Glacier National Park & A Glimpse of the Great White North
Recently retired and ready to spread their wings, Len and Faith Todd wanted to do more with their time than just wait for the grandkids to stack up. Avid travelers, they purchased a Toy Hauler with the expressed purpose of doing some snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula … but another motivation waited, unspoken. Tour Alaska. Trip of a lifetime. They waited. They researched. They prepared. In late June, 2009, the trip of a lifetime began. During the trip, Faith and Len blogged about their adventure and kept a growing audience of friends and family rapt with attention and not a little bit jealous. This chapter covers July 19th – 21st, days 20-22 of their adventure.
Glacier National Park is a landscape painter’s vision come to life. Towering mountains, crystalline glacier lakes, beauty that begs to be captured and preserved. Sunday, we went back up into the park to hike the 3-mile trail around John’s Lake. We chose this trail because the elevation only changes 160 feet. There are over 250 glacier lakes inside the park and some of the trail elevations change over 1,000 feet!
The hike was beautiful and blissfully free of moose and bears. Yes, we were armed with our “bear mace” protective spray, but that is one of those things you would rather have and not need. According to some cautionary pamphlets, two people are attacked by bears each year in Glacier National. Of course, those folks may be asking for it like those guys in the Messin’ With Sasquatch commercials; but, where bears are concerned, you just never know.
After our hike, we drove over to McDonald Creek, a mountain tributary that feeds Lake McDonald, the largest glacier lake in the park. We tried our hand at a little fishing, but had no luck. Seems the fish in Wyoming had warned their Montana brethren about Len (see chapter 6).
Monday morning the bike paths into the park were calling our names, but that was not to be. The Toy Hauler had a flat. Another lovely detour on the path to adventure that you just have to take in stride. After driving the tire into Columbia Falls to get it fixed, the morning was shot; so we opted for an interpretive bus tour up Logan’s Pass. This trip up was much more relaxing than the first.
Let’s rewind a bit…
The path – and that’s what it is – up to Logan’s Pass is called Going-to-the-Sun Road. The scenery is spectacular, but “nail biter” does not do the drive justice. Especially in a larger vehicle like our truck. The road is narrow and the path is steep and winding. With a careful driver, safety is not an issue, although agoraphobics may want to give this Pass a pass. Bottom line, if you actually want to enjoy the view, taking the tour is a much better option. Sure, there are several places to turn off and snap a few pictures, but it’s tough to watch for these when you have one eye on the road and the other looking out for motorists and the occasional oblivious horned and hoofed mammal. Even taking it slow and easy leaves little chance for sightseeing … so just take the tour.
The tour bus driver was friendly and very knowledgeable. He did an excellent job of making sure we all felt at ease. Riding up Going-to-the-Sun, no matter who’s driving, you still feel like you are either hugging the mountain of hanging over the edge of the cliff. The herd of mountain goats hanging out at the Visitor’s Center at the top of the Pass were a big hit – thankfully not literally – with everyone on the tour.
Later that evening we went back into the park to hike the Trail of the Cedars. Surrounded by centuries-old cedars and black cottonwoods, you almost feel as if you have stumbled into a storybook enchanted forest. This little reminder of the magical quality of nature was a fitting denouement to our travel through Montana. Tuesday morning we would cross the border into the Great White North!
We crossed into Canada at Roosville, Montana around 2:00 p.m. What could have been frustrating and dramatic – we did have Wyoming plates on the truck and Michigan plates on the Hauler – turned out to be a piece of cake. Thankfully, Mileposts (see chapter 1) had prepared us. We knew well in advance what to claim and what documents were necessary. The Canadian border guards were understanding and very welcoming. After a quick explanation of the new truck, we breezed right through.
The drive through first British Columbia and then Alberta is unbelievably gorgeous. Traveling alongside the Canadian Rockies, the scenery seems to grow more beautiful with each passing mile.
Our first night in Canada, we camped in Parson, British Columbia at Quinn Creek Campground, a truly picturesque little place located near the Columbia River. The owner of the campground was very nice. When we arrived he picked some fresh Saskatoon berries and brought them to us. They were good, similar to blueberries, and grew wild around the campsite. At first we thought we would be the only campers that night, but shortly after we arrived a car with a “Just Married” sign across the back window pulled in. Ordinarily, we enjoy meeting our neighbors at campsites; but this time we opted to not to go a knockin’. All in all, though our first evening in Canada was not as quiet as we expected, sleep came easy; and we were up early to get a head start on the Canadian leg of our adventure.
One quick point before going on: In this part of Canada Internet service is hit and miss and cell phone coverage is spotty. You can find WiFi cafes; but, if you need to be online frequently, it’s best to call ahead before you head out.
The morning after our evening next door to the newlyweds, we set out along the Icefields Parkway. This stretch of road straddles both British Columbia and Alberta and takes you through two Canadian National Parks, Banff and Jasper. There’s a $20 park pass required to get on the parkway, but it is well worth it. Every single inch (centimeter?) of that 138-mile drive is incredibly beautiful. There are several turnoff points so tourists can get a closer look at one of the 30-plus icefields along the highway. Icefields are upland glaciers with the largest, the Columbia Icefield, located at about the halfway point. The drive took us about four hours, but we enjoyed every single moment of it.
After our tour along the icefields, we began looking for a place to stop. One of the happy accidents of cross-country traveling is finding special little places to call home, at least for the night. Robson Meadows Campground is just such a place. It can be found in British Columbia Provincial Park at the foot of the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson.
Canada, oh Canada, we never knew you were so beautiful…and we can’t wait to see more of you tomorrow.
Where to stay and what to see
Mountain Meadow Campground
While in Hungry Horse, the Todds stayed at Mountain Meadow Campground. Faith Todd called it “lovely with a fish pond, Laundromat, a gift store with friendly employees – and WiFi!” The lots are somewhat small but nicely wooded, a good mix of rustic and refined. TripleBlaze.com rated Mountain Meadow as its number one campground in all of Montana. In addition to a fishing pond stocked with rainbow trout, they offer restroom facilities and hot showers. All campsites have BBQ grills and/or campfire rings and picnic tables. Sites can accommodate rigs up to 45 feet. A dump station and mobile pump-out is also available.
The gift shop not only offers greeting cards and snacks, but also firewood, stamps, a mail drop, a pay phone, fishing rods, tackle and, as Faith mentioned in her story, locally made jams and jellies. The campground is famed for its hospitality. Guests are invited to watch the sunset from the front porch of the gift shop or cozy up next to the wood burning stove on chilly mountain mornings.
Mountain Meadow is open May 1 through September 30. Not a AAA member? Ask about their Internet Discount at check in.
9125 Highway 2 East, PO Box 190442
Hungry Horse, Montana 59919
GPS Coordinates: 48º 23′ 15.79″ N by 114º 2′ 45.01″ W
Visit www.mmrvpark.com or call 406-387-9125 for rates, reservations or more information.
Logan’s Pass (Going-to-the-Sun Road)
Going-to-the-Sun Road tops out at the Logan’s Pass Visitors Center, elevation 6.646 feet. From there you can just enjoy the panoramic wonder that is Montana or lace up your hiking boots to check out the walking trails that will take you even higher. Be on the lookout for mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
Both are prevalent and very used to people. The pass is closed during the winter due to the danger of avalanches along the road. For information about Logan’s Pass or to learn about the Logan’s Pass shuttle system, surf over to http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/goingtothesunroad.htm
Quinn Creek Campground
This was the first place the Todds stayed after crossing the border into the Great White North. Near the town of Parson, British Columbia, Quinn Creek is a service-oriented facility where you can enjoy all the natural beauty the British Columbia has to offer. Rent a canoe and paddle along the peaceful Columbia River. Cast a line to catch tonight’s supper. Hike along the trails that begin at the edge of the campground. Do some bird watching or just relax around the campfire with friends.
Quinn Creek offers full hookups, 15 and 30 amp power, showers, laundry facilities and, as Len and Faith experienced, very accommodating hosts. For reservations or other information, click on www.quinncreek.bc.ca or call Bob or Linda Bergen at 250.348.2252.
4430 Highway 95, Box 58
Parson, BC VOA 1L0
Trail of the Cedars
About a mile long and mostly boardwalk, the Trail of the Cedars is an easy-going, delightful stroll through enchanting beauty. Serene and dark, Faith Todd described it as medieval and almost mystical with a beautiful mountain waterfall about halfway through the park. The trail is located along Going-to-the-Sun Road just east of the Avalanche Creek Campground.
Avalanche Creek Campground
Located in one of the most popular sections of Glacier National Park, Avalanche Creek offers a more rustic camping experience. Accommodating campers or truck-camper combinations up to 26 feet, the campground has water and flush toilets available, but no showers. What Avalanche does offer is true natural immersion camping with sites surrounded by old growth cedar and hemlock and a feast for your eyes, ears and spirit. Diverse flora and fauna abound, so bring your hiking boots … and your bear spray.
Whether you are staying at the camp or just visiting for the day, be sure to ask a ranger about the evening programs at the Avalanche Amphitheater. Call 406.888.7800 for more information.