As we traveled west along US Highway 2 the Rocky Mountains that are Glacier National Park rise up from the flat plain with almost no fanfare, they just are THERE. We camped at Glacier Meadow RV Park which is not quite equal distance between two of the three primary entrances into the park. Saint Mary is the eastern end of the famous 50 mile long Going To The Sun Road and West Glacier is the western end of the road.
Even though the weather was mostly cloudy and very hazy, our first day we headed east on 2 to Browning where we picked up US 89N to the St. Mary’s entrance. This route is all on the Black Feet Indian Reservation and is open range country, so if you drive this be sure to watch out because there are lots of cattle and the calves especially can be unpredictable and would make one heck of a dent in your vehicle! In fact, our campground neighbors hit a steer on that road while we were there. There is a shorter route from US 2 to US 89 via Rt. 49 but the vehicle size restriction is 21 feet and at 4 ½ feet over that we didn’t push our luck. That same size restriction is why at this entrance of Going To The Sun Rd. we could only drive in 6 miles.
After that we headed on up 89N to Rt. 3 and the Many Glaciers entrance where we were allowed to drive all the way in to the end at Lake Sherbourn and the old Many Glacier Lodge. This was a lovely drive even though our weather was very hazy and gray and the crowds of people…wow! Oh, and we saw a bear!
Next day (more sun but still hazy) we headed to West Glacier and up Going To The Sun Road for just over 16 miles where once again due to size restrictions we had to turn around at Avalanche Creek Campground. The road runs beside the long and beautiful Lake McDonald, with pull outs for viewing both McDonald Falls and Sacred Dancing Cascade.
We took a walk back into the woods along McDonald Creek where my crazy husband decided to take a dip in this glacier fed stream! The look on his face as he settled down….PRICELESS!!
Truth is we had not planned on going to Glacier National Park but when in the neighborhood….SO…
Our tips for visiting Glacier National Park
This is not a place one can just drop by especially if your only vehicle is a motorhome. There are campgrounds for RVs but they are filled fast or way in advance. Many of the park campgrounds are first come, first serve and unfortunately we were there over a weekend when it seemed the whole country had come to Glacier.
Travel time needs to be considered. It was over an hour drive from our campground just to get to the east entrance of Going To The Sun or 45 minutes to the west side. The park service states the trip from end to end over its 50 miles will take 2 or more hours! That is not including stopping and sightseeing etc. ALSO remember you have to get back to where you’re sleeping that night!
The free park service shuttle works if you are looking for a ride to a trailhead to hike, or you just want to see a specific place in the park. They are NOT for just traversing all of Going To The Sun. They are first come, first served so if one comes, it may not have room and they come roughly every 20 to 30 minutes. From the park service web site: To travel the entire length of the Going-To-The-Sun-Road from the Apgar Visitor Center (west side) to St. Mary Visitor Center (east side) and back, or vice versa, is approximately 7 hours.
We do not mean to dissuade anyone from going to Glacier National Park. The place is beautiful! Even though between mediocre weather, heavy haze and not being able to actually get very far into the place, we are glad we went and we will be back! Next time however we’ll plan ahead and get a room at the Many Glacier Lodge (I asked when we were there and they almost laughed at my hopes they had any vacancies) and we will book a tour with the Red Bus Tours. Without a car this is the way to go and it clearly is worth going!
After our couple of days at GNP we continued on to poke around Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish. Whitefish is a cute touristy town, and Columbia Falls has Perfect Cuts which we recommend for excellent local meat and jerky. Kalispell is a nice enough town with a great used book store and I finally found a pair of cowgirl boots that fit!!
We drove up 93N to the cute town of Eureka and had a very good lunch at Café Jax where they offer old fashion milkshakes….yes and YUM 🙂
We continued on US2 which we highly recommend as an excellent route west. We stopped at the Kootenai River Falls where we walked the trail back to these wonderful stepped falls and then over a swing bridge lower down the river.
Further west on 2 we took a cut up NF 508 (National Forest road) which runs along the Yaak River. A beautiful drive which offers a stop at the Yaak Falls which roar down huge slabs of flat sedimentary rock turned up on their sides and/or laid down in stair steps.
If you make it to the itty bitty town of Yaak have lunch at the Yaak River Tavern and Mercantile. The bar alone is worth the visit. Maybe 40 feet long, 2 feet wide and 4 inches thick it’s a single white pine slab! The owner is a delightful lady and just “nice folks” and the pizza was good.
All in all this last third of Montana is truly amazing! We have never seen such crystal clear water all of which is flowing at amazing rates (I know it’s all coming down BIG mountains) and it’s everywhere. Big rivers, little creeks and all incredibly picture postcard perfect. In fact, put this entire area on your MVL (Must Visit List)!