In 2016, we hiked and camped at Glacier National Park. This was a part of our two month trip out west, we affectionally called it the #GoWestColemans trip. 2016 was the year hashtags became trendy and since we name every trip, it was a great way to embrace the trend, haha. You can see the complete trip map, by clicking here.
We were apprehensive about camping and hiking Glacier National Park; the park is home to majestic wildlife and we had a lot to learn how about to share space with the animals. With a bit of research, asking questions of those who have gone before us, and a lot of preparation, we were ready. In this blog, I am going to share what we saw, how we prepared, our favorite hikes, and where we camped.
Below are photos of the wildlife we witnessed at Glacier National Park. We were lucky enough to hear about a family of moose eating in a lake very close to the Many Glacier Campground Store so we wandered off to see them. I had about 50+ photos on my phone similar to what you see below. We watched the moose graze in the lake for hours and it was the most fascinating scene we have ever witnessed.
We spent a day hiking the Highline Trail and we heard that if you don’t see wildlife, you are doing something wrong. We saw the mountain goat in the lower-left photo within the first 5 minutes and the only other animal we saw the entire day was the marmot in the lower right photo. The bighorn sheep (top right) posed for their photo-op in the parking lot at the end of our day. I am sure a lot of animals had human sightings but they really are not interested in being noticed.
The only time we saw a grizzly bear was when we were driving, the photo in the lower middle. We were prepared with our bear bells and bear spray…most of the time. You should have a bear bell and spray on you at all times when you are in Glacier National Park because you never want to surprise a grizzly bear. We made a mistake. We walked from the campground to the hotel for an afternoon break. This is a 1/2 mile walk and honestly, we weren’t hiking so we didn’t think about our bear bells or spray. Once we arrived at the hotel we saw several park police where we had just walked. A grizzly bear was sighted on our trail. We were lucky he wasn’t interested in us and we didn’t startle him, we didn’t even see him. However, I sang loudly to Brian the entire walk back. My rendition of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall had me laughing, but Brian may have been just shaking his head at me. The moral to the story: always carry a bear bell and spray in Glacier National Park.
There is something majestic and romantic at Glacier National Park. You are surrounded by mountains, glaciers, lakes, and waterfalls. Everything around you feels massive and perfect. We were certainly caught in the magic of the park. I wish we would have allowed more time here. The park is enormous and you need to spend time on one side of the park and then move to the other side. We camped at Many Glacier Campground but I wish we would have also camped at Fish Creek Campground so we could have spent time on that end of the park. We came into the park from the south so we were able to drive much of it and visit the Apgar Visitor Center; however, we spent most of our time in the Logan Pass Visitor Center and Many Glacier Hotel/Campground area. Just to give you an idea of how large the park is, it took us about 75 minutes to drive from our campground to the Logan Pass Visitor Center.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the ever-changing glaciers. There was an exhibition at Many Glacier Hotel where they showed photos of what the glaciers looked like and recreated the same photos with how the glaciers look now. You can read about the Repeat Photography Project by clicking here. Climate change becomes extremely real when you see the glaciers in person. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do if we are willing to be a part of the change. You can read about how the glaciers are changing by clicking here.
Our two favorite hikes were the Grinnell Glacier hike and the Highline Trail hike. The photos above are from both hikes. You can only access Grinnell Glacier by boat out of the Many Glacier Hotel, pictured below. The Grinnell Glacier hike includes a lake, waterfalls on your trail, mountains all around you, and glaciers that you can walk on (in 2016). We saw bighorn sheep on the trail, one even led the hike for a bit (with a good distance between us).
The Highline Trail is fantastic because you are high above the Going to the Sun Road but you can still see the tiny cars below. You can make this a one-way day hike if you park your car at The Loop on Going to the Sun Road, take the shuttle to the Logan Pass Visitor Center, hike the Highline Trail, take a break at the Granite Park Chalet, and then walk back down to your car. Be warned, this is a much tougher hike than it may seem. It looks relatively flat but there are some elevation challenges, there is an option to hike a seemingly innocent out and back to Hidden Lake which is very steep, and the walk down from the chalet is no joke! It is a lot of steep down and hard on your knees. However, the hike is worth it, you just need to be prepared.
If you can even spend one night or one afternoon at the Many Glacier Hotel, we highly recommend it. The hotel has the charm of days gone by, but plenty of amenities. The sunset (above right) is one not to miss! We stayed at the campground. If you want a reservation at this campground, be ready to make it the day the 6-month window opens. This campground sells out quick in the summer. The walk-up campsites had a wait of about 10+ vehicles by 5 a.m. every day while we were there. That is not how we wanted to spend our time, but many people made it work.
In 2016, we were still tent camping. We camped in luxury though, in the REI Kingdom 8. We had the added garage which we used for bike storage and when it rained we could put our chairs in there and relax (see photo below). We lived in this tent for 2 months that summer so a bit of luxury was nice. We slept on an air mattress on a cot and it was extremely comfortable, you can get one by clicking here. We also had a heated mattress pad on it for those higher elevation campgrounds, which you can find by clicking here. Finally, our clothes were all tucked under our bed in under the bed storage tubs. We had four tubs total, one each for clothes, one for shoes, and one for hiking gear. The tubs stacked neatly in the back of our Honda Pilot. We also had a tub for camping gear (see above).
When you’re camping in a place like Glacier National Park it is imperative that all of your “smellies” are kept in your car. This included our shower house stuff (shampoo, deodorant, etc.), our cooking gear, food, and our cooler. The tent was a smelly-free zone as to not attract the animals, big or small.
Hiking and camping at Glacier National Park is an absolute must and we look forward to going back to this park because there is so much more to see and do there. It is not hard to prepare and stay safe at this park, just to remember the basics:
- Be bear aware: Always have a bear bell on you, carry bear spray, never hike or even walk alone, and make plenty of noise.
- Keep smellies secure, in containers in your car.
- Carry food, Gatorade, and more water than you think you need, no matter how short your hike.
- Bring layers when you hike, the weather can change quickly.
- Practice the habits of Leave No Trace, even an apple core is not appropriate to leave on the trail.
If you have been to Glacier, tell us what you loved! What else can we tell you about Glacier? If this blog helped you, give us a thumbs up. Heck, if you made it this far, give us a thumbs up. 🙂
Happy hiking, until next time!