7 Family-Friendly adventures in Glacier National Park
Oh Glacier. Our diminishing Glacier National Park. Filled with so much beauty, yet my heart aches as the years pass and the glaciers continue to disappear. Do you know there are only 25 left? In 1850 there were 150! With global warming continuing to have a huge impact on these survivors, it is estimated there will be none remaining after 2030. You heard me right. None. Geez, what will they do...change the name?!
I'll refrain from being a Debbie downer any further because honestly the sheer beauty of this place won me over. Glacier is hands down the most beautiful National Park I've experienced. While I love the sea, I'm a mountain girl at heart and the alpine lakes, mountain vistas, and variety of activities in such a small area continued to keep me in a peaceful state of happiness throughout our time here. If anyone reading has the desire to go then I urge you now more than ever to experience Glacier (and soon) because the park is changing as each year goes by.
While there, we were out and about every single day trying to see and do as much as possible. We compiled a (hopefully) helpful list of family/mama/grandma-friendly adventures while visiting Glacier National Park. We were also fortunate to experience this portion of our trip with my mom. We call her "Teedo" and you can too! We enjoyed her company, car (complete with five seats), and help(!). I never realized how priceless it is to have an extra set of hands and eyes until this trip, so thank you Teedo. We probably would have lost a kid if it weren't for you.
Before diving in to our list, I'd encourage anyone making the visit to stop by a Visitor's Center to pick up a map or to chat with a park ranger. I know, it sounds kind of geeky but we learned so much more when we relied on information from a local or someone working in the park. Also, because you'll see this EVERYWHERE in the park: bring bear spray. We only saw one, from far away, but we were, as they might say, "bear aware" the entire time we were there.
I digress. Without further ado, here is our list of 7 family-friendly adventures in Glacier National Park:
1. Raft a river
We didn't realize we would have the opportunity to experience Glacier from the river looking out (or up), but what a ride (literally)! Some may not want to spend the money or feel like researching a rafting company in the area but it's a totally different perspective and well worth it in my opinion.
We were fortunate to have friends from Great Falls, MT (The Wetzels!) with time off and a raft who let us join them on their rafting trip down the North Fork of the Flathead River. The river is truly one of Montana's wildest (and cleanest) streams. Other than the small town of Polebridge, which has no traditional electricity or cell service, the North Fork does not pass through a town of any real size for its entire length. The water, which primarily comes from snowmelt, is cold and beautifully clear. We had views of Glacier along the twisting river even though there were several active forest fires in the area which made it a little hazy. While the river flows through very mountainous country, the North Fork itself is relatively tame, offering only a couple of smaller class 2 rapids, made even more mellow this late in the floating season. There was one section though that was particularly thrilling so we chanted to Matt in singsong fashion "Let's do it again. Let's do it again!" He accepted the challenge and worked the raft opposite the current so we could swing through the large "rapids" again.
A big shout out to the Wetzels for such a remarkable trip! What a rad way to be welcomed into Glacier!
**If you'd rather stay on ground with two feet, we still highly recommend the drive to Polebridge, where there are a handful of houses, hostel, fruit stand, and the locally-famous Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery which is known for their huckleberry bear claws. We can attest, they are delish, so good we didn't even share with the boys!
2. Best "bang for your buck" hike - Avalanche Lake
Hiking through towering cedars in a whimsical forest. Breathtaking mountain peaks. Cascading waterfalls. An azure alpine lake. And the most beautiful spot you may ever dine on a PB&J sandwich. This is Avalanche Lake. I was astonished that our three year old boys could hike this whole trail (at 4.5 miles roundtrip) but they did, and it can be done by other toddler-filled families too. The hike begins at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead and eventually breaks off, leading hikers in a gradual ascent to the beautiful alpine lake. Along the trail, keep your eyes peeled for those tasty mango trees that aid in boosting toddlers up the steep sections. Check out our amateur attempt at a video recap of the hike below!
3. Two words: Two Medicine (trust me. Just go!)
Our good friends convinced us to visit Two Medicine and like them, I'm hoping to persuade anyone reading along as well. This is when you'll likely peek at the map and realize it's south of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. It's not on the main drag, and that is the best feature of this place. Wait, I'm lying, it's not the best feature...the mountains win that prize.
But we were begging for some peace and quiet after hanging around thousands of tourists on the Going-to-the-Sun road and this place had some lovely secluded campsites that fit the bill. So if it's a camping spot you're after, check the status first to ensure you get there early enough to snag a spot. We highly recommend it - It's quiet (no hook-ups for giant RVs) and the views are right around the corner from your campsite. You might even spot a grizzly here (or just hear the shots fired to scare one away).
There are a bunch of hiking options in Two Medicine also. Considering we are limited to "toddler-hiking" (versus our backpacking day) we cut out anything longer than a few miles. Parents with older children can chime in at any time and remind us that we will backpack again one day again...sigh. Our favorite toddler-friendly hike was out to Paradise Point which also ventures a bit further to Aster falls.
As a bonus, anyone sick of cooking or cleaning dishes can visit the cute camp store which has cheap food (cinnamon rolls!) and heaping bowls of soft serve ice cream. Can you say sugar high? I can. And I did!
4. Picnic, hike, and play (in that order) at Sun Point Nature Trail
Stomaches were grumbling and our two boys were on the verge of hitting hangry status so we randomly pulled over at the Sun Point Picnic Area and Nature Trail which is situated on the Going-to-the-Sun Road at St. Mary's Lake area. I'm so glad we did because after everyone finished every single food item that we brought (...what will it be like when these boys are teenagers, I'm thinking) we decided to stay put and check out the nature trails that left from the picnic area. This short trail yielded over an hour of running, playing, jump shot taking fun with a stunning backdrop to boot. As an added bonus, there was a shortage of tourists there! Oh, darn.
5. Summit Logan's Pass (Via Car) & Hike To Hidden Lake (via legs)
Logan's Pass and the hike to Hidden Lake is especially touristy. I'll admit that. But it's no wonder everyone wants to stop and snoop around this area. It's the highest point on "The Sun" road with 360 degree breathtaking views! The parking is horrendous, at least throughout the summer months, so we ended up parking a quarter of a mile down the road (and Chip ran up), but we are really glad we didn't pass up the opportunity to explore this area of Glacier.
There are three main things to do at Logan's Pass: the Visitor's Center, Hidden Lake hike, and Highline Trail hike. We opted for the easier of the two hikes and spotted the Hidden Lake trailhead just beyond the Visitor's Center. After being bombarded by ground squirrels who are cute but aggressively wanted to eat our sandwiches, we were quickly on our way. The roundtrip hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook is 2.8 miles, another doable hike with young children. There was plenty to keep the kids and adults entertained along the way including waterfalls, mountain goats, boulders for climbing, and random starburst treats hidden along the path (a-thank you, Katie Butzen). We enjoyed this hike and the sweeping views along the way, even if it was a little hazy from the nearby forest fires.
6. Shuttle Ride to Lake McDonald Lodge & take a dip in Glacier's largest lake
Did you know Glacier has free shuttle buses running up and down the Going-to-the-Sun road? Of course, the minute we mentioned the word "shuttle bus" to the boys they wouldn't stop talking about wanting to riding one. After stalling for the first few days, we finally gave in to their demands and made an afternoon out of it.
We hopped the shuttle from the Apgar Visitor's Center and the bus followed the south shore of Lake McDonald as we worked our way eastward. After stepping out, we were greeted with a historic chalet-style lodge, Lake McDonald Lodge, that we quickly explored then stepped onto the path that led down to a charming pebble beach. At 10 miles long and 500 feet deep, Lake McDonald holds the title for the park's largest lake. The water beckoned the boys to take a dip while the sun beckoned Teedo and I for some kid-free relaxation (oh yeah!).
7. Hop into Canada!
Did you know Glacier extends into Canada (eh)?! Just across the Montana border there is more to be seen! In 1932 Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada) was combined with Glacier National Park (Montana, United States) to form the world's first International Peace Park. And let me tell you, this small area (~200 versus Glacier's ~1600 square miles) packs a punch! The border crossing was painless, the camping amazing, and the highlights just a few miles from the border. As an added bonus, Donald Trump does not live here. If that isn't enough, they've enhanced their french fries with gravy and cheese curds, aka poutine. What more reason could you need? More on Canada in our next blog post! Hopefully these photos will leave you wanting more.
Total number of miles we've driven: 4,500
Number of miles the boys hiked: 11 hiking miles in 10 days
Our newest favorite sandwich: PB&Nutella (thanks Lindsay Wetzel!)
Favorite moment(s): Mango hunting along the Avalanche Lake trail, "summiting" Bears Hump hike in Canada
The one meal we ate out in 10 days: Pizza Hut!
Total number of hours worked in one week: 10 (Lindsay), 0 (Chip)
Where to next: CANADA!!!