Visiting Glacier

“Far away in northwestern Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain-peaks, lies an unmapped corner—the Crown of the Continent.”

George Bird Grinnell

Each time we visit a national park, I am always awestruck that our leaders had the foresight to protect these national beauties so that we could enjoy them for generations. The forest fires we’ve had this summer serve as a reminder as to how fragile and interconnected our environment is, as well as our personal responsibility to do our part to help protect them.

In reading about Glacier National Park, I learned that a glacier is a mass of ice so big it floats under its own weight. To be considered a glacier, a snow/ice melt has to be larger than 25 acres. In 2015, the last time that the glaciers were officially counted with satellite imaging, there were nearly two dozen left, down from 80-120 at the beginning of the century, depending on the source. Since that time, some may now be too small to be considered glaciers, according to the National Park Service.

Seeing a glacier up close, however, takes effort within the park!

We visited the park three days. From WhiteFish, the West Glacier entrance is only about a 30 minute drive. We have an annual national park pass, so getting in and out was a breeze. Luckily Steven also reserved a ticket for the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is the main road through the park. Because of the crowds, the park service implemented a certain number of passes to limit the number of cars within the park and keep motorists safe.

Hidden Lake – Logan’s Pass

I have to admit, I missed going to the park ranger educational sessions. The kids weren’t too interested this year, and with the crowds and covid, it was probably a good thing. I always learn so much from the rangers that I never would have known by just visiting.

Our first hike was at Logan’s Pass, where we saw mountain goats and marmots, and squirrels who wanted to share our lunch.

We weren’t able to hike all the way to the lake, because it was closed due to bear activity, so we stopped at the lookout. The view was a bit smoky, but it was a great warm up hike for us.

Avalanche Trail Hike

Avalanche Lake Trail is a half-day hike starting with the Trail of the Cedars then along the Avalanche Creek gorge. From there, the trail winds upwards through the forest for 2 miles to Avalanche lake. The lake is rimmed with steep cliffs on three sides with numerous cascading waterfalls. 

It’s about 6 miles round trip with many folks stopping nearly a half mile from the most beautiful points! We saw that the initial view was amazing, but that deeper into the trail, the color of the water changed, and the most stunning views were at the end of the trail, where we stopped for a picnic before heading back down.

Grinnell Glacier

The most intense hike we did was our third day in the park. We affectionately called it the Day of Dad, because Steven wanted to do the hike so badly. We drove 3 hours to West Glacier to access the trailhead, which of course means three hours back after the hike! The trail itself is in a section of the parks called Many Glaciers, which starts at the Many Glaciers Hotel. Park hotels begin booking a year in advance, so there was no chance for us to grab a night’s stay while we were there. It’s a historic hotel with an amazing view without a lot of fluff. If you want no internet connection and a week to recharge, this is your place!

Grinnell Glacier is perhaps the most famous glacier in the park, and it is accessed by a day’s hike. It has a 1,600 ft of elevation gain and is over 10 miles round trip. It’s considered “hard” by the park service, and we would have to agree! The hike took us nearly 5 hours.

There were more people on this trail than we anticipated. Typically East Glacier is less traveled because it’s more remote. We packed snacks and water, with me reading that there was potable water at the top of the mountain.

The views were amazing. We went under a waterfall and got wet, and had some really steep climbs.

We drank our water on the way up with the promise of potable water at the top for our breathtaking view of the glacier. Piper had fun on the snow, and Steven put his feet in the water. We ate lunch and were rewarded with M&M’s and gummy rings. There were melted ice floats in the water and the color was aqua!

But as much water as there was, we didn’t find any to drink…poor planning on my part. Folks were filtering water. We didn’t feel comfortable drinking the water in the glacier melt, but did drink some from the waterfall on the way back down, which tasted amazing.

We were excited to be able to take a boat for part of the hike to add in a little more fun, but the tickets were sold out, and the times didn’t align with our return. Instead we raced the boat back the 1.5 miles we would have saved, and won!

We had a great time in the park and drank our share of water when we returned! We stopped on the way home in Colombia Falls at WonderStone food truck and had awesome burritos and tacos. Perfect after a hard day’s work!


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