We’re nothing if not honest here at C3T HQ.

But even a pile of “runner up” pictures from Glacier National Park is still pretty good stuff.

McDonald Creek on the west side of Glacier

Avalanche Lake

Glacier has something for everyone. And sometimes, “everyone” is right there with you. On the trail. In your way.

This is the Avalanche Lake Trail, and it’s considered a “must do” on the west side of the park. For most of our time there, we were able to avoid these big crowds, but, at the end of the day, it’s a popular trail and you’re just never going to avoid everyone.

The hike starts on the Trail of the Cedars, a boardwalk meander through a grove of – wait for it – Cedar trees.

Hikers then hang a left and start making their way up a very reasonable, 3 mile-ish hike to the lake. Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to take in the bright blue glacial waters flowing down from the lake…

and the occasional bridal party:

The payoff at the end is this crystal clear, brightly hued, mountain lake.

If you look closely at the mountains in the background, you can see the streams of snow melt running down toward the lake. Standing on the beach, we could hear the rushing water, but it must be positively deafening in the Spring.

St. Mary & Virginia Falls

One of the main attractions on the east side of the park, especially when you’re on Going to the Sun Road, is St. Mary Lake.

The lake changes color from bright blue, to teal green, to aquamarine, depending on the angle of the sun. The above picture was taken midday, while this next picture was taken later in the afternoon.

And this picture, which I posted in my last post, was taken just as the sun was setting.

This phenomenon is caused by tiny particles of glacial rock suspended in the waters of the lake. The particles reflect the sun differently across the day.

Sadly, Glacier National Park is prone to fires and there have been some doozies over the years. The damage is readily apparent as you drive along the Sun Road, especially on the East side.

There are several trails that traverse the area, but to be honest, given all the fire destruction, I wasn’t really seeing the appeal. But, as we’ve learned over and over, things are popular for a reason, so we decided to give it a shot.

Predictably, we ended up being glad we went. As soon as we got out of the car, we noticed a cool thing: Check out all the new life fighting its way up through the ruin:

Much of this damage was from the Reynolds Creek Fire in 2015, so it really didn’t take long for the vegetation to start its rebound.

A forest at Glacier National Park – 5 years post fire

The fact is, fire is a natural part of the life cycle for this type of forest, so this is just nature doing its thing.

This stood in stark contrast to what we saw when we visited Mesa Verde National Park in 2018 – the forests there do not require fire to stay healthy, so, many decades later, the trees were all dead with no signs of regrowth.

A forest at Mesa Verde National Park – 18 years post-fire

The go-to trail in this area is the hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls.  If you want to add some mileage – and not fight for parking – start a mile or so further east at Sunrift Gorge and hike past Baring Falls. Either way, realize that when you see St. Mary’s Falls:

you’re not done.

Continue past these falls, and up into the woods. Look around and notice all the dead trees are gone. You’ve found the fire line!

Keep following the path and, before you know it, you’ll hear the sound of water crashing against rocks. And, if you’re really smart and you’ve followed our “Go Late” national park exploration strategy, you may even get this epic waterfall to yourself for a while!

Stanton Lake

Those seeking a break from the challenges of hiking in Glacier National Park can find plenty of options in nearby Flathead National Forest. And National Forests don’t restrict dogs the way National Parks do, so you can bring your puppy with you.

The Stanton Lake Trail is a 3.8 mile out and back that was located about 20 minutes from our campground. It starts as a pretty unremarkable walk through the woods, but then, a little over a mile in, you look to your left and….Shazam!

Turns out Glacier isn’t the only place with those fancy glacial particles.

Of course, it could have been a Superfund site and our dog would have made a beeline right for it…

The lake isn’t particularly large, so we headed down to the far end to check out the views from there. The featured image at the top of this post is from that side of the lake looking back.

In the several hours of our visit, we only encountered maybe 10 people. It was a nice change of pace from Glacier.

North American RV Park

When I booked our campground for this stay, we were sitting in Austin, unsure of what the summer would look like. Would places be open? Would tourist towns want visitors? What were the chances of another shutdown? I called this campground and asked what their plans were and they said they’d be open no matter what. I booked it, even though it was pricey, because I wanted to make sure we had somewhere to go during this bizarro-world summer.

In the end, the stuff I worried about in Austin ended up being non-issues. There were plenty of people on the road, the tourist towns were happy to have visitors, and no one cared about our Florida license plates. The downside was, we disliked this park and were stuck there for a month. It wasn’t terrible, by any stretch, but we just weren’t feelin it.

Take the “dog park,” for instance:

"Dog park" at North American RV Park in Columbia Falls, Montana

I swear, when Thor and I walked up to this the first time, he turned to me and said, and I quote, “Dude… what the f*ck??”

Yes, this was the campground’s “dog park.” Too big for a kennel, too small for…literally anything else.

The campground has also been on a bit of a building craze to take advantage of all this new interest in RV travel, adding and cramming, and cramming and adding. The result is a hodgepodge of sites, inconsistent spacing, unkempt grassy areas, and rigs facing in all different directions. It was just weird.

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Additionally, internet access is atrocious and the campground’s wifi was lousy. We’re at the point now that every single thing we do requires internet access, so spending a month in a place with terrible connectivity is incredibly frustrating. And spending a high price to do so is just insulting. If they’re going to charge 5 star prices, they need 5 star internet. (Actually, they don’t. They can charge whatever they want because people will pay top dollar to be close to a national park, but in an ideal world, people would care what I think.)

Finally, we noticed the office staff wasn’t particularly friendly. We’ve observed this trend at a couple campgrounds near national parks, and it makes sense: these places churn through visitors like crazy and they know their average guest is never coming back. I get it, but it was just one more thing in the negative column.

One saving grace was that we ended up parked just two spaces away from folks we know through this blog and Instagram (Kelly and Jerry at @knjmcdonald). Kelly saw me out walking Thor one morning and came over to say hi (Thor is – literally – “Instagram famous.”) We ended up meeting up the next night, grabbing take-out pizzas from the restaurant down the street, and chatting for several hours outside at our campsite. It was a nice bit of unexpected normalcy in a very weird period of time.

A Fabulous Dog Park

Speaking of Thor, when we adopted him in December of 2018, we were told that he had languished in the rescue for over 9 months because he was “never going to be a dog park dog.” We were told he didn’t get along with other dogs, which meant he’d always have to get exercise alone, and many potential adopters (at least in that area) didn’t want to deal with that.

Can you believe this devastatingly handsome fella couldn’t find a forever home??

Me neither. But their loss was our gain.

In any case, our understanding that Thor didn’t get along with other dogs led to Kevin’s and my “Trespassing Across America Tour,” as we sneaked onto the grounds of tons of middle schools, high schools, and local parks when no one was looking so we could play fetch with him.

Well, come to find out, our dog actually loves playing with other dogs.

He does have some “barrier frustration,” (ie: if he’s on a leash, or behind a fence, he can get anxious and bark-y), but if he’s able to play freely, he does great.

Enter dog parks… our new favorite places. No longer do we have to sneak around like common criminals. We can just take him to the places he’s actually allowed to go!!

Finding a good dog park was crucial while we were at Glacier because we were disappearing for several hours at a time to go hiking in the park, and if you know anything about young German Shepherds, you know that if they don’t get enough exercise, they will tear your house apart.

Fortunately for all of us, there’s an incredible dog park about 20 minutes west of Columbia Falls in the town of Whitefish. The Hugh Rogers WAG Park is five acres of puppy magic. Huge green fields, agility equipment, separate areas for big dogs and small dogs, a puppy washing station, and… a pond!

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It’s like Disney World for dogs and it was a real lifesaver.

Back to Missoula

We’d originally planned to head from Glacier west through Couer D’Alene/Spokane before continuing farther into Washington. I did not appreciate, however, how popular Couer D’Alene is during the summer, and so, by the time I tried to book a campsite, everything was spoken for. Suddenly finding ourselves with nowhere to go, I dialed up Jim & Mary’s in Missoula once more and they were, fortunately, able to squeeze us in.

The only new things we did during our return trip were checking out another excellent dog park – which came complete with kiddie pools for puppy cool down time:

Thor demonstrating how to properly use a tiny swimming pool / giant water bowl.

and visiting the highly recommended (thanks, Laurel!) taco shop called Tia’s Big Sky for some delicious yumminess.

“Yes, I would like all of these things. Please give them to me.”
Seven chile pork tacos

We truly enjoyed our time in Montana – spectacular scenery, great small cities, fantastic dog parks, fun breweries, and fabulous tacos. But…Winter. So, after our six week visit, we were back on the road heading due West. The difference in roadside views between western Montana and central Washington was pretty striking…

Southbound in Montana
Westbound in Washington

But the mountain scenery we were about to experience in Washington easily gave Montana a run for its money… and, even better, we had some of the most jaw dropping parts of the country pretty much to ourselves.

More on that next.

______________________________________________________________________

Where we stayed: North American RV Park, Coram, Montana

39 COMMENTS

  1. Ooh! I love all the water pictures. They are so pretty and remind me of Niagara. The water looks super cold, though! Glad you were able to find some quiet spots and unexpected new scenery. Stay safe!

    • Yeah, the water color was very much the same as what we saw in Niagara. It’s always striking to see, but yes – it’s also very chilly. We saw a couple people jump into one of the lakes we went to and they jumped out just as fast. 🙂

  2. Look, it’s all about the marketing. Without your characterization of these spots as “less interesting” I would be blown away by the grandeur…. especially the photo of Kevin at the waterfall, but really all of them. It just goes to show how jaded travelers can become. 🙂 Despite the closures on the eastern side you really explored a lot of different areas of the park and your photos show that you experienced plenty of awe-inspiring scenery. That’s a win, for sure, even with a weird RV park situation.

    • Haha, yeah, I know… we are definitely jaded. “Ooooh, 100 foot waterfall? Whatevs….” LOL. But honestly, I am all about the mountains – even more so than waterfalls, lakes, deserts, or coastal scenery. I just love mountain views and the ones in Glacier were incredible. So, once I was done sorting through all those photos, I was a tiny bit harder to impress.

      I know, I know… I’ll shut up now. 🙂

  3. Our Westies also have a different leash personality, more easy going when taken off the leash but can be snippy when on it. I miss Montana and plan to head back in a year or two.

    • Leash aggression is a fairly common thing. We see it all the time. Every dog at the dog park gets along great, yet, when they’re out on walks, they’re barking at each other and lunging and acting like jerks. In the end, though, I’d prefer to deal with this than true dog aggression.

      Montana is definitely awesome. We have a lot more to explore and will absolutely return another time.

  4. Many dogs don’t do well on a leash around other dogs but become happy campers off leash! SO glad that you were able to have Thor in your family and figure that out for him. He is gorgeous! So enjoy your blog – your writing style is really fun and engaging! And – yes. One of everything on that menu sounds about right! 😊. Safe and happy travels!

    • Thank you, Mary. I appreciate it! I wish we had figured out Thor’s issues earlier, but leash aggression is one of those things that’s hard to diagnose without potentially putting your dog and others’ dogs at risk. Had we been living in one place for a while, we might have been able to figure it out easier working with our friends’ dogs, but it’s harder to do when you’re on the road. Either way, I’m glad we now have it squared away. It’s easier for us to get him exercise and he obviously loves playing with other dogs, so it makes him very happy.

  5. What a take on “slightly less interesting” You gift for finding peaceful places in some of the most crowded places in the US is spectacular! I think you are 100% correct about parks near major attractions, people will pay for convenience and forgive/forget the rest. Thor, however, will neither forgive nor forget the crappy “dog park” but looks like he had a ball at the “real” ones! I can’t wait to get back to Montana and the west, maybe next year. As always, safe travels!

    • I honestly want to ask the campground management what they were thinking with that dog park, especially because there was a large field right behind it…. I mean, maybe if you have super tiny dogs, it might work, but I just never think of Montana as a place where a lot of people have super tiny dogs. These are the great questions of the day…. 🙂

      Anyway, you will absolutely love exploring and photographing Montana. It is right up your alley!

  6. There is nothing runner up about these pictures, they are stunning … as usual 🙂

    We have hiked through many fire ravaged trails around our area and, like you, I love to see the new growth making its way through the devastation.

    OMG that dog park was awful, I’m surprised Thor didn’t use a lot more forceful words when he first saw it. It is frustrating when you pay top dollar and are so let down but nice that you had some friendly company. And the picture of Thor with the tie, so very cool! I wonder if the “playing with other dogs” is a shepherd thing. Our daughters first shepherd was the same as Thor when leashed or in the yard but loved to play off off leash with other dogs.

    It is sad that you are probably so close to us but because of COVID and the border closures we can’t get together … hopefully someday!

    • I know, right? We are so bummed we couldn’t make it up there this summer. So many great plans wrecked, and we likely would have come back to the U.S. from Alaska by way of Kelowna. And it looks like you won’t be getting much winter sun this year. The whole thing sucks.

      I think barrier frustration is pretty common among dogs. We see it frequently. It’s just their way of expressing their particular brand of crazy. 🙂 As for the tie, that’s what he came home with when we sent him to the groomer a couple months back. That picture always makes me smile. He looks so very serious, like he’s going to a job interview or something. 🙂

  7. That is so wonderful you found out Thor likes to play with other dogs! Shame on the rescue for not figuring that out beforehand. But, as you said, your gain! And, Thor in the tie? Too die for. Okay, the bridal party on the trail? So weird. Wonderful pictures as always. We also stayed at a not so nice campground while visiting Glacier and sat under a cottonwood tree that covered everything in sap! It was awful. But, before that we did pay top dollar to stay at Polson Lake Motorcoach resort and it was well worth every penny! Loved Montana and can’t wait to go back.

    • We, too, are disappointed we misunderstood his temperament for all this time, but I can’t really hold it against the rescue. They’re doing the best they can with a ton of dogs and barrier frustration and actual aggression certainly looks the same. It takes some experimenting before they can figure it out, and I think these rescues are just so overwhelmed, they don’t have the time. I’m still amazed, though, that he was there for so long. Other than his jumpiness on leash, he’s a great dog. I’m surprised no one snapped him up.

      I feel like everyone has at least one epically terrible overpriced RV “resort” story. Sap would NOT be fun to deal with. Ugh. What a mess.

  8. We also stayed at the North American RV Park and From your review I can see it has not improved in the least. It is close enough the west entrance we could ride the scooter there despite the freeway traffic, and of course always found a place to park, right up front at the Cedars Trail head. Your pictures show off the awesome water features of the park, and why it is so popular. I want to return!

    • Well, that makes me feel much better! I always question whether we’re being fair when we really dislike some of these places, so it’s good to hear you felt the same about it. I really think the unfriendliness at the front office was the most important factor. Had they been nicer, the other stuff probably wouldn’t have bothered us, but customer service really does color everything else.

  9. Whaaaaat?! You met up with knjmcdonald and no one brought up the reason they knew you existed was ME? I’m gutted.

    I think that, given the circumstances of 2020, you’ve managed to wring the best out of some really gorgeous places. Glacial flour refraction is one of my favorite phenomena, too.

    Thor seems to be rolling with the punches pretty well. That “dog park” at the campground was pathetically hilarious. Were they trying to be passive-aggressive in their dog-friendliness maybe? The Disneyland dog park, however, looked like a dream!

    I hope new and/or revised plans are working out and that you’re able to get clear of the smoke soon. 2020 just can’t find enough ways to try to kill us all, I guess. Fun city, baby!

    • It is truly amazing just how small this community is. I had no idea you knew them. If I did, we would have gossiped about you all night. 🙂

      I do wonder if you’re on to something with that terrible dog park. I mean, it has to be a joke, right? No one could possibly look at that and think it was reasonable. Hell, maybe it wasn’t even mean to be a dog park. Maybe they were just trying to protect the fire hydrant!

      As for our plans, I don’t know why I keep spending time making plans when I just have to blow them up every couple weeks, but yes, things are coming along. It feels like we’re all just bobbing and weaving our way through this cluster of a year.

  10. Well, your runner-up Glacier adventures and photos look pretty darned fantastic! Many of those places have been on our list for when we finally get to Glacier, and I really appreciate your tips for getting the most out of the hikes. Based on your experience (and Thor’s) I’m going to see if we can find a different place to stay, though.

    Speaking of Thor, even though you guys clearly had a great time, I do believe he had an even better time! That 5-acre dog park is amazing!! And he looks so comfy in the wading pool, lol.

    I’m so glad you made it to Tia’s for tacos and I’m glad you liked it as much as we did! We wanted to order everything on the menu, too. I miss restaurants. 😢 But that giant taco photo just inspired me to make some pickled red onions for our at-home tacos…

    • Whenever you guys get up to Glacier, you should just stay inside the park. There are several campgrounds and they’re supposedly fantastic. Several weren’t open this year because of Covid, and we probably would not have fit into many of the spaces, but you guys would have tons of great options. That’s definitely the way to go there.

      It’s funny you mention picked onions because Kevin just mentioned making those a couple days ago. When this crazy year is done, we should come up with a giant menu of awesome stuff and we should all spend a day cooking a huge meal. Those are the things I miss the most these days. Just hanging out with friends, making lots of food, and eating too much. Stupid pandemic.

  11. Those are some great runner ups. Campgrounds are becoming less appealing over time. I am leaning toward airbnb for stays in the future.

    Thor is one handsome dude and playful looking.

    • Thanks, Deb. Campgrounds are most definitely becoming less appealing. Luckily, they’re also becoming more expensive. So, yay!!

      I told Thor what you said and he told me to tell you, “Thank you, kindly!!”

      🙂

  12. Thor looks like he is in heaven in the water as well as playing in the dog parks. It had to be a few tense moments the first time you let him off leash at a dog park with other dogs in it. Good to see he plays so well with others!

    • You are exactly right. We kind of thought he might not be truly aggressive because he seemed to do ok with a couple of our friends calm dogs, but we weren’t sure, and he was SO reactive on leash, we just didn’t know. When we were in Austin, we took him to a well managed doggie day care and asked them to see what they thought. They slowly and carefully introduced him to a couple dogs and as he gained confidence, they had him interact with more and more of them. He was still anxious, but never had a bad experience. Once we were on our own at these dog parks we were definitely nervous because we certainly don’t want anyone else’s dog to be at risk, but fortunately, he did great and has gotten less anxious and more confident over time. It’s really been pretty cool to watch.

    • Haha, thanks, Sue! Those ears are pretty incredible, huh? One of his finest features, if I do say so myself. 🙂 Hope you guys are doing well!

  13. We loved hiking the St. Mary’s Falls hike….hardly anyone there. Plus, I love waterfalls. Some of the other popular trails were just too crowded for us, so we gave them a pass.

    I’m actually a little happy that your RV park experience there was not the best. We stayed at Sundance….right next to the train track (did I mention that I have a hate/hate relationship with trains). I thought maybe we picked the worst of the bunch, but now I wonder if any of RV parks in that area are worth a darn. We didn’t really spend much time there, so that was a positive. We did meet 2 other couples, and had a campfire experience with them. Everyone really enjoyed being able to just hangout and compare notes on our travels. We never do campfires, so it was nice, but of course the smoke kept drifting my way.

    Montana was great! We really loved that state. We enjoyed so many lakes! We’ll be back someday for sure.

    • Oh, trains… I never knew just how ubiquitous trains were in this country until we started RV travel. There is a reason RV parks are so often built near train tracks. It’s because the land is cheap. And there’s a reason the land is cheap… Blech. Anyway, you definitely didn’t miss much by not coming to our park. I have heard good things about the KOA up the street and there’s a new one called West Glacier RV Park (or something like that), but it’s even more obscenely overpriced than what we all paid, so yeah… I think we’re all just screwed on that front.

      I have no doubt you enjoyed spending a night chatting with other travelers. I don’t think most people appreciate how lonely this lifestyle can feel without making those connections. This yeah has been incredibly challenging for a lot of people because of that.

  14. As always, you’ve given us some great ideas to add to our list of things to go see. We always enjoy the photos and the way you share the places you visit. You share the good points of a place but also share honestly the things that you see are not ideal. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Jim. I think there are enough people telling everyone to go live in an RV. My goal is to talk people out of it. “It’s terrible! Seriously, you’ll hate it! You should definitely do something else!”

      🙂

  15. The beautiful photos make me smile. We visited all these spots in Glacier. Your photo of the people on the trail to Avalanche Lake is why we never returned to the west side of the park. We, too, had this same crowd hiking to the lake. We saw more flip flops then shoes that day. The glacial waters are just so spectacular. You have to see the color in person. So glad you had a wonderful time and shared your amazing photos. Now when the east side reopens, you MUST return! Love, love the photos of Thor and the dog parks. Good he had a fun trip, as well. He is so cute in the kiddie pool…haha!

    • Thanks, Pam. You are absolutely right about Avalanche. That one is super popular and easy enough for just about everyone, flip flops and all, so it gets crazy. We even went pretty late and it was still plenty busy. Some day, we will most definitely return to visit the east side of the park. I know that has some of the best scenery and trails, and given how little commercialization there is on that side, it should be a much more enjoyable experience with regard to crowds. We made the most of what we could, but we know there’s so much more to see.

    • HAHAHAHAHA! I LOVE those! I’ve seen one or two on Facebook before, but I hadn’t seen the whole series. OMG… they’re so great – especially because I see reviews like that all the time. Of course, my favorite are the recipe review sites where people substitute 3 out of 8 ingredients for a particular recipe and then complain when it comes out badly. “I made a completely different recipe and it tasted lousy. One star!”

      Oh, people… they kill me.

      🙂

  16. Those waterfalls in Glacier are spectacular!! And, you’re right, for runner-up photos, they aren’t too shabby. I’m hugely impressed by that Disney World dog park. Maya would love it as well. Our issue with her is that she never seemed to have been socialized as a puppy or learned to play nice as an adult dog. While she is not aggressive and likes other dogs, she gets overly excited and barky when she chases animals… sounds like you had a good summer in Montana. Nice to stay put for a while and explore an area in depth! 🙂

    • Maya sounds an awful lot like Thor. It basically comes down to over-excitement and anxiety about other dogs. It can sound kind of scary but its oftentimes harmless. The problem is, it’s tough to figure out without having a controlled environment and dog owners you can trust and who trust you. ALL of which is made harder when you live on the road and have no consistency. Sigh…

  17. Aww, I enjoyed getting to finally make some new connections on the road. We also really appreciated the tip about the dog park. Jack loved it. I agree about North American. The first site we had in the new section was absolutely unacceptable. Glad we moved or I might not have spotted you (and Thor). The next place we stayed, Rocky Mountain Hi in Columbia Falls was much better but, it was farther from the park.

    Safe travels.

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