The Crown of the Continent, part 2.

Lily and I crossed The Continental Divide and arrived on the east side of Glacier National Park on a super windy afternoon. It was so windy that after disconnecting the Airstream we just hunkered down for a day to let the gusts subside before venturing back into the splendor of Glacier.

St. Mary, MT

I really liked this side of the park. It felt more remote and isolated and the views made it seem like Glacier was “right there” – especially from the campsite. It was less PNW rainforest and more Swiss Alps, in my opinion.

Space A14 deluxe patio site at the St. Mary/East Glacier KOA with a fantastic view!

Once the wind became tolerable, we ventured out to explore the area and check out a few of the popular spots.

Posing for a quick selfie with St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island in the background.
Distant view of Jackson Glacier, the seventh largest glacier in the park, partially cloaked by clouds.
The Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake located in the “Switzerland of North America”. The hotel was already closed for the season and “mostly” boarded up.

Grinnell Glacier

I had been reading about this hike ever since arriving in West Glacier the week before. It seemed a little daunting being 12 miles round trip but I knew I had to do it and see a real live glacier up close. So, on a crystal clear morning I packed some snacks, several bottles of water, bear spray, Advil, and set out on the longest hike of my life so far.

The trail starts at a tiny parking lot near Swiftcurrent Lake just opposite the Many Glacier Hotel. When I arrived at 9:30 am the lot was full so I parked along the road not too far from the trailhead. I felt lucky to find parking anywhere since this is one of the most popular hikes in the park.

Just starting out and viewing Many Glacier from across the lake.
Lush foresty trail to soothe you at the beginning of the hike.
Meandering along Swiftcurrent Lake for about 2 miles with Grinnell Peak in the distance.
View of Grinnell Lake glowing like a turquoise oasis in the mid-morning sun.

After 2 miles you begin the climb and really start to feel the gain in elevation. Eventually, Grinnell Lake came into view with its stunning turquoise glow. About a mile later the trail became a stone path carved into the side of the canyon.

Looking forward toward Grinnell Peak and getting really excited about the change of scenery ahead.
Taking a quick rest and looking all the way back to Swiftcurrent Lake where I started.

At the 4 mile mark I finally got a glimpse of the top of the glacier and the waterfall that feeds Grinnell Lake from the glacial melt off. The trail through the valley gave way to a narrow cut in the cliff that takes you to the switchbacks where most of the traffic congests as hikers stop to catch their breath on the way to the finish line.

Glacial runoff waterfall (in the center-ish of the pic) from Little Grinnell Lake that feeds Grinnell Lake below.

I didn’t get any pics of the switchbacks because they were too steep and it was jammed with other hikers gasping for air while slowly traversing up. Then, finally, at the top and completely out of breath, I arrived at Grinnell Glacier and Little Grinnell Lake. It was really awesome.

The red water is actually melted “Watermelon Snow” that contains super concentrated red algae. Allegedly, the snow will be pinkish-red and smell like sweet watermelon before melting.

Sadly, the glaciers are rapidly melting and Grinnell Glacier has been retreating dramatically since about 1950. In 2003, a study concluded that nearly two-thirds of the 150 glaciers that existed in Glacier NP had completely melted by 1980. So, I’m greatful I had the opportunity to see this before it’s completely gone.

Behind me is all that is left of Grinnell Glacier. It was much bigger in real life.
Fascinating circular patterns in the rocks that were probably buried under glacial ice for centuries.
Interesting lines formed by ice moving and slicing into the solid rock.
The top of the tan rocks is where I sat and ate my snacks.
One last look at the glacier before leaving.

I spent about 45 mins hiking around, taking pics, and observing the interesting rocks all around. There were quite a few other hikers there but when they started packing up and leaving the place felt a little spooky. So, I too packed up and hit the trail for the 6 mile hike back down.

Looking toward the valley I was to hike back down into. Grinnell Glacier was behind me at this point.

Back home at the Airstream, I felt pretty accomplished and happy. It was such a great day and an amazing experience. And just like that, our time in Glacier came to an end. We spent 9 days inside this Crown of the Continent and it was the perfect way to kick off our second Airstream Adventure.

One last look as we leave this stunning National Park.

Next up, we continue east along the Lewis & Clark route of northern Montana until reaching North Dakota and dipping down into Theodore Roosevelt National Park and then crossing into Northern Minnesota. Along the way we stopped overnight at Walmart to stock up on supplies and relax.

Grocery shopping, sunset, happy hour, and sleep. A perfect stop along the way. Thanks Walmart.

See you soon for the next adventure update. Until then, check out @paulandlilygoplaces on IG for more pics and videos. Stay safe and happy travels.

The Crown of the Continent, part 1.

It’s official, Lily and I are back on the road for our next Airstream Adventure. This time, we are headed east along the northern most states en route to New England for some epic fall leaf peeping and then down the east coast towards Florida and the southern most point. Along the way, we are stopping at a few National Parks and other interesting places.

Columbia River Gorge

First stop after departing Seattle is Wanapum State Park along the Columbia River to visit friends and take in some of the amazing Washington State wines. Once again, I shall declare that State Parks are really truly amazing. When the wildfire smoked finally cleared and revealed crystal clear skies it was time to get to the wineries.

Space 35 with great views of the Columbia River and beyond.
Cave B was my favorite and their Chenin Blanc was delicious.
I’ve been enjoying Merlots again since being reacquainted over the summer.

In addition to wines, and in keeping with tradition, I stopped at a local coffee shop to grab an oat hazelnut latte (my new favorite), and a bag of their signature roasted beans for the road.

A great little eclectic coffee bean in downtown Ellensburg.
How about a sit and sip on this technicolor bench.

Alas, it was a great few final days in Washington State but we were eager to begin crossing state lines and enter the first National Park on the trip.

Glacier National Park

The Crown of the Continent! Established and protected as a National Park in 1910 and host to zillions of people each year. I was lucky to find parking anywhere! Since Glacier encompasses more than 1 million acres and is bisected by the Continental Divide, we split our time between the West and the East sides of the park. I thought this would be the best way to experience the entire park and still be home in time for a relaxing happy hour each evening.

West Glacier

We rolled into West Glacier, Montana on a cloudy afternoon and the area reminded me a lot of the PNW – similar to a rain forest, in my opinion. And, it rained twice while we were there. We settled in for 4 nights at the KOA Resort which seemed like the nicest RV park closest to the west entrance to Glacier.

Space 127 deluxe patio site, perfect for relaxing and soaking up the sun when it was shining.

Our first full day inside Glacier NP was dedicated to just navigating the park and driving the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Along the way, we passed Lake McDonald and its beautiful colored rocks.

The color of the rocks is determined by the presence or absence of iron.

The red rocks were deposited in shallow ocean waters where the iron was oxidized by the tidal exposure to air. The green rocks were formed in deeper water where oxidation was limited. Actually, I noticed colored rocks big and small all over the park because they had been scattered everywhere by the glaciers.

Hugging the lakeshore is the historic Swiss Chalet themed “Lake McDonald Lodge” where the iconic Red Busses from the 1930s pick-up and drop-off tour passengers.

The road to Logan’s Pass, aka the “Going-to-the-Sun Road” or “The Sun Road” or “GTTSR”, was completed in 1932 and is a very narrow two-lane winding road with hairpin curves hugging the side of the Rocky Mountains. Driving it wasn’t nearly as bad as most people reported on TripAdvisor; unless you have never driven a mountain road I suppose.

The beginning of the climb to Logan’s Pass at 6,647′ elevation.

Granted, the road is exceptionally narrow, and rocks hung over sections of the roadway at times, but that is what made it exciting and interesting and exhilarating.

This was part of a sketchy seven mile stretch about half way up.
Lily taking in the view at the summit.

We drove the GTTSR twice, one day was cloudy (as you can see), but the other day was brilliantly sunny and there seemed to be more traffic because of that.

The GTTSR crossing the little arched bridge at Bird Woman Falls (it’s the lower center of the pic).
The truck was nearly at the width limit for driving the road, so we hugged the yellow line all the way up/down.

Here are a few more pics before we head back down to earth. The views from every turnout and around every curve were spectacular.

These one-dimensional photos don’t even come close to replicating the grandeur of the experience.

Back down on earth, and as soon as I could find parking, I set out on a few hikes. Unless you wake up at the crack of dawn it’s nearly impossible to find parking at any of the popular trailheads. Having patience and a plan B are keys to enjoying your time in Glacier. So, the first hike was part of the Lake McDonald Loop which went along the upper McDonald Creek and showcased some gorgeous pools and waterfalls.

Even with the cloudy sky you can see the multi-color rocks in the water. When the sun is out the colors are much richer and way more vibrant.

The deep blue water color is the result of ground up rock and sediment called “glacial flour”. The movement of nearby glaciers provides a constant source of “flour” for the lakes and rivers.

All the trails in Glacier offer stunning scenery but my favorite on the west side was the Avalanche Lake Trail. Again, parking was guaranteed impossible but I was lucky to be there just as a car was pulling out.

The trail started on a boardwalk that meandered peacefully among the ancient cedars and then continued along the Avalanche Creek Gorge until it reached Avalanche Lake.

Resting and a quick selfie along the trail with the glacial valley behind me.
First view of Avalanche Lake from the trail.

Arriving at the lake was such a highlight. I sat on a log taking in the view while munching on trail mix and hydrating. Legend says the lake was named “Avalanche” because in 1895 when it was discovered they could hear the avalanches of glacial ice falling and echoing loudly through the gorge. The lake is fed by glacial runoff and that makes the water crystal clear and turquoise blue. It was such a gift to have this experience that day.

Back home at the Airstream, I enjoyed several happy hours with some local gin and whiskey I tasted and then acquired at Glacier Distillery.

My favorite kind of street sign.
Huckleberry Whiskey and Gin is delicious.

And so, on a cold and rainy morning, we left West Glacier and drove two hours towards East Glacier crossing the Continental Divide to begin the second half of our Glacier NP experience.

One last look at Lake McDonald as we depart on a cold and cloudy morning.

Stay tuned for the second half of our Glacier NP experience with more hikes, lakes, waterfalls, and an actual glacier!