Chad and I drove to Whitefish, Montana to meet up with my sister, Julie, her husband, John, and their kids, Jack and Erin, for a quick summer trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana. It comprises more than one million acres of forests, mountains (subranges of the Rockies), alpine meadows, lakes, and of course some glaciers with more than 700 miles of trails.
You could spend weeks, months even, exploring the many lakes and trails of Glacier National Park, but if you only have a few days, here are some spots to visit within the park:
9:30 am: We drove from our hotel (the Lodge at Whitefish Lake) to the west side of Glacier National Park (going through the town of West Glacier).
Our morning destination was the Lake McDonald Lodge.
We had reserved tickets on the Glacier Park Boat Company’s boat tour of Lake McDonald.
11:00 am: Despite the gray and rainy skies that morning, we boarded the boat and Captain Chris began his tour, telling us about the history of the lake, the wildfires that had scorched the land and the various animals that make the lake and the surrounding area their home. (Sadly, as of this writing, a new wildfire has swept at least 1,000 acres of the park near St. Mary’s Lake. We hope it gets under control soon).
There were few boats on the lake this morning, given the gloomy weather, which gave the lake an even larger, vast presence.
John, Julie and I were sitting in the covered passenger area while Chad, Jack and Erin roamed to the top deck of the boat. Suddenly, Chad came down and told us “Jack has been driving this boat for the past ten minutes, you have to come and see!”
Sure enough, Jack – cool as a cucumber – was captaining the boat while Captain Chris continued his narration.
Later, Captain Chris gave Erin a chance at the wheel.
Both kids did an excellent job skippering. No animals (or humans) were hurt during their time at the wheel and no crashes occurred!
And, we were fortunate enough to see some bald eagles flying about.
12:00 pm: After the boat tour, we had lunch at the Lake McDonald Lodge.
The lodge was built in 1913-1914, opened in June 1914, and today is a National Historic Landmark. We ate in Russell’s Fireside Dining Room at the lodge, which features local sustainable food.
It was delicious – particularly to Jack and Erin after their hard work skippering the boat!
1:30 pm: The skies were clearing and we drove up, up, up the Going-to-the-Sun Road (I now understand the name!) to the summit at Logan’s Pass. We drove…
We stopped in the Logan’s Pass Visitor Center to get our bearings and learn about nearby hikes.
Chad, Jack, and I hiked a portion of the Highline Trail. (Meanwhile, John, Julie and Erin hiked to the Hidden Lake Overlook). We took this group photo before splitting up.
The Highline Trail starts in a meadow across the street from the Logan’s Pass Visitor Center. Shortly after the meadow, we reached a steep ledge with a sheer cliff drop-off – not the best for anyone who fears heights. Thankfully, there is a hand-cable attached to the cliffside, so we made sure to hug the cliff and hold on the to the cable. This cable is made out of garden hose (oddly enough), but we were very happy it was there. Just past the ledge, the ridge trail continued past rocky and grassy areas – still with that steep drop-off.
Jack wasn’t wearing hiking shoes and we worried about slippery areas, so we decided to turn back and do another hike nearby. But we definitely recommend the Highline Trail for anyone who doesn’t fear heights – the views were outstanding!
7:30 pm: That night, we enjoyed Mexican food at Pescado Blanco in Whitefish, which was delicious. We first heard good things about this restaurant from one of our favorite shows Northwest Backroads, starring Grant Goodeve (of Eight is Enough fame). We figure if Grant likes it, we sure will and we were right!
We ended our evening sitting on the lakefront at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, enjoying the beautiful Montana sunset.
9:00 am: Our group enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Buffalo Cafe in downtown Whitefish. Huckleberries seem to be all the rage in this part of Montana, so I enjoyed the huckleberry pancakes.
10:00 am: Enticed by John’s photos of the many goats that congregate on the Hidden Lake Trail, Jack, Chad and I decided to do this hike today. The trail starts from the Logan’s Pass Visitor Center as an easy boardwalk trail to Hidden Lake Overlook (passing many beautiful, wonderful mountain goats on the way).
Past the overlook, the trail becomes a typical dirt trail which proceeds for another 1.5 miles down Clements Mountain to the beaches of Hidden Lake.
The trail down to the lake descends 770 feet – providing good exercise on the way up!
Once at the lake, Chad challenged Jack to join him in jumping into the alpine lake. (Chad has done this before (at Mount Baker’s Heather Meadows) – finding the cold waters refreshing.
I thankfully was not in swimming attire, but did go in the water up to my ankles).
It took Jack a little more time to ease into the crystal cold waters, but he did it and boy were we proud!
After their quick dip, we enjoyed a brief picnic on the beach and then tried our hand at skipping stones. I think Jack should sign up for the World Championship Contest of Stone Skipping – the kid really has some talent – some stones skipping as many as 16 times!
Chad was also a natural and I surprised myself by being not-so-bad either. It helped that there were many flat smooth rocks on the shore and the waters were calm.
That said, Chad later handed Jack a small boulder, which Jack was also able to skip – talent, I tell you!
We were joined by a few goats and even a deer down by the lake. Heaven.
After some summer fun at the lake, we made the journey back up the switchbacks of Clements Mountain, traversing the boardwalk again past the lovely goats towards the visitor center and back to our car.
3:00 pm: We rejoined John, Julie and Erin and the six of us enjoyed a scenic float ride/bbq dinner with Glacier Guides Inc. Montana Raft company.
While waiting for our tour time, we enjoyed some hulahoops on the Montana Raft company’s grounds. The family that hulahoops together, stays together – is our motto!
We drove in the raft company’s big blue bus to our put-in spot on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
The river was smooth and cool. The scenery with many rocky canyons was gorgeous.
Our captain – Captain Jeff – proved to be an excellent oarsman, tour guide, and bbqer. He also, it turns out, was once a professional diver and he showed us his diving skills when our boat reached Box Canyon.
Jack and Erin also jumped into the river to cool off. And once again the kids got a chance to steer the boat. Julie even took her turn at the oars – her childhood days at summer camp gave her excellent rowing skills!
The two-hour rafting trip was wonderful – very serene with just one or two Class II rapids – the rest very tranquil. We spotted other rafters, flyfisherpeople, and we saw a bald eagle soaring through the sky.
At the end of our rafting journey, we bused back to the Montana Raft company grounds, where Captain Jeff turned into Chef Jeff, while he laid out delicious appetizers and salads prepared by local restaurants and caterers and he barbequed up some salmon and steaks for our group. Everything was so delicious and for dessert we even enjoyed cheesecake with huckleberry sauce. Yum!
6:30 pm: We returned to the Lodge at Whitefish Lake for some fun in the pool and views of another amazing Montana sunset.
There is so much to do and enjoy in Glacier National Park and it is impossible to do all in such a brief visit, but it whet our appetites for more! In future trips, we hope to do some of the following:
- Hike Avalanche Lake – this relatively easy hike starts about 6 miles from the Lake McDonald Lodge. It begins on the ADA accessible Trail of the Cedars, past a pretty waterfall, ending at the lake.
- Kayak Two Medicine Lake. There are also kayak rentals at Apgar, Lake McDonald, and West Glacier.
- Visit Many Glacier Hotel (which turned 100 years old this year!) and hike to the Grinnell Glacier.
Have you been to Glacier National Park? What are some of your favorite activities in the park?