Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Glacier National Park

I'm continuing my Summer 2012 Road Trip saga. If you'd like to get up to speed, following are the links to the previous posts pertaining to the trip that my kids and I took last summer:

Road Trip Success
Let the Road Trip Fun Begin
South Dakota Supreme: Part 1
South Dakota Supreme: Part 2
The Road Trip Continues Into Alien Territory
Travel Tuesday: The Road Trip Continues Into Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Travel Tuesday: Washington Reunion

We left off last week in Washington. With us saying good bye to our dear friends and being sad about it. When we left Washington, we drove straight back to Montana to pick up my mom in Missoula. It was approximately a five hour drive, and once we picked my mom up at her hotel, we turned north and kept driving.

Next stop: Glacier National Park

Waiting for our 1st shuttle at Glacier

The kids and me at Glacier National Park
Going to Glacier was a little out of the way. Nonetheless, we decided it was a must see. How many times will we be "in the neighborhood" of Glacier National Park?? I followed my M.O. and made a hotel reservation well in advance, since we would be near a national park, and hotels in these areas tend to book up. Our destination was Kalispell, Montana, a picturesque mountain town near the west entrance to Glacier. It took us somewhere around two hours to get to Kalispell from Missoula. We stopped at a grocery store to re-stock our cooler for the remainder of the trip, and headed to our hotel (motel?). Our accommodations throughout the trip ranged from fabulous to mediocre to I-wish-I-would-have-known-this-place-is-a-dump. Unfortunately, this place was close to the latter category. But the rate was very reasonable, and lodging prices tend to be pretty pricey in Kalispell. So I don't regret the reservation, because if we would have stayed at one of the (marginally) nicer places in town, we would have easily paid double. In this case, the savings was well worth it. We didn't plan on spending much time in our room anyway!

Glacier-National-ParkWhen we first decided to visit Glacier, my original thought was that we'd enter at the West Entrance and drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, all the way to the East Entrance. And then we'd continue on our way, going a different route from the one we took from Michigan. But then I started doing a little reading, and a little research. I realized that the Going-to-the-Sun Road is not exactly for the feint of heart. Take a gander at the comments on Trip Advisor and see for yourself. Comments like "very narrow", "useless stone guard rail", and "steep grade" sealed the deal for me. I decided that we would enter the park ($25 per vehicle May 1-October 31, $15 November 1-April 30), park the van, and utilize the free shuttle buses.

We entered Glacier via West Glacier and parked at the Apgar Transit Center. Then we went to the shuttle stop and let the professionals do the driving. Once the entrance fee is paid, visitors can utilize the shuttles as much as they'd like. There are shuttle stops throughout the park, and you can get on and off wherever you want. It is really a perfect way to see Glacier, because even if I had been brave enough to drive to Logan Pass and beyond along Going-to-the-Sun Road, I would not have been able to fully enjoy the gorgeous views. Because, incidentally, this was one of the most stunningly beautiful places I've ever seen in my life.

Yes, in case there was any doubt in your mind, Glacier National Park is incredible. We had one day. We stayed longer than we intended and messed up our driving schedule for the day. It was not even close to enough. I would like to go back with a week to do nothing but explore Glacier. I would have liked to do some serious hiking, which we were not equipped to do. We did walk along the Trail of the Cedars, stopped and had a picnic, and went to the Logan Pass Visitor Center. From here, Bethany, Connor, Mattie and me went on a trail in search of snow (Lucy & my mom stayed back by the visitor center). Mattie pooped out, but Bethany and Connor did get to dip their toes in the snow in July.

Hollow tree on the Trail of the Cedars
On the way back, we got off at Lake McDonald and did a little shopping. And almost missed the last shuttle of the day. In fact, we got so caught up in souvenir shopping that we did miss the last shuttle of the day. After waiting and waiting and waiting at the shuttle stop, it finally occurred to us to look at the schedule, which was conveniently posted right in front of our faces. So my mom went into the shop to admit our situation, somebody made a phone call, and pretty soon a shuttle bus for stragglers came by to pick us up. The kids really thought we were stranded though, and that it was only a matter of time before the bears got us. I would have welcomed a break from driving (even perhaps, sleeping on a park bench), since I knew I had to get in some miles once we finally left the park.

When we did leave, most of us had terrible headaches. We figured it must have been from spending the day in the high altitude - over 6000 feet at times. I'm not really sure if we could have done anything to prevent that, or if it was inevitable.

My final thoughts on Glacier:

  • One day is not enough, but if that's all you've got, get there early and plan on spending the whole day.
  • Seriously consider whether you think you're capable of driving the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Those little stone guard rails, maybe two feet high at the most, did little to make me feel secure as we were winding along narrow and steep mountain roads at altitudes of 6000 feet and beyond. But the experienced shuttle drivers did make me feel safe!
  • The shuttles are wonderful! Take full advantage of them. At times we were pretty packed in, but they were clean, comfortable, and I always felt safe in the hands of the drivers.
  • Take way more pictures than you think you should. I thought I took a ton of pictures, but I wish I had taken lots more.
  • Bring snacks and water bottles, and maybe even a picnic lunch that can be carried in a backpack. There are places to stop and eat, but not many. We had our own food and were glad that we did.
  • Pay attention to the shuttle schedules. That could prove to be helpful.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. This was the only day of our entire trip that we wore long pants. At times we needed our jackets, at other times we were comfortable in t-shirts.
  • Don't under estimate your kids. My kids loved Glacier. Believe it or not, kid friendly fun does not need to include costumed cast members or other scripted fun. We like that stuff too, but sometimes just being out in nature and looking for mountain goats - even if you never see any - is way more fun!
If you're wondering whether it's worth it to travel to this far flung corner of the country to visit Glacier National Park, the answer is absolutely YES! 

After a long day of about 10 hours of seeing as much of Glacier as we possibly could, we drove south of the park and got on US-2, heading east...toward home. 

At Logan Pass Visitor Center

This picture cracks me up. The faces. The poses.

Trail leading to the snow. It is much longer than it appears in this photo.

Stunning view from the trail

At which point Mattie gives up
Looking back toward the Logan Pass Visitor Center from the trail

Waiting for Bethany and Connor

This little marmot stopped by to see us while we waited.

They did it! They touched the snow! 

As visitors get closer to Logan's Pass, they have to transfer to smaller shuttles because the road is so narrow.

Taken from inside the shuttle
Cute General Store that distracted us from the shuttle bus schedule

Convinced that we're sleeping outside with the bears after missing the last shuttle bus of the day.

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