Other than visiting North Cascades, we put visiting Glacier National Park in late summer on our list as a ‘must-do.’ We’ve visited Glacier twice before in the early summer season (late June/early July). We love this season because waterfalls are booming, everything is vibrantly green, and crowds are slightly smaller. But snow tends to linger well into July and so we have been unable to hike some of the higher trails and passes. Even Grinnell Glacier, which is open earlier in the year (May/June) has been closed because snow melt produces dangerous snow bridges on the trail in late June.
After over 14,000 feet of elevation gain in North Cascades, we were feeling ready for Glacier. We entered the park around 2 pm on a Friday on the west side of the park and then drove across Going to the Sun Road to St. Mary where we had a hotel reservation. The park was expectedly crowded and we got our first glimpses at the park with less snow cover on the peaks. After check-in and a stop by the ranger station, we drove back up to Logan Pass to get a sunset hike in all the way to Hidden Lake (previously, we had been stopped by snow at the Hidden Lake Overlook). We caught great sunset light, wildlife, and wildflowers all along the hike. Sunset that night was glorious with 360 degree light in the clouds.
The next morning was the big day we had been most looking forward to. We started on the Highline Trail out of Logan Pass as soon as first light hit. We hiked 7.5 miles out to Granite Park Chalet over the most beautiful wildflower covered trail and open views. Clouds lingered, buffering light and keeping the heat of the day at bay. After brunch at the chalet, we set off for another 7.5 miles up and over Swiftcurrent Pass and down to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier region of the park. We had shuttles set up at Many Glacier Lodge, so we had to walk another mile plus to get to get from one place to another. We booked our hiker shuttle through Xanterra just a few days earlier so we were only able to get one seat on a 3:30 shuttle and another on the 6 pm shuttle. Luckily, we snagged a walk-up spot on the 3:30 and after a lunch in the lodge, we were seated along with other hikers making their way back to the visitor center at St. Mary. Most of the hikers in the shuttle had done our same trail over a few days and spent two nights at the Chalet. It was fun to hear their stories and share in their love of Glacier. At St. Mary, we had to wait for a park shuttle to get up to Logan Pass to retrieve our car. Just about 12 hours after we started hiking, we were changed into Chacos and heading back to our hotel room. After showers, we both passed out and slept nearly 12 hours. Days of hiking and less-than-normal sleep caught up with us.
Another 5 am wake up call and we packed up our room, checked out, and headed up to catch sunrise at Wild Goose Island. The light was meh (no clouds) so we kept driving up to our hike for the day—Siyeh Pass. Not eating dinner the night before had caught up with us and we were low on energy despite beautiful alpine meadow views. After about five miles we made it up to the stunning views of Siyeh pass. Between the views and real food, we got our spirits back and enjoyed a long slow hike back down to the St. Mary trailhead. Here we waited in the hot sun for a park shuttle. After about 30 minutes, one pulled up and thankfully had room for two riders. We rode a few stops up back to our car, making this entire hike new miles. I wanted to love the Glacier tram system but it ended up being highly ineffective. Too few shuttles, too few seats, and no shade at the shuttle stops. Hopefully they’ll get resources to do better soon.
After our Siyeh hike, we grabbed lunch at Two Sisters Cafe on our way to the Many Glacier area, where we had reservations for three nights at the coveted Many Glacier Hotel. Booking the rooms had been a bit of a nightmare but at check-in, we were able to get checked in to the same room for three nights. As it all got worked out, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the chance to stay in this gorgeous place twice in the last two years. It’s a place most people don’t even know to dream of.
With three more days ahead of us, we had no plans to stop hiking anytime soon. We made it up the entire Grinnell Glacier trail and had the scenic spot all to ourselves for about 15 minutes before throngs of people started arriving. Every minute, it got more and more crowded but we still stuck it out for two time lapses. The scenery was so majestic and we had waited so long to get here, we wanted to savor. With plenty of time left in the day, we added the miles to hike out to Grinnell Lake on our way back to the hotel. Shower and then dinner at the bar and we headed out to our nightly moose viewing at Fishercap Lake where we caught our first bull moose!
Our last full day in Glacier meant we were headed up to Ptarmigan Tunnel, a pathway blasted through a peak which used to serve as an entrance to the park. The hike was long but manageable given our fitness and as usual, we were the first ones up there. We met some hikers on our way down from the pass and they said, “You started early!” to which I replied, “so did you!” By far, the best thing we did to make the summer crowds in in Glacier tolerable was to start hiking around 6 am every day. There’s plenty of light and we got to every single one of our destinations ahead of anyone else, making at least the first part of our day feel like a tranquil bubble despite the fact that we stuck to pretty popular routes. After hiking out to Ptarmigan, we wanted to revisit Iceberg Lake, which shares an access trail with the tunnel. We were nervous about crowds there but despite a few load and obnoxious people, we were able to find a quiet spot to sit along the lakeside, enjoy the sun, and capture some time lapses of icebergs moving in the lake.
Back down the trail, lunch at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, a shower, and another walk to Fishercap Lake rounded out the night. We saw four moose in the lake that night (no bulls, though) and enjoyed the experience with a father and son (Nick) we had spent the last several evenings with. It is always so refreshing to share natural spaces with people that cherish them as much as you.
We watched the last light fade over the mountains and metaphorically, our road trip, from the deck of the Many Glacier hotel that night. One more morning hike out to and back from Cracker Lake capped off our time in the park. Most of our hiking had been leisurely and focused on photos but on this particular day and trail, we had less interest in taking photos. On our return hike, we impressed even ourselves with 6.5 miles at under a 20 minute pace. We had wanted to hike the heck out of Glacier and we did.