“Really!?! That’s the third shuttle!”
We were all frustrated as we watched yet another shuttle full of hikers pull out and head up toward Logan Pass. We had parked at “the Loop” in hopes of getting a shuttle to the top of Logan Pass so we could hike the famed Highline Trail back down to our car. Many of us had waited 45 minutes and seen three full shuttles go by. Our small group of three and another group of two had a time crunch in the afternoon so without wasting more time we set off to hike the Highline Trail in reverse. We found out later, the next shuttle arrived within ten minutes of our departure with several open seats. But by then we were long gone, enjoying the scenery, making record time and getting a great work-out while doing it. We made it to Logan Pass, shuttled back down to our cars and arrived back to town in time to see our new niece.
The Highline Trail- one of the most congested hikes in Glacier
|A record 2.34 Million people visited Glacier National Park last year! While that may be good news for area businesses that cater to tourists, those of us who want to travel on the famed Going-to-the-Sun scenic highway may find the roadway a little crowded. The road is becoming so crowded that Park officails recently asked for public comment on five different proposals designed to lower congestion. Several of the proposals include provisions for expansion of the shuttlesystem and one shuts it down entirely. A couple of the proposals implement a reservation system for Going-to-the-Sun Highway during July and August. Two of the proposals also include a provision for bike only days. Whichever one they choose, it will likely look very different in a couple years, but none of these changes will take place until 2017.
The pull-off at Siyeh Bend
So what does all this congestion mean for you, coming to Glacier this summer? Well, you essentially have 4 choices: park shuttles, personal vehicle, cycling or the Red Bus Tour.
In spite of the wait time sometimes involved, park shuttles are your most reliable option if you want to hike for a few hours. This is because once you’re on the shuttle; you don’t have to look for parking. If you take your personal vehicle and can’t find parking you don’t have the option of circling around to vulture-park because the road is too narrow to turn around!
|The best part about driving your personal vehicle is that you can actually stop and take pictures if (and that’s a big if) there’s an open pull-out. You also have the option of driving through Logan Pass (meaning you don’t have to come back the way you came). Besides the uncertain parking situation, another downside is that the driver usually doesn’t enjoy the scenery because the narrow, congested, high-consequence road demands most of his attention.
Until they have bike only days, your best bet cycling is in the early and late hours of daylight (I have friends who bike up under the light of the full moon). I have never biked on the road during heavy traffic, but I pray for bikers that do.
The Red Bus Tour (and by bus I mean four rows of seating) is probably the best sight-seeing option. The drivers are informed, engaging and even funny. There aren’t quite as many photo opportunities as if you drive yourself, but if the bus is stopped(as it often is due to traffic and construction) you can stand up and take a picture because the roof is retracted (weather permitting).
Written by Matt Harrington- Marketing Specialist at the BestWestern Plus Flathead Lake Inn and Suites
Spring Hikes in Glacier
When hiking in Montana in the spring, you never really know what to expect. You might have great trail for three miles, then mud, then ice, then six inches of snow and then back to great trail. The weather could be equally erratic: rainy, sunny and snowy all in the same day. But despite the obstacles, the long winter and the recent sunny days are an irresistible lure for hikers to return to the mountains. What follows are three hikes (one may require snow shoes) that can be done in either early spring or late spring.
This is one of the best accessible hike-with-a-view in early spring and it is a stunner. After going through the main West Glacier entrance, you drive about half a mile and turn left on the road marked for Apgar Lookout. The road ends in a parking lot at the trail head. The hike starts out in trees and then goes through a burnt area with a couple pretty long switchbacks, it then winds around the front of the mountain to the lookout and a spectacular view of Lake McDonald and the mountains that climb up behind it to Logan Pass. While the lookout is obviously not open in the spring, it makes for a great spot to eat lunch from and take in the amazing views. My wife and I went up in late February and snow shoes were necessary for about half the hike. That being said, the trail receives a lot of sun so by late March it should be hike-able the entire distance. Round trip the hike is 7.1 miles.
Yes, you can just drive here in the summer, but before the dirt road leading to Bowman Lake (from Polebridge) is open, Bowman Lake is a worthwhile hike. The hike up has a mild elevation gain and is in the trees for about two thirds of the time. It opens up at the campground and the view of Bowman is surprisingly stunning. It is a long lake, stretching back with pristine mountains behind and around it. My wife and I hiked there in early March and it was still frozen over. I think that is the largest frozen body of water I have ever seen. Snow shoes were not necessary, although Yak Tracks would have been advisable.
This hike is definitely a later spring hike but is worth your time before Going-to-the-Sun is open. Simply drive to the end of Lake McDonald and take the first road to your left at the end of the lake. Go over the bridge along the dirt road which will eventually end at the trailhead. The hike has some substantial elevation gain, but the reward is seeing down a large glacial valley that few have the opportunity to see. The lake itself is crystal clear. The first time I went with my wife, we saw lunes cruise under-water after small trout and it was fascinating to watch. Sometimes avalanches hit the trail pretty hard during the winter, so you might have to find the trail again after an avalanche chute. The round trip mileage is less than 8 miles but the elevation gain makes it a demanding hike. Alternatively, you can hike to the top of the first ridge and have a great view of Lake McDonald and then return to your vehicle.
Avalanche Lake is another late spring hike, but I already mentioned it in another blog. Also, keep in mind the uncertainty of trail conditions and changing weather. Bring yak tracks and warm and water-proof clothes.