We were very excited to return to the States for a couple of reasons: lower gas prices, use of our cell phones and wireless hot spot, and a reduction in the 12%+ sales tax we were paying in the Great White North. Don’t get me wrong, we loved Canada and had a wonderful time there, but it was breaking the bank. So, our easy and friendly crossing from Alberta into Montana (did you hear that, Canadian border control? We are respectable citizens!) was a welcome occurrence. We had some exciting things on deck for Montana and were ready to get started.
Our first stop was the town of Whitefish, Montana. A tip along the road steered us in the direction of Whitefish, which we were told not to miss. The town is situated about 30 miles from the southwestern corner of Glacier National Park. It’s a really cute town, full of small, locally owned shops and restaurants and the Great Northern Brewing Company. And if you know us, you know that we had to find the local brewery and give it a try!
The nights we spent in Whitefish were not the most glamorous nights of our trip. In fact, they may have been even a bit less glamorous than our nights spent in Walmart parking lots. This is because we “boondocked” the hell out of the town of Whitefish. Yes, in true hobo-fashion we scoped out spots on residential streets, parked there late at night, snuck into the trailer in the dark of night, and slunk back out as early as we could manage to wake up in the morning. Yeah, we’re fancy. But our days and evenings were more civilized, I assure you. We spent them walking the streets with the dogs, window shopping and enjoying the laid back vibe of this friendly Montana town.
Whitefish served as a perfect jumping off point for visiting Glacier National Park. Seeing that dogs are not allowed on the trails in most national parks we instead chose to spend our day doing the magnificent “Going to the Sun” drive through the park. This scenic drive is a wonderful way to explore the park if you are unable to or choose not to hike and camp. The drive begins at Lake McDonald and follows its tributary for a while before it begins to climb up the dramatic faces of the park’s Rocky Mountains.
Like any good Alpine road, this puppy is closed in the winter, so you want to make a visit in the summer, when you’ll find it crawling with motorists and motorcyclists craning their necks for the next glorious vista (another sign of any good Alpine road). The road seems barely to cling to the rocky mountain face at times as you drive higher and higher – until you are nearly face-to-face with the glaciers that give the park its name.
At the top of Logan Pass we found a visitor center, restrooms, a large parking lot and a trailhead for the Hidden Lake Trail. This is the turnaround point for many people on this road (and was for us), but you can continue the drive to St. Mary Lake if you want. To do so you need to make sure that your gas tank is full at the start of the drive (the road is 106 miles, there-and-back). We didn’t continue all the way to St. Mary Lake because we didn’t want to risk running out of gas – we left with a 1/4 full tank.
As I mentioned, there is a trailhead at the top of the pass for a very popular hike. You need to come prepared if you want to hike to Hidden Lake as most of the trail goes across glacial ice and snow; proper shoes, clothing and equipment are a must. Even then you may find that your plans have been foiled. On the day that we visited the trail had been closed due to grizzly bear activity in the area.
But, whether you make the hike or not, drive on to St. Mary Lake or not, the drive is still worth it. Waterfalls, glaciers, imposing rock outcroppings and breathtaking cliff edges make the Going to the Sun drive a perfect way to spend your day in the park. After driving back down we topped our day off with a tasty meal in Eddie’s – a cute cafe in the southern end of the park. We enjoyed a couple of local Montana brews and a huckleberry cobbler a la mode – capping off an ideal time in Glacier National Park.