During the summer of 2022, Teddy and I ventured on an epic 12 day road trip through parts of the Midwest and Rocky Mountains. We had spent about 1-2 days in most areas so far and decided the spot we wanted to spend the most amount of time was Glacier National Park. I’d visited once before to run a half marathon right outside the park on the east side with a friend. It was a quick trip, and the top portion of the Going to the Sun Road was closed, so visiting with Teddy would bring new experiences for us both.
To get to Glacier, we were driving from the west side of North Dakota to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s about 9.5 hours between these two places. We stayed in Glendive, MT the night after our Theodore Roosevelt visit because there are really not many options between the two parks. Truly. They are incredibly limited because this is a very unpopulated area of Montana. The best we could find was either to get to Great Falls and find a place to stay or add extra time to our drive by going down and staying in Billings. Neither was ideal so we picked the spot in Glendive where there were quite a few options before spending the next day driving most of the day.
We set out around 6 AM for the long day of driving ahead. We took the uppermost route on Interstate 2 because we had found there were slightly more options for gas and food along the way during the first few hours of driving. We stopped at a little roadside coffee spot in Malta called Milk River Mocha and both got chais. Then we set out for a few more hours of driving before stopping for Gas in Cut Bank. While we intended to stop for lunch somewhere along the way, options were pretty limited and we were more focused on getting to our lodging in Glacier than we were finding a spot to eat. We had Lunchables for the 7th or maybe 8th time on the trip from our cooler. I think they’re delicious and didn’t mind at all. After our long travels, we finally got to the east side of Glacier National Park. If you’re familiar with the park, you know that to get from the east to the west side – you have about two options. One is to go through the park, over the pass, and then to the west. The other is stay outside the park and go around to the south. We took the south route since we would be going into the park the next day.
We checked into our little cabin in Apgar Village. It was just a few steps from the water and such an ideal setting inside the park. We unloaded the car and then rested for a while. The first Penn State Game of the season was that evening and we didn’t have much in the way of Wifi or Cell Service where we were staying so we ventured into Columbia Falls for dinner outside of the park. We went to the Gunsight Saloon with a western feel, indoor bars, and a patio. We ordered drinks and food (the steak salad was incredible) and both enjoyed the game while also planning our adventures for the next few days while we had service.
We planned to hike to Avalanche Lake the next morning. which is just under 6 miles. Because this can be a crowded hike, we set out before sunrise. There was construction taking place on the Going to the Sun Road on the west side, so we had to sit in a line of cars waiting until the road opened at 6 am. We were lucky enough to be one of the first people into the parking lot and set out on our hike. While the hike ends at beautiful lake and waterfalls at the end, the views along the way are quite beautiful too. If you start your hike on the trail of the Cedars portion, you will be met with views of running waters over rock in between the tall pines. It reminded me a lot of the Pacific Northwest. It took us about an hour or so to get out to the lake. I packed us some sandwiches to enjoy for breakfast and we found a log along the water and took in the beautiful views. There were about 20 or so other people there at that point but more were coming in. We heard some commotion and people pointing and wouldn’t you know it – someone spotted a bear not far from the trail fishing in the water for breakfast. We were far enough back you could barely make him out in the water. It was our first bear sighting in the park and thankfully we were a very safe distance away when it happened. While we had to go back on the trail to go back to the car, he was much more focused on fishing than he was on people spotting.
Once we made it back to our car, our next plan was Polebridge. During the summer we visited, there were reservations in place for both Going to the Sun Road as well as the North Fork, up by Polebridge. We intentionally got reservations at Apgar Village inside the park so that we wouldn’t have to worry about separate reservations for the car. This saved us from having to go online and try and get them for each of the days we were there. We did however book reservations for the North Fork Road but logistically the day that made sense to go to Polebridge, wasn’t the day we had the North Fork Reservations. We were under the impression you’d need those to get to Polebridge. So after our hike, Teddy and I drove back on the Going to the Sun Road to the entrance to the park in West Glacier, drove over through Columbia Falls and then north on the North Fork Road to get to Polebridge. About the time we got to Columbia Falls and had service again, I realized we absolutely didn’t have to do that. We could have just driven from Apgar up Camas Road to the North Fork Road which you can see below. So we drove an hour, potentially more out of the way because I didn’t understand exactly what roads required what reservations and which were open to the public and which weren’t.
It wouldn’t have been a big deal if these were decent roads. But they’re not. As you can see, the road on the left hand side that connects to the outside North Fork Road is not listed as black, it’s grey. This means it’s gravel. Again, no big deal right? Wrong. This 34 mile stretch or something was the most awful driving experience I’ve had in most of my life. It’s a national forest road but it was deep gravel. I don’t know how else to explain it but our Jeep Wrangler did not like it. We believe we had the right amount of air in the tires, but we crawled at about 10 miles an hour for 34 miles on this road. Other cars and trucks didn’t seem to have the same issues we did. When we’d go over 10 miles an hour the vehicle would rattle and shake like no other and it was even worse. So we crawled. For 34 miles. Pretty much in silence because roads on steep mountains and me feeling anxious in the car do not go well together. So slow and steady it was. Finally on the Outside North Fork Road, we reached some version of a paved road. I was so incredibly thankful. We then finally made it to Polebridge.
We were so excited for Polebridge because the Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery is incredibly well known for its bear claws. At this point, we were almost 2 hours into driving from our hike in the morning to Polebridge just for these stinking bear claws. I kept telling Teddy they better be worth it. Well, they were. We got one and split it and realized that was not the best decision, so we bought two more. One was for later in the day and then one for our hike the next day. We checked out a map and realized, yes, we would be able to get back into Apgar without having to back entirely the way we came in. We drove out the Outside North Fork Road, and then went over to Camas Road through the Camas Entrance Station. I think because of how ridicuous the roads are to get there and because it was a week day, there was nobody at the Camas Entrance Station. Nobody working, no line, no nothing. We literally just drove through. We headed back to the cabin and I made us sandwiches for lunch and then we relaxed for a few hours until dinner.
We ate at Eddie’s Cafe and Gifts in Apgar for dinner and could walk there from our cabin. The food was okay but not a place we felt the need to eat at again. Then, we headed back further into the park on the Going to the Sun Road. After our drive in the morning, I was not looking forward to another drive up a mountain, this one being far taller and narrower, and more crowded than the one this morning, though it would at least be paved. While it sounds ideal to have someone else drive and me in the passenger seat, that’s worse because I can look out my window and see the drop over the cliff (since we were driving west to east). Even typing that makes my stomach drop. So if we were headed to the top of the mountain, I had to be the one to drive.
So we started the trek from Apgar up to Logan Pass, about 16 miles and about 3200 feet of vertical climbing. We went slow, and I just looked straight on, not out the windows. We started before sunset, so by the time we got to the top of Logan Pass, the sun was setting which made it more magical when we finally got to the top and I could finally look around. It was actually epic. We walked around a bit on top of the pass and checked out our potential hikes for the next morning. Because not only was I going to drive it once, I was also going to drive the same road the next morning in the dark which I wasn’t sure was going to be better or worse. We headed back down Logan Pass and back to our cabin where we needed to pack up before heading out the next morning.
Day 3 also began very early again. We packed up the car and planned to get in line for the road opening by 6 AM but because it was a weekend, they must not have bene working. Instead, the road was open and we got to drive right through. It took about an hour to get from Apgar up to Logan Pass. Even though we were some of the first people up there, the parking lot was already filling up. This spot gets so full because two popular hikes take off from this area – Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Trail. While we had planned to do about 2-3 miles on the Highline Trail before returning, we had decided the night before that we would probably enjoy Hidden Lake Trail more. We still would like to do the Highline in the future, but when we have more time and are ready for sheer drops on the side of the trail (which is not really something I’m into).
If you do the entire hidden lake trail, it’s about 5 miles and about 1300 feet of elevation gain. When we were there, the lower part was closed because of bear activity. So we just hiked out to the overlook portion which was still about 500-600 feet of elevation gain. A good portion of the initial hike is on boardwalks going up the mountain. Then it becomes more gravel like as you pass by little streams and depending on the season you visit, beautiful wildflowers. It took us about an hour to hike the 1.5 miles to the overlook since we stopped and took lots of photos along the way. We saw a few mountain goats and then heard about big horned sheep near the trail. At the top, we stopped and had a bear claw from our Polebridge trip the day prior. That’s a great hiking snack in my opinion. We hiked back and stopped in the Visitor Center before heading down the other side of the mountain.
Our plan that afternoon had been to go to the Many Glacier area on the east side. You didn’t need tickets for this section which should have been our tip off that it would be packed. We got there in early afternoon and after driving another dirt and gravel road, they let us know it was full for parking and they wouldn’t be allowing anyone else in. So we pursued Plan B. We grabbed lunch in Saint Mary outside the park on the east side at the Snowgoose Grill & Gift Shop. We split a bison quesadilla as an appetizer and it was so stinking good. It had just cheese and bison on the inside but then a corn salsa and a spicy aioli you could dip in it and we both loved it.
We came up with a game plan at lunch of what to do next so we headed back into the east side of the park to hike to Baring Falls. It was starting to get very warm outside so while we wanted to hike to Virginia and St. Mary falls as well, the heat didn’t make that sound appealing. We enjoyed our short little hike and then decided to head to our hotel for the night. It was the same hotel I finished my half marathon at a few years earlier so I was familiar with the area, but just not exactly how far it was from the East Entrance. About an hour south of the entrance are East Glacier and the East Glacier Lodge. It took that long because part of the road was under construction and again, it was just fully gravel. What was wild about this road was it kind of felt like a free for all. There weren’t cones or anything directing you to exactly where to drive, and there wasn’t anyone working at the site. You just followed the car in front of you and tried to stay out of other people’s way. We saw an RV go through there and wow, was I thankful to not be driving one of those over this very steep, gravel road.
We checked into the lodge and then made our way to dinner in the main building at The Great Northern Dining Room. We started with the “Moose Drool Poutine’ which included french fries, cheese curds, and moose drool brown gravy. It was good when the fries were crispy but when they got a little soggy not as great. At dinner we figured out plans for the evening and next day. We had initially thought about going back up to Many Glacier or into the park again the following day, but with the amount of driving it would be to go north and then go back south again, it was a multiple hour detour so we decided to stay at the lodge for the evening and relax in the great room before heading to bed.
The next morning we got up and walked around the grounds a bit before driving south toward Missoula. The winds had changed overnight so the wildfire smoke had come back into the area and the sun was a hazy red. While we would have loved to spend more time in Glacier, we were looking forward to our upcoming time in Idaho and the Sawtooth Mountains so we began the next leg of our trip south.
On Our Next Visit
Teddy and I loved our time in Glacier. Even though it was my second visit and his first, we’ve barely scratched the surface of things to do in and around the park. In a future visit, some hikes we’d like to do include Highline Trail, Iceburg Lake, and St. Mary & Virginia Falls. I personally would want to spend more time on the west side of the park and just enjoy time by Lake MacDonald and visit Whitefish. I’d also make sure to cave out 1-2 days for the Many Glacier area. I’d also most definitely revisit Polebridge (but the shorter way) and get another delicious bear claw. I think no matter how many times you visit Glacier, there’s always a new experience to be had in the park.