We’re back with the final installment of our family vacation 2021! If you missed the previous posts, you can find them here and here.
Today we’re sharing the second half of our trip, our visit to Glacier National Park!
This was Jordan’s and my second visit to Glacier, as we had road-tripped and backpacked through Glacier and Yellowstone early in our marriage.
After our trip to the Tetons, we had a full day of travel to get to Glacier National Park. We were up at 4:00am to be in the car by 5 with the kids. Our drive from Island Park to Apgar Visitor Center took about 6.5 hours. We left super early hoping we would get at least a little reprieve while the kids slept.
We got their passports stamped at the visitor center and then headed into Apgar Village for some lunch.
From there, we took our first cruise up the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The last time Jordan and I were in Glacier, it snowed heavily right before our arrival and this main thoroughfare was closed. We instead traveled up the northwest side of the park and spent most of our trip about a mile from the Canadian border.
Seeing the road now, I can’t believe that we missed it last time and am so thankful that we chose to come back. Although the steep drop off had me pretty nervous, the views were unbeatable.
Everyone arrived mid-afternoon to our new Airbnb, a small house in the ski resort town of Whitefish. The house was about an hour’s drive to the park, but suited our family well (we had a lot of people and kids!). They also had games and toys which was nice for the babies to play with.
Day 2 in Glacier saw us driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road as a group. On our way to the Logan Pass Visitor Center, we were fortunate enough to see a black bear across the river! We were all so excited.
Due to limited parking at the visitor center, we had to park further up the road and shuttle back to the visitor center. While we were waiting for the shuttle, Jordan took Parker exploring down one of the trails.
We also had a nice family photo op, where we caught this classic:
We did manage to get some good photos while we waited.
Once we reached the visitor center, we decided to take a hike the Hidden Lake Trail, a 1.4 mile trail (2.8 mile out-and-back) to see Hidden Lake, as we heard a rumor there might have been some mountain goat sightings out there. The trail has an almost 500 foot elevation gain, so plan accordingly if you decide to traverse this one. It is one of the most heavily traveled in the park so the footing is good the whole way.
Although I don’t have any photos to share, we did see a mama and two baby mountain goats at the top of the hike. The views of the lake and Bearhat Mountain were also spectacular.
We took the shuttle back to our cars after the hike, which Parker thought was super fun.
We headed back to Apgar Village after our hike to grab some snacks and let the kids roam a bit. Lake McDonald was super busy with boaters and kayakers, and Parker enjoyed trying to skip rocks with Jordan.
Our second day in Glacier was a rest day for half of the group, and a major hiking day for the other half. When Jordan and I initially visited Glacier he had planned a 20 mile hike through Gunsight Pass to Lake McDonald for us, however due to the snow we were unable to access the trailhead. On this trip, Jordan wanted to try again. He, Morgan, Jewels, and his brother-in-law headed out at 4am to make the trek.
I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to go, but we all agreed that trying to make a 20 mile hike with a 3000 foot elevation gain at 26 weeks pregnant probably wasn’t the best idea.
Jordan will fill you in on that hike.
“The Gunsight Pass trailhead starts just off of the Jackson Glacier Overlook. We woke up at 4 am and made the 2 hour drive with my parents to drop us off, and started down the trail just before 7 am. The first 4 miles are mostly downhill, with overgrown foliage that gets your pants and shoes pretty wet. The next two miles start a slow ascent to Gunsight Lake and campground. We made a few water fords with some pretty cool suspension bridges and saw some better views of the glaciers. On the way into camp we ran into a few groups of backpackers headed towards the trailhead and a few deer that were none too afraid of us.
As we passed the camp, we started up towards the pass. The views of Gunsight Lake are fantastic. About 2/3rds of the way up to the pass we spotted a mama Grizzly and her cub! They were turning over rocks and ripping out plants looking for food. We kept a good distance as we watched them and decided how to proceed. At one point we saw the mother Grizzly take off up the mountain and chase a small animal. She missed, but her speed and climbing were scary fast. Unfortunately, the bears were following the trail and since we were headed into Gunsight Pass there were no other ways around. We headed a few switchbacks back down the trail and let the bears cross behind us a few hundred yards up the mountain. We then headed a bit off trail to scale a rock face and make our way up to the trail on the other side of the bears.
The climb was really sketchy but it was either this or return to the trailhead. Normally, going back wouldn’t have been a big deal but COVID shut down most of the shuttle stops (can’t even use them without a reservation, we had reservations but couldn’t get them until the morning of intended use at 9 am) and there is no cell service. Hitchhiking the Going-to-the-Sun road is common but we weren’t really sure how lucky we would be, again due to COVID. Everyone was ecstatic to make it back up to the trail with the bears on the right side of the hike. Jewels seemed to be the happiest, but none of us wanted to be on the wrong end of a Grizzly and her cub looking for food. We kept our distance, kept an eye on their movements, and overall made some good decisions. Other hikers weren’t as lucky.
A pair of backpacks going our direction didn’t seem to believe us when we were descending the switchbacks and ended up getting caught hiking right below the bears with no way to cross. We didn’t see them come through the pass and assume they had to return to the trail head or campsite to wait the bears out. Day hikers going the opposite direction were following the bears through the pass due to no way around.
The pictures don’t do the experience justice. After seeing the mama Grizzly hunting, we started debating how quick she could close the distance to us. We disagreed a bit but all concluded it would definitely be less than a minute, which wouldn’t leave much time to react. We all double-checked our bear spray, and a few of us made sure the safeties were easy to remove. I think Jewels and I both had ours in hand up to the climb. As an aside, if you haven’t been in Grizzly country, bear spray is a necessity.
Once back on the trail, we finished the climb to Gunsight Pass. We were drained. The adrenaline from seeing the bears and exertion from scaling a rock face quickly took it out of us. We made it to the pass and were greeted by a mountain goat and her kid. The rustic hiker’s cabin at the top was pretty cool and was the perfect spot to overlook Lake Ellen Wilson and the next part of our climb.
We headed down to the lake, saw a large marmot, and crossed a waterfall which got everyone a little wet. Once we made it to the other side of the lake, we stopped for lunch behind a boulder with shade and took a break. After a relaxing stop, we made the final push to Lincoln Pass. At the top we encountered a bunch of day hikers and started our way back towards Lake McDonald.
On the way down, we came to Sperry Chalet. The Chalet burned down in the 2017 Sprague fire but has been rebuilt, up and running since 2020. This portion of the hike is all down hill. We encountered tons of day hikers and people staying at the Chalet. Despite going downhill, we were dead tired, feet and knees hurting. We finished our hike at 4:30 pm by the Lake McDonald Lodge and the stables that house horses to be used for trail rides. Overall, we did pretty well on our time, though we think we lost 1.5 to 2 hours due to the bears. We were happy with our accomplishment, and next time Kate can come with no more babies to be carried (we’re already working on our plans for Zion, Bryce, and Arches in 2022).”
Our last day in Glacier we headed out to St. Mary’s Visitor Center, on the east side of the park. We saw the Many Glacier Hotel and the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, some of the oldest facilities in the park. We parked near the Motor Inn and walked a small portion of the Continental Divide Trail to the banks of the Fishercap Lake.
The kids had a great time running up and down the lake.
We were also able to get our second full family photo of the trip!
On our way down the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we were also lucky enough to spot a young moose in the same place we saw the black bear previously.
The kids hung pretty tough, but there was definitely a lot of driving and car time on this trip! We spent our last night at the house in Whitefish before packing up to head to Missoula. Our flights from Missoula left early, so we planned to stay in an airport hotel overnight to make travel to the airport as easy as possible.
Since we had time to burn, Jordan and I stopped at Dragon Hollow Playground in Missoula to let the kids run around. The rest of the family checked out some local museums. Dragon Hollow was a huge hit with both kids, and Parker had the best time going down all of the slides!
We met up with the rest of the family at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Charlie loved rolling around in the gardens with her cousin, and Parker was obsessed with all of the trains, tractors, and logging implements from the National Forestry Service.
Our flight out Thursday morning was delayed for a few hours by some mechanical issues, but this actually worked out in our favor as it meant we were flying during the kids’ nap time. Both kiddos slept for most of the journey home, and everyone was happy to be back in their own beds that night.
We can’t wait for the Kraft Family Vacation 2022, and all of the other adventures along the way!