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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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!
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:
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…
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