This past summer of 2021 we finally checked off Glacier National Park from our bucket list. But unfortunately, we were greeted with smoky skies. A few years earlier we had visited Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada and experienced the same. It is, unfortunately, becoming more and more common, as forest fires are no longer the exception, but the norm.
I debated how much editing I should do to these pics, but decided to post them as is. No sugar coating it. Fortunately, the rain came on our last day and I did get some better pics, but in this posting, I am showing what we saw on our first drive through on Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is the main scenic drive through the park. Despite the smoke, it is still stunningly beautiful and easily my favorite national park drive. I’ve been to almost every national park in the the Western United States, some numerous times (Yosemite, Crater Lake, and Rocky Mountain), so this is high praise!
Now, a word about parking. It’s pretty bad. Many people’s destination is Logan Pass Visitor’s Center, but you may be forced to wait to get a spot. I returned on the second morning to drop off my husband for a hike he did and it was already packed at 7 am. We did manage to find a space on the first day, but it was pure luck. When we were in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, people parked along the road but you can’t do that here. However, if it is packed, continue on and check out the equally beautiful east side of the park, including Saint Mary Lake. We were unable to find a parking spot for St. Mary’s Falls Trail but did manage to get one for Baring Falls.
The following set of pictures is from the east side (beyond Logan Pass), including St. Mary’s Lake and Baring Falls. There are lots of beautiful road-side falls that cascade down to the road. You can see evidence of the one of the numerous fires that have scorched Glacier over the years. Yet, from the ashes beautiful wild flowers grow again.
Glacier National Park has been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Colorado 14 years ago. However, I’ve always been in a bit of a quandary how to get there. We had previously visited the national parks in Wyoming (Grand Teton and Yellowstone) and doing a 14-hour drive from our home in Colorado to visit this national park in the northwest corner of Montana just didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.
So I reluctantly shelled out close to $800 for 2 tickets for me and my husband to fly there this past summer. It has its own International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell and is serviced by quite a few major airlines. Now, as you probably heard, there was a rental car shortage last summer. Initially I had some issues finding an available rental car, but ended up making a reservation with Hertz through Expedia. It was expensive – $200 a day. But a rental car is essential in Glacier. Lucky for us, the line was short. The line for Alamo was a mile long. I noted that Enterprise is located outside the airport. So I got lucky since I had also made a backup reservation with Enterprise.
Hopefully, the rental car situation will be better in 2022, but please make your reservation for one as soon as you make your flight reservation. Although there are the funky Red Bus tour cars, they don’t offer you the same freedom as a rental car.
Where to stay?
Well, since it was the Pandemic, we opted to stay outside the park. The National Park Service actually has a variety of accommodations inside the park including seven NPS-affiliated lodges in the park: four on the west side (Lake McDonald Lodge, Village Inn at Apgar, Lake McDonald Motel, and Apgar Village Lodge & Cabins) and three on the east side (Many Glacier Lodge, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins, Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins). Normally, I might have been inclinded to stay in Lake McDonald Lodge since it is a classic national park lodge with a beautiful location, but we are starting to prefer cabins and AirBNBs because of safety issues in the pandemic.
And of course, campgrounds. But camping was out of the question for me since this is grizzly bear country. But please don’t let this scare you. I’m just prefer a roof over my head and quite honestly, we didn’t spot one bear while we were there. And my husband even hiked in the backcounty, although he did pack bear spray at my insistence.
I found a nice cabin resort called the North Forty Resort just about 10 minutes from the airport on the outskirts of Columbia Falls. It does add about 25 minutes on your drive into the park but on the plus side, it is close to Columbia Falls dining and shops.
GOING TO THE SUN ROAD – Ticketed entry!!! Please read this
I did not realize until a few weeks before we left that the main road through the park has a ticketed entry system. No, this is not included in the entry fee. You must go online and get this either in the spring or the week before you go. This is the info from the website for 2021:
Going-to-the-Sun Road Entry tickets are available 60 days in advance on a rolling daily window for arrivals May 28 – September 6, 2021. Beginning May 26th, 2021, tickets will also available two days in advance at 8 a.m. MT on a rolling daily window. Entry tickets are good for 7 consecutive days including the reserved day of arrival. Only one GTSR entry ticket is required per vehicle/motorcycle.
Since I missed the window in the springtime I attempted to get our pass a week before. They sold out within minutes. They said do not have multiple windows or devices open in an attempt to get a pass, but the next day I said to hell with it and had 3 windows and my phone submitting requests for a pass the minute they opened it up. I got it on my fourth attempt.
My next post will include more pics of the park. But I wanted to leave you with a few today. It’s a glorious place, even with smoky skies.