Glacier-Waterton Trip, Part I: Glacier National Park (July 7-11)

For many years, Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park has been on our travel short list. This is of course two combined parks, Glacier National Park in Montana, and Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. This combined park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

A couple of years ago we had a plan to go but had to cancel. But things finally came together this year. The home exchangers from Williamsburg were due at our home in July, so we "had to" hit the road, and Glacier-Waterton was our destination! We scurried around the weekend before we left, getting our house ready for them and then left mid-day, planning to spend the night somewhere in Wyoming.

For this trip, "Tina," our Chevrolet Traverse stayed behind to provide transportation for our home-exchangers, so we shoehorned all our gear into the Saab 9-3 for this trip. It was tight, but we managed to bring everything we needed.

On the drive up, Susan suggested a leg-stretching stop a few miles off our route, so we drove over to Ayres Natural Bridge Park, a county park west of Douglas, Wyoming. This delightful park and arch are very close to the Oregon Trail and this spot was one of Wyoming's first tourist spots. 

Ayres Natural Bridge

After walking the short trails around, under and almost on top of the arch, we shot some pictures of Cliff Swallows on the red rock walls, and then headed back to I-25, going north. We stopped for the night in Buffalo, Wyoming. 

Cliff Swallows with their nest at Ayres Bridge park

The next morning we visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. We had time to take in a ranger talk about the history of the area and the battle, plus walk around the visitor center, memorials, historical grave markers, and the adjacent Custer National Cemetery

Little Bighorn Battlefield with Visitors Center in background

Part of the Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn

7th Cavalry Monument

Gravestones at the Custer National Cemetery

Little Bighorn is definitely worth a stop and we enjoyed the history lesson. 

We continued on up the road, making good time and arrived at East Glacier, Montana and Glacier Park Lodge

Glacier Park Lodge

Though not in Glacier National Park, we were very close to the Two Medicine entrance to the Park. We drove in to see what we could in the late day light, and near the entrance saw our first bear of the trip! Unfortunately, the only camera we had out was an iPhone!

Two Medicine Lake

When we got back to the lodge we were too late for dinner, so had a beer and some snacks. Mike also photographed the inside of the enormous and rustic lodge. 

The Great Room of Glacier Park Lodge

The next morning we came back into the Park, and after doing a quick walk to Running Eagle Falls, caught the Sinopah, a well-preserved old wooden boat which took us on a scenic boat tour on Two Medicine Lake. We elected not to combine this with a hike, as we were planning to drive to West Glacier later in the morning. 

Glacier Park Lodge and the garden

Running Eagle Falls

Waiting for our boat tour on Two Medicine Lake

Mike on the Sinopah

After our boat trip we took a few more photos of the lodge and then drove scenic Highway 2, stopping for lunch at the unique Izaak Walton Inn in Essex. 

The Izaak Walton Inn

After lunch, we walked around the Inn's "rooms," some of which are refurbished railroad cabooses (and one locomotive). We even got to take a peek inside one. :-)

The Locomotive "room" at the Izaak Walton Inn

Susan takes a look inside a restored caboose "room"
Outside the caboose

As we were about to leave, Susan asked about a waterfall she saw on a postcard and we learned that we'd passed right by it on the way, so we decided to add another 16 miles to our day and drove back to see the Silver Stairs waterfall just off the road. There was a big pull off along the road, but no sign. 

Us at the Silver Stairs waterfall just off the road before Essex

A little later we arrived at West Glacier, very much a tourist-service village and drove on for a stop at the Visitor's Center at Apgar. We'd considered a short hike here, but learned that a trail was closed due to a mountain lion "behaving oddly." After Susan's experience in 2012 at Big Bend we didn't need to explore this anymore, plus we were anxious to drive most of Going-to-the-Sun Road before stopping for the night at the Rising Sun Motor Inn. 

We drove the very busy road, stopping at many pull offs and viewpoints and also stopped for awhile at the historic McDonald Lodge. 

McDonald Lake marina

McDonald Lake Lodge

McDonald Lodge great room

So far, we'd "just" seen some very beautiful forested roads and mountains and glacier-fed rivers. But soon, Going-to-the-Sun Road opened up as we gained elevation to cross the Continental Divide from west to east. 

View from Going to the Sun Road

And finally we began to fully appreciate all the "hype" about this road, including why it was designated not only a National Historic Landmark, but also a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark! 

The Weeping Wall gave cars a free car wash :-)
Weeping Wall at far right
Susan with one of the numerous wild waterfalls along the road

A waterfall flows under the road...

... as one of the ubiquitous "jammers" goes across the bridge

Soon we found our eyes widening at the spectacular views around every curve and our vocabulary rapidly degraded to a more-or-less continuous stream of nothing but the word "WOW!"


Soon we arrived at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, but it had just closed for the day. After watching some Bighorn Sheep in the parking lot, we drove another 9 miles to check into our room at the Rising Sun Motor Inn. 

Bighorn Sheep in the parking lot at Logan Pass

View from just above the Logan Pass Visitors Center

On our way down from Logan Pass

Almost to Rising Sun

We were pleasantly surprised to find that the restaurant stayed open until 10pm, and this would not be the first night we found ourselves eating dinner this late after a long and adventure-packed day!

The next morning we ate at Rising Sun, served by Joy, who was our server late the previous night. After breakfast we drove back west on Going-to-the-Sun Road (GttSR), stopping to see Sunrift Gorge and did the short walk to Baring Falls. 

Sunrift Gorge

Baring Falls

Our next stop was almost all the way back to Apgar where we did the popular 4.5 mile round trip hike to Avalanche Lake. 

Waterfall on the way to Avalanche Lake

Along the trail to Avalanche Lake

Susan at Avalanche Lake

Waterfall along the trail

After this spectacular hike, we "had to" drive back over GttSR. When we stopped again at Logan Pass VC, we took in a short presentation on glaciers and climate change by a volunteer naturalist intern who turned out to be studying in Fort Collins. At one point his talk was interrupted by a pair of Mountain Goats wandering by. 

And though it was somehow already after 6pm and we'd already done 5 miles of hiking that day, we couldn't resist putting our hiking boots back on, this time with our Micro-Spikes, to do another 3 mile hike, mostly on a snow-covered trail to the Hidden Lake overlook. 

Even with our spikes, walking in the slushy snow was fatiguing and sometimes a bit tricky. Particularly so on one very steep and outward curving area where the uphill side of the snow-covered trail was pockmarked with hundreds of finger holds in the snow. 

Looking back down the snowy trail to the visitors center

What a splendid little hike this was! At one point, Susan stopped on the trail for a Mountain Goat crossing the trail only 20 feet away.

Mountain Goat crossing!
Still climbing

Looking back at the mountain goat Susan stopped for earlier

And we were in for even more wildlife treats! Near the overlook itself several mountain goats came out, including a kid. And while we were photographing them, we were treated to our first Hoary Marmot. We only have Yellow-bellied Marmots in Rocky, so it was fun to see a different species.

The view of mostly frozen Hidden lake (across center)

Hoary Marmot

And of course the view of the mostly still-frozen Hidden Lake was fantastic, especially in the late day light. 

Part of Hidden Lake

Mountain Goat kid with a Glacier Lily

Finally we tore ourselves away from the mountain goats and headed back downhill in the snow to our car at the Logan Pass parking lot, where even more Bighorn Sheep entertained the tourists (including us). 

Mike shooting the Mountain Goats

The view as we hiked back down
Saw this skier and his friend enjoying the snow as we hiked down


Soon we'd run out of daylight and we found ourselves having another very late dinner at the restaurant at Rising Sun. It was a long and tiring day, but fun, scenic, and action-packed!

The next morning, we packed up the car and pointed it east for our short drive up to the Many Glacier area of the park. But first, Susan wanted to visit the boat dock on St Mary Lake across the road from Rising Sun. 

Susan on St Mary Lake's boat dock

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