A visit to Montana’s Glacier National Park had been on our wishlist since long before we began our RV adventure. Now into our fifth year of full timing, we finally arrived. Having been here for more than a week now, we can attest to the park’s beauty as awe-inspiring, stunning and dramatic.
Within its 1 million acres, Glacier NP is comprised of high alpine meadows, glacially-carved mountain peaks and valleys, hundreds of lakes, cascading waterfalls, glaciers, rolling foothills and unparalleled vistas. I initially thought the park was named for its existing glaciers, but actually it’s for the work done by earlier glaciers at the conclusion of the last ice age.
Those glaciers left scoured dip valleys, sharp ridges, carved rugged mountains and deep lakes. Of the 150 or so glaciers known to have existed in the mid-19th century, only about 25 remain. Global warming models predict that by 2030 – or even sooner – they will be gone as well.
Many hikes begin at trailheads along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only highway that crosses the park from east to west. An engineering marvel and National Historic Landmark, the road spans 50 miles and crests at the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,646′).
Free shuttles run on the east-west route, with Logan Pass as the transfer point to proceed to either side. Coming in for a quick visit, folks would probably want to take shuttles or drive their own car (start EARLY) to best see the park in a hurry.
Of course, staying a while and hiking as many of the wonderful trails as possible is really the way to go!
St. Mary Area Waterfalls hike
We were camped right outside the east entrance to the park, at Johnson’s of St. Mary RV Park (Steve’s review here). With dozens of trails to choose from, we decided to warm up with the St. Mary Area Waterfalls hike. Armed with our latest hiking accessory – bear spray – we tried the park’s shuttle service from the east entrance visitor center at 7AM. We got off at popular St. Mary Falls and noticed several cars already parked in the small lot.
We followed the moderate trail that descends 200′ to St. Mary Falls and then climbs 250′ to Virginia Falls. This area was involved in the July, 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire that burned 4,800 acres. It wiped out all of the trees, but the area is recovering rapidly as evidenced by new growth and the incredible variety of wildflowers – most notably the Alpine Fireweed – blooming in abundance.
Since we didn’t even break a sweat on this short 3-mile trek, we added a segment of another trail that continued along the cliffs to descend toward St. Mary Lake.
Eventually we reached a small boat dock (which we actually docked at later in the day) then turned left to Baring Falls, only a couple hundred yards away.
From here we climbed back up to the road to end our hike at 5.6 miles, then took the shuttle from Sunrift Gorge back toward the visitor center.
Rising Sun Boat Tour
We thought this day in the park was over, but our shuttle driver was very persuasive when she told us it was a perfect day for a boat tour on the lake, if we could get a seat. When she stopped at the Rising Sun Boat Tour stop, Steve jumped off and got tickets ($26 each), then we had lunch as we waited for our tour.
A family-owned business, the boat tours have been offered at four locations in the park (Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, St. Mary Lake and Two Medicine) since 1938. The 1.5-hour narrated tour at St Mary’s Lake features classic wooden boats.
Instead of describing the tour, I’ll let my photos tell the story of of the immense mountains and lake scenery we viewed during our relaxing ride.
East Glacier NP shuttle
The shuttles on the east side of the park run only every 45 minutes – far too long between shuttles when the park is busy. After the boat tour we waited 40 minutes for the next shuttle, which zoomed right by because it was full. Now we were getting very unhappy.
We started walking toward the visitor center and our car, but it was a daunting 5-mile walk along the busy highway with no shoulders. I suggested we wait at the next shuttle stop just up the road, but it went to Logan Pass – the opposite direction. Steve agreed with me that it was better to take a trip up to Logan Pass and back and see the scenery, than to sit around and stew for another 45 minutes hoping for a shuttle with space.
It turned out to be a good move. Enjoying our first scenic views of Logan Pass, we ended up back at our car an hour later. This is terrible shuttle service – these shuttles should be running every 15-20 minutes like on the west side of the park! We never took the east side shuttle again, instead driving our car early in the mornings to guarantee parking for our hikes.
And these hikes were just for starters!
Absolutely fabulous photos! What beautiful scenery, wow, just unreal. We sure hope to get there in person one day….
Make that plan, the glaciers will be gone soon. When you come late, GNP may no longer gorgeous as it is now.
One of our favorite National Parks – gorgeous photos.
Agree, it too is now on our fave list.
If it is possible to be ‘obsessed’ with a national park, we are obsessed with Glacier National Park. If we could head there right now and just stay for a year, we would. I read a ton of travel blogs and spend an unhealthy amount of time looking at pretty pictures on Instagram. No other park has more consistently blown me away than Glacier. I am so looking forward to seeing it through your photos and hearing about what you all do there. Have a blast!
National Parks are a treasure but they are loved to death. Glacier NP is now on the top of our list along with my all time fave Yosemite!
East Glacier remains one of my favorite places…we have never visited the west side. The falls are beautiful. I can still remember the mist on my face from Virginia Falls. We were there in August and never used the shuttle…parking wasn’t a problem. Sorry you had a bad experience MonaLiza.
The crowd and parking on the west side is as bad as the other national park in Southern Utah.
Great Photos! Were heading to Glacier in a few weeks. Thank for the info
I personally prefer staying on the east side, less traffic and lesser crowd. And if you are going to do anything, be sure to start early, parking lots fill up quickly.
I’m so excited you made it to Glacier! It’s my favorite place and I just want everyone to love it as much as I do. Looks like you’re having a great time so far! I haven’t been back since the fires last year but I’m glad to hear that the forests are recovering nicely.
I can understand why GNP is your favorite place, there is no shortage of stunning scenery.
You are the third couple I follow that has visited this park this summer. I just love looking at those glaciers. They are soooooo big!
Of course, I am bias toward water falls. They make me feel so peaceful. Gorgeous photos.
Continue enjoying the good life.
I can’t get enough those waterfall, they are mesmerizing and there are so many here at GNP.
Reblogged this on Retired Vagabond.
I’m jealous Lisa, you got some wonderful pictures. I was there two years ago, but I got nowhere near the shots you captured. Also when I was there most of the Road to the Sun was a dirt and mud road. A little disappointing, but some day I will return.
We were fortunate, there were no construction going on at the Going to the Sun Road and the weather really cooperated. I would say we came at just the right month.
Well, it’s obvious we need to go back to Glacier National Park and spend more time. We love waterfalls and did not see those when we were there. I have been to Avalanche Lake, but Bob has not so I’ll have to drag him up there too. Love your beautiful blog!
Perhaps on your way to Oregon you swing by Montana. There are so many waterfalls here!
We remember hearing about the fire in the area of Virginia Falls. Wow! It is really burned out. This hike and Iceberg Lake were the hikes I wanted to return to Glacier to do on our back from Canada. Glad we stopped again to do them:) The falls are so pretty:) We never took the shuttle, just got out early (very early for us). I imagine it is just too difficult to run more shuttles with just one road through the park.
I wanted to hike Iceberg Lake too but there was day that a storm was passing through. The second time we rode the shuttle was when we hiked the Highline Trail.
we should be in Kalispel in less than a week and I can hardly wait…
We only visited the East side of the park on a day trip, I definitely want to do some hikes in the Many Glacier area some day. This is such a beautiful place…but the crowds!!!!
As always we avoid the crowds by starting early. Steve gets me out of bed by 530 😦
Such a gorgeous place. I really love the east side. Some of the most picturesque hikes! Great pictures.
I agree the east side has stunning sceneries than the west end.
Your beautiful photos make me want to go back. I have been trying to convince Terry that we need to return next year. 😉
You need another week to explore but I think your Canada trip overshadows GNP 🙂
And that was much too short. I look forward to what you discover when you cross the border.
The waterfalls and lakes are so beautiful—but it’s sad to see the devastation caused to the forests by fire and disease. We had better get there sooner rather than later, considering that the glaciers won’t be there in another 15 years. Love your waterfall and lake shots, ML.
There are so many waterfalls to hike to, we chose this easy one for starters. Yes, I think you should plan on coming this way on your next round, either July or fall.
A week sounds a good amount of time to be there, we need to go back as we didn’t do many of the hikes. Your waterfall shots are fantastic.
Oh Glacier! One of my absolute favorites. Love your picture of Going to the Sun Mountain. We were there in 2011 and because I broke my ankle there we could not hike in the St. Mary’s area. It makes me so sad that we could have seen it before the fire. But it’s great to see all the wildflowers bringing beauty back to the fire ravaged area. Nature will fully recover. I just won’t live long enough to see it in full forest peak. Your pictures of the falls are a sight for my sore eyes after the low low water levels here in the Finger Lakes known for its waterfalls. What gorgeous falls you saw. So glad you took the shuttle, we did too. It would be really nice if everyone would. Although if they really want people to take it, they will have to make them run more often and have more buses. Waiting 40 minutes only to have the shuttle passes you by would be really irritating. Good move on Steve’s part to go to Logan. Back in an hour sounds fine. I love the perspective you got from the boat tour. Your pictures of the lake at the foot of the mountains are fantastic! Your photography is so good Mona Liza. Thanks so much for sharing it.
I can just imagine your frustration when you broke your ankle and can relate to that with my recent knee injury.
I sure hope you make another trek out west and pick up where you may have left off at Glacier NP. Maybe there would still a few acres of glacier left by then,
How very beautiful this area is, Mona Liza! Love all of your photos, but especially the waterfalls and lakes. The Alpine Fireweed is such a beautiful colour and in such stark contrast to those poor burnt trees. The boat tour was a brilliant idea and must have been so relaxing after your hike. 🙂
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