A few years ago we bought National Park journal, where you need to put stickers and dates of your visits, eventually earning a regional sticker. Of course, I cannot leave empty spaces in it. I felt like I must visit at least all of the western parks. And Glacier eventually became my top of the list.
I booked the cabin on McDonald Lake earlier this year and after it anxiously started to wait. I booked two night in the park, and from my initial planning, it felt tight, but still enough to check significant areas.
After figuring out the most convenient major airport closer to park (if you fly from San Francisco Area it’s Calgary) I was ready.
Further, I will describe our final (on place modified) three days visit to the park. It may not work for everyone, and it has the assumption that you stay in the park (in our case, McDonald Lodge). Also, I must say we didn’t experience crowds on parking and trails though we stayed before Independence Day Weekend.
Hike Hidden Lake Overlook
We entered the park from the west entrance near Lake McDonald after lunch and drove al the way to the Logan Pass Visitor Center without stops. It was probably the livest traffic we experienced in the park. Also, we stuck for around 20 mins waiting for road closure because of the road work. The summer is short in the park, and Going to the Sun road needs fixes all the time. So if you are planning this drive, add additional 20-30 mins in your estimations.
I didn’t have any significant or long hike in my plans but plenty of short. Hidden Lake Overlook trail was one of these hikes.
From visitor center it’s easy 1.3 miles but what I didn’t expect was the snow on the trail. Trail popularity makes snow slick and wet, very hard to walk or climb. Dangerous for anyone walking downhill without special shoes.
The views from the overlook are stunning. The wooden overlook dock was full of people but there was still enough place for us. The trail then continues down to the lake but I was afraid it was also covered with snow.
Logan Pass and further
Saint Mary Falls
I was somehow very optimistic about how much time we will need traveling between stops. So when we stop near the trailhead to Saint Mary Falls I knew we have only time to hike to the first falls, and no time to proceed down the trail to Virginia Falls.
However, we still have time to hike to Saint Mary Falls. It’s only 0.8 miles one way but views are amazing. The bright emerald blue water of the falls was a nice sight so we spent not short amount of time near the bridge above the creek.
What surprised me the most that the place was empty. We met two groups on our way to the trail but after that we saw no one else. It was either too late (though it was more than hour before the sunset) or something else, because the trail is usually popular.
When we hiked to the falls we saw one low white cloud. We was puzzled what it could be. On the way back to the car the cloud was bigger. What we learnt from California hikes is to always check air on smell of smoke. But air smelt fresh and moist, and it was definitely just a cloud. However the longer we hiked, the bigger cloud grew. The setting sun changed its color from orange to pink, and I was in the awe.
When we reached the parked car, it was clear that all eastern side of the park was already covered with clouds. I had plan to drive further east for sunset, that’s how the first major change of the plans happened. We turned back west.
Sunset west of Logan Pass
We drove past of Logan Pass. And then we saw the beautiful scenery under the last rays of setting sun. We stop on the first turn out, and joined a company of other tourists and photographers.
Clouds slowly moved over the ridge, it was the stunning view!
McDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascade
My original plan had a sunrise watching at Two Medicine Lake on our second day in the park. But weather changes meant, eastern part of the park will be covered with clouds so I decided to save our morning sleep. Instead of waking hours before the sunrise, we slept until 6.30 am and visited two nearest to the Lake McDonald falls.
Sacred Dancing Cascade is the more roadside attraction. You won’t find an empty parking space there during the day hours, but early in the morning, we saw only one parked car.
There is no way to reach closer to the base to the falls but rocky shore and view from the bridge over the river is nice too.
The second local falls, McDonald Falls, could be viewed from the overlook. Falls are powerful and spectacular. However there is no official path closer to the falls. I noticed tiny trail, but it looked unsafe.
Explore Lake McDonald
We returned from the falls back to Lake McDonald Lodge for breakfast (taste their huckleberry jam with toasts) and few more hours of rest.
We booked a small cabin close to the lake. Lake water is clear, and the pebbles on the bottom look like jewels. While I explored the shores near the lodge, I met one curious squirrel that allowed me to photograph her.
Take a boat tour
While Eugene slept, I was lucky to get the last seat on DeSmet boat for the Lake McDonald Tour. The tour was hour long and very interesting. If you have telephoto lens or binoculars, pay close attention to the shores. On wild banks we saw elks and eagles, and probably a bear.
Two Medicine Lake Area
Skies became covered with clouds right before the lunch. There was no sense to wait for weather changes, so we returned to the original plan, and drove toward Two Medicine Lake. Usually on sunny day, Two Medicine Lake has a nice view of the towering mountains. Under the low clouds, we saw almost zero (usually it looks like this).
Again plan changed. We wandered around the lake for a bit and moved to the short hike to the falls.
Running Eagle Falls
Running Eagle Falls are easily accessible via short 0.3 mile long trail. We were lucky to see falls in full flow. And bad weather and the drizzle scared most of the visitors.
Many Glaciers Area
From Two Medicine Lake we turned further north towards Many Glacier Area. Clouds were even lower, and I had no hopes to get any decent views (what you can expect in sunny weather: check here).
When we arrived drizzle started again. So as the only decision was to hike to the waterfall.
We hiked to the Redrock Falls. It’s 3.6 miles round trip. The problem was the rain started after a mile we hiked. There should be a nice lake and mountain view but not that day. The falls however looked great!
The rain became stronger as soon as I mounted tripod. When we returned to the car we were wet completely.
Before exiting the area, we stopped near Swiftcurrent Falls. Was hard to get closer to the falls, everything was wet. I took few shots and we drove back to the lake McDonald.
What I never expected what expected us on the way back. The sunny and beautiful Going to the Sun road became a foggy and mysterious.
Going To The Sun Road
Next morning I woke up with sound of the rain behind the window. After the breakfast it started to clear. It was our last day in the park, and our next destination was Waterton, so the plan for the day was drive again Going to the Sun road and visited everything we did not see yet.
The west of the Logan Pass was still cloudy and foggy. Not last night foggy but views looked different from our first drive.
Our first significant stop was Lunch Creek. There is a large parking, and short trails on a side of the creek. It was still early mountain summer, creek was full and wildflowers covered banks.
The next stop was Baring Falls. It’s another roadside attraction. The trails that goes down shortly passes Baring Falls. They are small but nice. And while here, check the creek canyon on the other side of the road.
Saint Mary Lake
My original plan assumed we will stop at Wild Goose Island on the first day. But then weather changed and we turned back.
After the long rainy second day, I didn’t expect to have nice views at Saint Mary Lake. What was my surprise when clouds cleared and we saw nice blue skies and even tops of the mountains.
And what the view we got at Wild Goose Island! Clouds still loomed somewhere near the summit but blue sky reflected in the lake.
The view of Wild Goose Island from the shores of Saint Mary Lake is one of the most iconic viewpoints in Glacier National Park. Wild Goose Island is a tiny island that pokes out of the water in Saint Mary Lake.
Links and info
- Official Park page is here
- Entrance Fee 7 day permit is $35. Or you could consider buying Annual Pass that costs $80 and allows you to enter national lands.
- We stayed at Lake McDonald Lodge. It was a good place to explore western side of the park. But of you want to spend more time east of Logan Past, check out Many Glacier Lodge.
- If you want to take a boat tour check Glacier Park Boat Company. They also operate boats on St. Mary, Two Medicine and Many Glacier Lakes. I suggest to book the tour a day in advance.