list.
Have fun, take lots of pictures, a few deep breaths and some bear spray 🐻