4 days in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park has everything you would come to expect in a popular National Park in the US - majestic snow capped mountains, crystal clear glacial lakes, vivacious streams cutting through canyons, vibrant waterfalls, charming forests of aspen, cedar, pine and fir trees, meadows and lush green valleys, along with deer, sheep and mountain goats happily grazing. But what made this Park really pretty and special is that all of this picturesque landscape is dotted with thousands of lovely and beautiful wildflowers ranging in colors from yellows, oranges, and reds to pinks, purples, lavenders, blues and whites. To say that I was simply blown away by the myriad flowers and their sublime beauty would be an understatement. If you were to ask me to imagine what a paradise looks like, I probably couldn't come up with a better visual. We have been to 25 National Parks in the US so far, and this probably is the prettiest of them all. 

On Day 1, we entered the Park around 6:15 am in the morning and headed directly to the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot. There are a couple of really popular hikes that begin at Logan Pass and we knew parking was going to be tight, especially with no shuttle buses in the Park and the East entrance being shut down due to COVID-19. We reached there by 7:15 am and after parking the car, we saw that the 'Hidden Lake Trail' we planned to do on Day 1 was partially closed due to bear activity. So we decided to go for the 'Highline Trail' until Glacier Park Chalet and back (which we originally planned for Day 2), which was a ~15 mile round-trip hike. 

There are tons of lovely flowers at the Logan Pass Visitor Center but it only gets better from here, whichever hike you take. 

The 'Highline Trail' cuts across the mountain and provides a great vantage point at all times to view the breathtaking valleys beneath you and the towering mountains above you. 

There was a bit of chill in the air and sprint in our legs that morning. The crowds began to thin down after the first mile or so. But the views just kept getting better with every mile.  

About an hour and 15 minutes later, we reached this huge open space surrounded by mountains on all sides. The air is fresh, the grass is dotted with flowers and you can see mountain goats climbing up and for some reason places like this always make me think of the Himalayan region. I have never been there but in my mind it is like a sacred place for any nature lover. I believe my journey will someday take me there and I know, weirdly, I will feel nostalgic then.

There are flowers along the trail and everywhere around you. My heart was filled with joy and I found myself exclaiming "This has to be the loveliest hike I have been on". 

In about 3 hours (around 10:30 am), we reached the Glacier Park Chalet which is 7.6 miles from the trail head. The path leading to the Chalet is covered with bright yellow flowers, the kind that can brighten up anybody's day and add beauty even to the mountains behind them. 

The sun just started hitting us, so we decided to take a good long break and have an early lunch there. The Chalet had restrooms and nice benches set up outside. We spent some more time amidst the yellow carpet of flowers on our way back; yes, it was hard to leave that place. 

On our way back, we contemplated if we want to take the ~1 mile side trail called Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail. It is quite steep (> 1,000 ft. elevation in a mile), but we decided to go for it. As a fellow hiker said "It is short but it's a bitch". It made us sweat and took nearly an hour, but when we reached the top, we all said "It was worth it". A picture perfect view of a glacial lake surrounded by glaciers, the kind that will melt your heart. Coming down wasn't easy either and we were quite glad to be back on the Highline Trail.

Now, it was past 1:30 pm and the sun was shining brightly. We have ~7 miles to go, which seemed much longer than it did on our way up. The last couple of miles became challenging as we ran out of water and the temperature hit 80s. But the flowers kept me smiling throughout. We reached the Parking lot around 6 pm and met this happy mountain goat a few minutes before that.

We ended up doing a total of 17+ miles, which was probably a bit much for Day 1. If the shuttle service were running, we could have continued forward from the Chalet for another 4.2 miles and reached the 'Loop' parking lot and taken the shuttle back to the Logan Pass, and it would have been a ~12 mile one-way hike instead. Either way, I absolutely loved the hike and would do it again (though not sure about the steep side trail). 

On Day 2, we reached the Avalanche Lake Trail head around 8:30 am and managed to grab the last parking spot. It is a ~5 mile round-trip hike through cedar forest next to a lively stream that carved through the rocks, and ends at a peaceful glacial lake surrounded by mountains. It was such a lovely and relaxing hike. The water stream brought so much freshness, energy and enthusiasm, the forest brought the shade and added to the earthiness and the charm while the lake brought so much peace and calm. We ate our lunch by the lake, took a short nap on our water-front rock that we managed to grab for an hour :)  We then spent some time dangling our feet and feeling the energy of the stream on our way back. 

We then got back on the "Going to the Sun" road and went all the way to Rising Sun boat dock, located on St. Mary Lake. This is the second largest lake in the Glacier National Park. We found a shaded spot and spent an hour by the lake watching the water sparkle under the sun rays and doing some yoga poses on slippery stones in the ice cold water. Just another thing to do on holidays :) 

On our way back, my husband spotted an easily accessible waterfall by the road. And I had to (yes, had to) stand beneath it and feel the force of the water on my shoulders and the rush of adrenaline in my veins. The water was so cold and it came with such force that it literally took my breath away for a few seconds. The fact that I didn't have a change of clothes or even a towel did not seem important. We only have to drive a couple more hours to get home and look normal, but isn't it for moments like these that we travel?

On Day 3, we were once again headed to Logan Pass to do the "Hidden Lake Trail." On our way, we stopped at this gorgeous spot to capture this picture. Only when we got off the car, did we see get to see these wonderful wildflowers in shades of purple that added a layer of exquisite beauty to the foothills that seemed to enhance the majesty of the mountains. We thought it can't possibly get better than this, but little did we know.

We reached Logan Pass around 10 am and it took about 20-30 minutes to find a parking spot this time. The Hidden Lake Trail is only open until the Hidden Lake Overlook like the last few days, which makes it a 2.7 miles round trip hike. But what a punch it packed in that magnificent mile and half. 

If you thought there were so many superlatives in this post already, please consider warned as you read the rest of this post. On this Trail, there was a cute wooden boardwalk leading to a mountain and a lake and on either side of the boardwalk, the picturesque landscape was blooming with flowers of all colors for as far as you can see. And there was a stream of water flowing across creating a sound that was so soothing. As I sat beside the flowing stream and looked around at the mountains, valleys and the flowers, the sight was so pretty that it almost made me cry that I couldn't stay there forever. It was so pretty that I wanted to set up a tent on the valley floor with my kindle and never leave. It was so pretty that we drove for 3 hours and parked a couple of miles away when we couldn't find parking and walked in rain to do the same hike again the very next day. 

There are lots of places on Earth that are awe inspiring and fascinating and so-hard-to-believe beautiful and we were lucky to be in a few places like that - Glaciers in Alaska, lava flow in Big Island and Yellowstone National Park come to mind instantly. And there are places that are jaw-droppingly beautiful such as Tormented Valley in British Columbia. And then there are places like the Hidden Lake Trail, which are neither as dramatic nor as mesmerizing or rare, yet evoke so many emotions with their unpretentious uncomplicated beauty that make you wonder if there could be prettier places on Earth. Hidden Lake Trail is probably the prettiest hike I have done so far.

By the time we reluctantly got back to the Parking lot, it was lunch time. So, we headed to the shores of Lake McDonald, the largest lake in Glacier National Park, to have lunch and celebrate my husband's birthday with a yummy chocolate almond cake that I carefully packed all the way from Phoenix. The cake was the best I ever made and after enjoying it by the lake, we headed to a remote area of the Park near Polebridge. 

Getting to Bowman Lake near the Western edge of the National Park was an adventure on a 6-mile dirt road that seemed never ending and a bit eerie with all the dust covered trees. Eventually, we found the lake and it was the most picturesque lake we have seen in the Park. 

We found a spot by the lake, spread our mats and spent a couple of hours reading and just relaxing (and finishing the cake, of course :).

This was supposed to be our last day in the Park but we had to (yes, had to) go back and redo the Hidden Lake Trail the next day. 

On day 4, it was drizzling and the Park looked even more beautiful. When we reached the Logan Pass around 10 am, it was so jam packed that they temporarily closed the parking lot. We did several rounds back and forth and finally found a spot 2 miles away at one of the pull overs (yes, we were allowed to park at pull-overs and go for a hike in the Park as there are very limited parking lots along "Going-to-the-Sun" road and there was no shuttle service due to COVID-19). 

I enjoyed the hike again, had lunch at my favorite spot next to the stream and happily said goodbye to the Park, which now has secured a spot in my list of top 5 National Parks in the US along with Yellowstone, Olympic, Smokies and Bryce National Parks.

We didn't get a chance to explore the eastern side of the Park as the East entrance was closed due to COVID-19, but I hope to return someday. How can I not?


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