I am currently in a hotel room in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Despite being the third largest city in the state, it is still pretty small, having about 54,000 residents according to the Census Bureau. After spending several days in the park with limited internet, sleeping in a small cabin room with primitive accommodations, it is really nice to be in a spacious queen-sized bed with air conditioning and wi-fi. However, I still miss the relaxing feeling of sitting by Lake McDonald late at night, looking across at the faint mountains on the other side, quite except for the soft breath of the wind. I will attempt to briefly go over what has happened on each day of this vacation between my last blog post and now.
July 28 – We slept in a bit, leaving the hotel at about 10:30. There was a bit of debate over which hike to do, but after much argument, we agreed upon the Apgar Lookout Trail. It’s located in the far south-east corner of the park, so close to the edge that we could even see houses, trains, the road, and even a golf course below from trail. It was about 7.1 miles round-trip with 1900 feet of elevation gain. Despite the steep hike of about three hours up and two hours down, I found it to be well worth the view of Lake McDonald from the top. We made it to the Lake McDonald lodge, where we would spend three nights. I did not like the cabin, since it was extremely small and the bathroom door did not lock or close properly. However, the main lodge building, constructed in 1914, was quite grand, and was a great place to relax in late at night after a day of hiking.
July 29 – Being still tired and sore from the hike up to the Apgar lookout, we decided that we would take it easy for a day and head over to the Two Medicine region. This was one of the areas of the park which we had not visited at all during our past trips, and my mother was very interested in seeing it. It was extremely crowded, and we had to park in the campground. I purchased an elk sausage from the store, since I was really hungry. After checking out the area and stopping at the ranger station, we decided to walk to Aster Falls.
While the hike was not long, it was a bit longer than we intended to hike for. Still, we managed to completed it without significant difficulty. I personally feel as if the falls were not too impressive and ultimately not worth the hike through the forest. After cooking a dinner at the picnic area, we made a stop by Running Eagle Falls. Along with being a shorter hike (less than 0.6 miles round trip), I personally thought they were more impressive. Along the route back, also stopped by a general store and hostel named “Brownie’s” in East Glacier, where we got ice cream. It was well worth the price, and trying the huckleberry flavour was an interesting experience.
July 30 – The original plan for the day was to at least drive up to the Highline Trail. While we did not think that we’d be able to hike the entire distance, it was thought that we would at least be able to take a look. Unfortunately Going to the Sun Road, the main route through the park, which the trail access was located upon, had partially reopened just the previous day. Therefore, many people were rushing to get the the areas they previously could not access. As our car approached the Avalanche Creek Campsite, the road was already backed up, with a line of cars as far as we could see. We therefore decided that we would check out Bowman Lake in the remote North Fork region of the park, and possibly check out the Highline Trail later.
The route to Bowman Lake required leaving the park and passing through the national forest. We went on a mixture of paved and unpaved roads, through both forest and ranches. Despite not seeing many other people on the way there, the lake was rather busy with a number of visitors. There were a few hikes in the area, such as the one over the ridge to the Quartz lakes; nevertheless, they were all rather long and we were not in a hiking mood. After spending some time eating, we began the drive back. A stop was made at the Polebridge Mercantile, the only store in the North Fork valley. They had various goods that were rather expensive – expected given the remote location. I did not buy anything since I figured I could wait until I got back into town.
Once we made it back, we decided to try making it up Going to the Sun Road again. The ranger at the entrance station claimed that the road was less busy. While there were quite a few people at the parking lot when we first arrived, it turned out that most of them were leaving, since the visitor centre had just closed. We only hiked for a few minutes on the trail, but still managed to get a great view of the valley below.
July 31 – We had wanted to go to the Many Glacier area, where we planned on spending a night before the fire changed our plans. However, we saved it for the last day, since it was on the way out. While the plans were originally to hike to the Ptarmigan Tunnel, we eventually decided to hike to Grinnell Glacier instead. The decision was made because guidebooks suggested it was both easier and more scenic. While looking back, they were probably the same difficulty, I do think that seeing a glacier that is slowly melting and won’t last forever is more impressive than seeing a man-made tunnel that will remain for generations. It was the sunniest day of the trip, and the trail had very little cover for shade. We ran out of water fast, and had to drink from a waterfall. Luckily, none of us have gotten sick yet. The way down was slightly easier, not only because of not going up, but because the sun was lowering and provided shade from the cliffs. While it felt a lot more difficult due to conditions, it probably was not quite as difficult as the Apgar Lookout trail. Once we made it back to the car, we couldn’t wait to eat dinner, and while it was sad leaving the park, it was exciting to finally go into town.
August 1 – As the car sped across the wastelands of northern Montana along U.S. Route 2, I looked back on the fun I had. It was great being with my family, and especially seeing my sister for a week. We drove taking as few breaks as possible, making it all the way from Shelby, MT to Grand Forks, ND where I am now – a distance of over 750 miles! However, about 11 hours remain, including the detour to drop my sister off. It’s going to be sad getting rid of her, since it’ll be a while before we see each other again.
It is currently 2 AM and I should be sleeping now and not blogging. Therefore, I am going to sleep now. Stay tuned for photos and (possibly) a final post about the ride home.