Aside from the frenzied nature of trying to visit Glacier National Park, we have been enjoying our stay in the Columbia Falls/Whitefish area nearby. Here is what we have done so far:
Biking into West Glacier National Park entrance:
When we discovered we could bike into the park without a ticket, we decided to do so in order to get to the visitor center and back country permitting offices to ask questions and generally take a look around. We parked outside the entrance and biked up the road until we connected with one of the few bike paths located at the west entrance. We only saw a handful of people on the path, so it was like having the place to ourselves. 😃 After checking out the main areas, we decided to bike over to the Fish Creek Campground area and check out Lake McDonald with a slightly smaller crowd of people milling about.
Where the creek enters the lake we saw a multitude of butterflies flittering away and lingering on the ground. We don’t know for sure, but assumed that they must be in the middle of mating for so many to be occupying the same space at the same time. Either way, it was nice to find a quiet spot to enjoy the sound of the creek flowing into the lake, watching the butterflies and enjoying the sunshine.
When we were about to head back to the west entrance, Matt was approached by a couple asking questions about his bike, and we enjoyed a lovely conversation with them about their inflatable boats, their experience thus far in Glacier National Park (GNP) and living in Oregon, since they also live there. After biking back, we grabbed a quick drink and bite to eat to cool off at the nearby cafe called Eddies’ Cafes and Gifts and then headed back to our vehicle. Given how the day started, it ended on a positive note.
Funny side story: When we left the parking lot to go into the West Glacier park entrance, I couldn’t shift my bike…I purchased a bike during the height of the pandemic and the new bike has electronic shifting, which is new for me. I knew it would eventually need recharging and had never had to do so, and thought that I must have wore the battery down during transit. I was stuck in one gear, which thankfully was “doable” for all of the places we went.
We returned to our trailer and I tried to recharge the batteries, but they wouldn’t charge. I was so frustrated, thinking something was very wrong with the bike and not looking forward to having to take it into a shop. I tried downloading software to diagnose the issue and my husband tried helping me figure it out with a bunch of YouTube troubleshooting videos, and it turned out that the shifting cable was unplugged near the shifter! I recall looking at it on the ride back to our vehicle, thinking “That’s strange…is that a new type of barrel cable adjuster? And why would a bike with electronic shifting have a barrel adjuster?” Little did I know that it was the end of the cable and needed to be plugged in, and I could have had my gears the whole time! How embarrassing! I’m glad we figured it out and I didn’t take it into a bike shop…that would have been even more mortifying! 😳
Scenic Point trail in Two Medicine, GNP:
Once we determined that getting on a hiking trail in GNP would be restricted to entrances that weren’t on the Going to the Sun Road (GTSR), we decided to check out Two Medicine in the southeastern part of the park. The hike we chose had reviews on AllTrails and many hikers mentioned they enjoyed views of rams and other wildlife on the trail, so that sounded appealing to us. It took about two hours to drive to the trailhead, but thankfully we had no problems getting a parking spot. Yay! The AllTrails trail guide is a bit misleading though…the hike is more like 8 miles, but a little less in elevation gain.
Though we didn’t see any rams (we think it was just too hot out), we did enjoy some beautiful views of the nearby mountains with a few glaciers atop them, as well as the beautiful lakes and other bodies of water below. I continued to enjoy using my Seek app to identify the flora and fauna around me, we had a few great conversations with some couples at the top, and managed to escape without getting sunburnt. 🥵
One couple shared that they split their time between Florida and Whitefish, MT, and that they have never seen crowds in GNP like we are seeing now until 2020. However, they did share that even though it is a bit competitive to get a parking spot, there are a plethora of amazing hikes up in Many Glacier that they would recommend. As such, we are attempting to check out Many Glacier later this week. May the parking Gods be with us! *sigh*
Biking from Somers, MT to Kalispell, MT:
I noticed quite a few bike paths when we were initially rolling into town, and wanted to check them out, given that I am not familiar with the area and how road bike-friendly motorists are. We drove down to Somers, MT and parked in one of the three spots available at the trailhead, and enjoyed the beginning of the path. 🚴🏻 It turns out the path is part of the Rails to Trails of Northwest Montana, and one of the old locomotives was restored and housed next door. The trail started out in a quiet, scenic setting, there were pretty views of the state parkland to the west of us across the highway, and a short diversion to the other side of the highway farther away from the sounds of traffic, but a majority of it was parallel to the highway US93E, so these sections were really loud and not as fun.
The trail extends to the west on highway 2 and goes as far as the west end of the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area, but it too parallels the highway most of the length of the path. Furthermore, there is currently a lot of road construction where highway 93 meets highway 2, making it a bit challenging for cyclists to ride the whole trail length uninterrupted. So, we turned around where the road construction was taking place and headed back.
At the trailhead in Somers, MT there is a place called Del’s Bar & Grill. We walked across the street and grabbed some lunch and a beer there before heading back into town. You order at the bar and grab a table of your choosing, so it was a pretty casual place and just what we needed. Overall, it was fairly relaxing and a nice way to explore the area.
Florence Falls, GNP:
A few miles past the ever popular Logan’s Pass along the Going to the Sun Road (GTSR), we managed to snag a parking spot for three different trailheads, two if which are quite long. As mentioned in the Glacier National Park post, our current neighbor invited us to hike with her and her 9-year old son in the park, and we were happy to jump at the chance. After a two hour drive along narrow, windy roads with beautiful views and heart-thumping drop offs, we arrived at the trailhead for the Florence Falls hike.
The trail dips down in elevation at first, is fairly thick with vegetation, and gives you spectacular views of the rivers and glaciers nearby. At the end, the trail is barely visible, but the Florence Falls are beautiful and well worth the trip. They rush down the mountain and eventually cascade over a broad section of rocks, which is quite stunning. Because this hike wasn’t one of the most sought after, we frequently had the trail to ourselves, which was a nice treat for such a popular park. 🌲
Matt and I were amazed at the energy of our friend’s son, who completed the nearly 10-mile hike with 1500 feet of elevation gain and STILL was bouncing with energy afterward. Trail guides underestimate the length and elevation gain of this trail, but it is still fairly easy-going and gradual in gains until the last mile or so.
South Boundary Trail, GNP:
As a way to get out and about within walking distance of the West Glacier RV Park, we hiked part of the South Boundary Trail along the Middle Fork Flathead River, which in its entirety is about 11.5 miles. After crossing over the river, we started to veer away from it and hit a little bit of elevation gain. Eventually, we dropped back down closer to the river and at a stream crossing found an outcropping of rocks to enjoy more expansive views. While hanging out and enjoying the views, we had the opportunity to see a few groups of rafters drift by, much to the delight of all of us. 😛. If you’re looking for a quieter trail without too much elevation gain and river views, this is a great option for you.
Grinnell Glacier Trail in Many Glacier, GNP:
After hearing about how spectacular the hikes were in Many Glacier and talking with our neighbor in the RV park, we hatched a plan for her, Matt and I to drive up to the eastern side of GNP, stay overnight, and get up before dawn to snag a parking spot at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead. Our neighbor and her family met us outside the west entrance, we played a round of mini golf, and hit the road for Duck Lake Campground, where we stayed in cabins and headed for Many Glacier the next morning at 5:15am. We managed to get a spot in the parking lot, and boy are we glad we arrived when we did!
The hike itself was not too steep or technical…we walked through a section where a waterfall gets the rocks wet, and there are some steep drop offs, but nothing that was nerve racking even for me, and I have been known to become paralyzed with fear on hikes before. Because we headed out at first light, we had the trail to ourselves and later discovered we were the second group to arrive at the top. We spent nearly an hour milling around and enjoying the beautiful glacial views, and wildlife. 🏔 We saw a moose, chipmunks, big horn sheep, marmots, and a variety of ground squirrels. 🐏 🐿
Heading down was a bit more challenging mainly because there were so many people coming up the trail. We passed somewhere between 200-300 people on the way down, no joke. 😲 Add to that the fact that most of the trail is exposed and it was a very hot day, and we were pretty wiped out by the time we finished. However, between the views, the wildlife, and the opportunity to explore these glaciers before they disappear, and it was hands down one of the most amazing hikes we have ever done. I highly recommend it if you visit GNP.
Fish Lake Trail, GNP:
As our time in the park was winding down, we were trying to find one more hike to do with our neighbor and her two boys from the RV park with whom we had become friends. The air quality took a turn for the worse, and the next two days were forecasted to be rainy and much colder, so we opted for a moderate, less exposed hike to Fish Lake, near Lake McDonald. We drove over to the Lake McDonald Lodge around 9am so we could find a parking spot.
This hike starts out with a pretty steep climb, but eventually levels out and takes you across a few creeks and through shaded sections before arriving at the lake. Fish Lake has a few access points where you can get to the water, but has a lot of lily pads and reeds, so isn’t really a lake to wade in…just a place to enjoy the view and check out the wildlife. There were a few ducks in the water, lots of spiders and some gigantic dragonflies milling about looking for mates. 🦆 We had a snack and headed back, enjoying what seemed to be a big migration of the Virginia Tiger Moth across the path. 🐛 We must have seen at least 50 caterpillars crossing the path or on the side of it and tried to take care not to step on them as we plodded our way down the steep sections of trail. Overall, this trail is nice for a quiet reprieve, but there aren’t any jaw-dropping views, so if you are just looking for a little peace and quiet in the woods, this might be a nice hike for you.
We have been thankful for the time we have spent here in Montana and hope it has inspired you to check out some of these treasures if you are in the area.