St. Mary – Glacier

Beautiful site in a beautiful campground

We said a fond farewell to Canada, heading to the US border by crossing along Highway CA 2/US 89. Richard hopped out right after we got cleared with customs, which was an absolute nonissue. He rode the rest of the way to the campground while I went ahead and got set up. Our site was nice and private, with tall bushes all around for privacy and just enough of an opening above for solar to get through.

Topo maps are fun.

We took a walk through the campground to the Visitor Center and ran into a couple of traveling Altoistes from Quebec. Always fun to chat in Altoish. At the Visitor Center we got our bearings and some trail maps. We found out the most likely places to look for moose and got info about the other sections of Glacier NP nearby. The big attraction here is the Going to the Sun Road, for which we had a Red Car Tour reservation the next day. It was touch and go in terms of whether the road would open because they got hit with so much late season snow. In order to keep the limited parking at the top under control, they have instituted a limited reservation system to drive the road. If you’re staying in the campground or in the lodge, or if you have a tour booked, you’re automatically reserved. Otherwise, it’s first come first serve online and they do check before they let you go up.

Picturesque trails abound

It was actually hot, so we did an early dinner outside on the grill. This was the first time the grill has come out the entire summer, which was putting it precariously on the “do we take this with us next time” list. Narrow escape for dear blue grill, and the grilled cheese sandwiches with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and peppers in balsamic glaze were so good that we agreed it is safe again on the packing list. We tried, and failed, to locate moose on an early evening hike, but did find a cool historic ranger cabin.

And waterfalls are everywhere.

Our plan for the next day was to do a hike to St. Mary Falls before catching our afternoon Red Car tour. What we didn’t understand was how early the parking areas for the trailheads would fill up. We had to do a quick regroup and settle for another waterfall that was closer to an open parking area. Baring Falls is no slouch, and it was a perfectly pretty place to have lunch. We saw a funny little bird that we think is a Skipper, doing actual dives under the rapidly flowing river water. There were lots of people on the trail, but that was ok by me because it meant less chance of bears. We made it back in time to get ice cream before the Red Car tour.

Yay! I’m excited!

This was something I had wanted to do since the last time I was in Glacier. The cars are so distinctive and ubiquitous that one feels compelled to try it. We super lucked out at being accidentally scheduled on the first day they opened the GTTS road and we were excited. The one tiny minor drawback was the obvious weather system coming in over the mountains. The cars are made so that they can be fully open topped. That makes the views, and proximity to others, more appealing. Frank, the tour guide, acknowledged the horizon but laughed it off and said it was our lucky day and it would clear by the time we got there. He was only partly right.

Auspicious beginning

On our way up, we saw an obvious bear jam and made out a mature black bear way way up on a meadowy hillside. This was our first bear spotting at the recommended distance away from the bear. We slowly proceeded up the east side of the spectacular road as Frank gave us some history and pointed out views. One thing he missed that the Gypsy app told us was that this road, and the particular view of a tiny little island on St. Mary Lake, was used as the opening aerial shot in “The Shining.” I even kind of remember the family’s car going up the remote mountain road. That was this road, but there were no other shots from Glacier in the movie. So, there’s your trivia for the day.

Ruh roh

We continued along the narrow and winding road, with me being happy I wasn’t driving while consciously looking away from the cliffy drop-offs. It didn’t take long before we started to feel the rain. Putting the top up involves more than pushing a button. You have to stop and unroll a long canvas secured on top of the car, hooking bungee straps every few inches. We watched Frank undo the top before we set off, and there are very few decently sized pull outs along the road, so when he asked how we were all doing with a little bit of rain, we were unanimous in saying, “Keep going! We’ve got rain jackets.” We made it almost the whole way to the top, but it was coming down hard enough, and cold enough, that the kids in the car were not having it. I think most of us agreed with the kids that it was time. Once we arrived at the top, however, it had stopped. Not a soul asked for the top to be removed for the drive down. That was brisk.

You people know it’s July, right?

Logan Pass was cold and filled with snowbanks. Some people actually brought sleds and toboggans to get in a little winter fun in the middle of July. We spent a little while at the top before heading back down the east side. We were treated to two more bear jams, this time much closer. There was an adult Grizzly casually walking around, as well as a Brown Bear (I think) right along the side of the road. We also spotted Mr. Black, who had moved even farther away from the road. There were numerous waterfalls coming down the sides of the mountains. Some looked established and some looked temporary, either from the rain or snow melt. All made for a memorable afternoon tour.

Glacier does deliver on the bear front

As a way to stave off the FOMO from the hike we tried earlier, we decided to give the St. Mary Falls parking area another go after dinner. It would still be light out until around 10pm and a lot less people on the trails. I made a lovely chicken curry with mango chutney and garlic green beans, careful to close all doors and windows as we left so no bears could get in. Note for next time: this practice may make bear break ins more challenging, but it also really seals in the curry smell.

St. Mary Falls

Our hopes were realized, and we found parking at the trailhead. I will say, the trail to St. Mary Falls might be one of the prettiest hikes I’ve ever done. We were not completely alone, in that there was a family way up ahead of us and we saw a couple coming down the trail as we were leaving. The water is perfectly clear, and the falls are powerful and invigorating, and even better when you are the only ones there to watch from the bridge. The whole place is covered with wildflowers of all different shapes and colors. There is a third falls along the same trail, Virginia Falls, and we could see it, but opted out of going the additional mile to get to its base. It is all very WOW and well worth the evening effort.

Beautiful trail at sunset

I will admit I was nervous about bears here. We’d seen quite a few just wandering around and without as many people as deterrents, I made an effort to click my walking sticks forcefully with each step; my version of bear bells I guess. We talked loudly and I sometimes clapped my hands, saying, “Yay bears! Good job avoiding the humans, bears!” These are things they say you should do, and I’m a rule follower, so yeah, I clapped. The funny thing about the couple we saw on the way back was that the guy was carrying a big stick. We asked what the stick was for and he said his girlfriend heard a twig snap and she is afraid of bears. I said that was probably me banging my walking sticks because I’m terrified of bears. We all laughed, maybe a little louder than necessary. So the bears could hear us.

The Lodge at Many Glacier

The next day’s plan was for Richard to ride up and down the GTTS road in the morning, before joining up check out the area to the north: Many Glacier. I was still holding out hope for a moose sighting, but it just wasn’t to be. We did try walking around the little lakes by the Many Glacier Lodge, and apparently we just missed one! It was a gorgeous hike regardless. We stopped and looked at the campground there along the hike and it would make for a very nice camping spot some time. One major downside is that there is a stretch of the road, about three miles long, that is unpaved. Not sure why, but that makes bicycle logistics complicated.

Another beautiful Mountain Lake

As it was getting late in the day, and we were both feeling tired, we grabbed a dinner from the Lodge store. They had nice sandwiches and salads that we could eat while watching to see if any last-minute moose might be trying to swim in the lake. But I accepted defeat, for now, and we both crashed after three wonderful days in yet another national park.

What a gorgeous national park

On the whole, I think I prefer the east side of the park to the west. The one notable downside is that it was more difficult to figure out how to get my boat in the water. St. Mary’s doesn’t seem to allow small watercraft, and we needed to find an inspection location in order to put in at Many Glacier. I could have figured it out, but honestly, I was content to walk the trails. All this fun is exhausting! We will have a couple of chill traveling days coming up, and I think that will be dandy.

Total miles from River’s Edge: 76.6, 17.4 mpg, 1 hour 41 min. Site C115. No hookups. Some midday solar. Good cell for both of us. Good dump with potable water. Water spigots in loop but trash way far away. Rangers very strict about not leaving anything scented out. We saw then confiscating a whole campsite next to us.

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