One of the most attractive sightseeing that Montana has to offer, the Glacier National Park is the home of spectacular lakes, impressive alpine meadows, a paradise for hiking adventurers that are seeking solitude and wilderness. A summer weekend in the park is a must-do for everyone who enjoys traveling and discovering nature, as well as native American history.
I arrived in Whitefish Friday evening and it was already dark outside. The fresh air and clear sky convinced me that I had to spend the weekend in that area, so I checked in at the Garden Wall Inn. The first thing I enjoyed was the rustic aspect that the building had, with a beautiful and very well maintained garden, which made me feel as if I were in a fairytale. Entering the inn confirmed that the weekend had to be spent there, since the interior also had a traditional and warm touch. Once I got to my room, I found chocolate on my pillow, so I had to end the day with a smile.
Setting up for departure
I had my morning coffee at the inn, while checking the brochures and maps with the local area. I was advised to go and visit the Glacier National Park that was only 35 minutes away. On my visiting list I decided to add Lake McDonald Valley, Logan Pass, St. Mae Valley, North Fork, Goat Haunt, Many Glacier and Two Medicine, taking the Going-to-the-sun road and crossing the park. I had no idea that what followed was to become the most impressive journey that I have ever had.
I drove from Whitefish to the Glacier National Park for an hour. Because of the amazing view that the road had, I had to stop a few times to take pictures. I soon found out that the Going-to-the-sun road is included in the National Register of Historic Places and it is also a National Historic Civil Engineering landmark. People told me that in the area there still are people with native American ancestors that know the legends and the stories for every peak, every tree, every animal that lives in this natural park. From the most interesting activities that you can do here, history and nature are included, as well as photography, sightseeing and wildlife viewing.
The road to Heaven
I arrived at West Glacier. Here I entered the Going-to-the-sun road and started climbing the mountains through the forest, on this two-lane road crossing a green army of silent soldiers. The wind was the only one moving them, as if they were imprisoned and not allowed to leave, but in an area where they enjoyed staying. I could hear them telling the stories about their nature, their history, while breathing their clean air and refreshing my senses. I saw a sign towards Apgar Campground, but since I enjoyed my room at the Garden Wall Inn I drove further into the mountains.
On my left side I met a new friend that stayed with me for a long while : Lake McDonald. It was a pleasant company, seeing such a clean and blue water in the heart of Glacier National park. I arrived at the Lake McDonald Lodge so I decided to stop by and take some pictures of the Lake McDonald Valley. There was a boat on the lake, just down the lodge, so I took a 30 minute ride on the lake. All the pictures I have taken were useless compared to the real beauty of that valley. Time flew really fast so I got back in my car and went further through the Glacier National Park, wondering what other miracles I was about to see.
I soon arrived at the McDonald Falls, and I had to stop and listen to it. The water splashing the ground, the cold of the mountains and the clear water were such an extraordinary image that I didn’t want to leave. Then, I met the Sacred Dancing Cascade which I could actually compare to a Glacier National Park goddess dancing, not caring about anything and just living her moment. Going higher into the mountains, I reached the Logan Creek, which made me a little sad. Despite the fact that the river was pushing through the forest, a while back it took some trees with it, and I could see them crashed at the ground. However, there was a small wooden house on one side of the river, and the image made my soul increase of beauty, so I had to take a picture to immortalize the moment. Then the road started to go higher and higher, along the Alder Creek, up to the Weeping Wall where I had to stop again. The view was outstanding, you could see all the peaks, the valleys, the abysses, you could feel as if you were a god. I actually looked around to see a spot where I could build a house and move there for the rest of my life.
Once I arrived at the Logan Pass, I met a friendly man called Jack, who offered to guide me through the local places in the Glacier National Park, since he was doing an internship to learn more about tourism guidance. At first, he recommended to see the Visitor Center where I could admire a beautiful exhibition with local plants and animals. At that point I was very excited about going into the mountains and seeing the fauna and flora in their natural habitat, since the exhibition impressed me a lot. Seeing all the peaks scratching the sky made me think that they are giants sleeping and I really wanted to get closer to them, but Jack insisted on visiting other places since I wanted to see everything but there was no time left.
The Going-to-the-sun road is a 53 mile two-lane highway that crosses Logan Pass. It was finished and opened in 1933, climbing to 6700 feet altitude, being the only road that goes deep into the Glacier National Park mountains. It took me through places that I never thought they exist, images that I thought are only fiction and wonders of nature that I never believed in. The highway is so discrete that from a distance you would think it’s not even there. It’s very well integrated in the mountain and while you drive it you have the huge mountain on one side and on the other you can see the abyss. You can actually see the geological eras, since the peaks are rocky and icy while the bottoms are young and grassy. Far in the background I could see Saint Mary Lake, and in my head I could hear Forrest Gump saying : “Like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny. It looks like there were two skies, one on top of the other.”
We left Logan Pass and passed the Going-to-the-sun Mountain. It’s highness was overwhelming the road, as you wanted to look at it instead of driving. We passed it, running towards the Goat Mountain, which hided the Goat Lake. We had to hike by trail from the Rising Sun Auto Camp in order to see it closer, but the trip was worth it. I actually saw a mountain goat, white and powerful, exactly when it was reaching the lake to drink water. I always wanted to see an animal in its habitat and photograph it, so I took my camera and shot that image.
Getting back on the Going-to-the-sun highway, we discovered one of the most beautiful attractions that the Glacier National Park had to offer : Saint Mary Lake. The image that I had from Forrest Gump was now becoming true, and I was happy to have a new companion on my right side for another 9 miles. As I saw the blue and clean water, I was curious about having a bath, but Jack informed me that the water rarely rises above 50 °F and that it’s protected, since it has various species of trout. Here the Great Plains have settled a meeting point with the Rocky Mountains, and I could feel as if I were in a conference, with such a silent environment. We soon arrived the lakeside Sun Point where we stopped for a warm meal and from where Jack told me the local stories of every 9 peaks we could see. I found out that at the Rising Sun complex they offered boat tours on the lake and I was really interested in having a trip, so at 2 p.m. I jumped on the boat. For only $25 I had a 2 hour length tour, seeing the Sexton Glacier, Wild Goose Island, St. Mary falls, ancient forests and rugged cliffs.
The perfect way to end a day
When I got back to the car, Jack told me about a surprise that he had prepared for my visit and asked me to drive towards Many Glacier Hotel, on the east shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. I followed his instructions, and once we arrived there I found out that he had booked a table for us and some friends of his. We sat down and he started telling me about his relatives, about the fact that his ancestors used to live in the mountains and that he is a distant member of the Blackfoot tribe, one of the three oldest peoples in the Glacier National Park. Soon, two friends of his arrived at the table, dressed up in native American clothes, with bracelets and trinkets made out of wood or buffalo fangs. For almost four hours I was fascinated by the story of local tribes, local history and by the relationship that they had with the mountains. At 9 p.m. we went to the St Moritz room, where an amazing guy called David Walburn had a wonderful acoustic music show about the local stories and beliefs. After one hour and 15 minutes of listening to him I decided that one day I had to come back here and never leave again. You can actually see a promo video of him singing here.
As it was late in the evening, I had to get back to the Inn, since in the morning I had to leave that beautiful area. The trip back to Whitefish was dark and silent, but I kept thinking of the wonderful images that I had seen the entire day. Once I arrived at the hotel, a smile on my face told everyone what a wonderful day I had, so they also replied with a smile. Entering my room, I found the same chocolate bars on the pillow, so I started eating it, while moving all the photos on my hard drive and starting to work on my journal. One day, I will return in the Glacier National Park and I shall never leave!