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Logan Pass, West Glacier, & Apgar Village

GNP adventures along Going-to-the-sun Road

sunny 76 °F
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For our last day in Glacier, we planned to visit the most popular part of the park: West Glacier. This meant driving along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road, which cuts right across the heart of the park.

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The road itself is around 50 miles long, and its narrow passes and steep drop-offs make it a main attraction for visitors. We left around 7:00
am so we would have plenty of time to pull over and take frequent pictures. Heading from East to West, our first stop was the Logan Pass visitor's center.

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This visitor's center is also the starting point of the park's most iconic trail-- the Highline Trail-- so the parking lot fills up very early. It's not uncommon to see cars pulled to the side of the road waiting for people to leave the lot so they could get in. But, we had other plans, so we didn't bother to park. A few hundred feet up the road is a lookout point, where you can clearly see the crowds of people walking along the Highline trail. And you can definitely see why the trail is so popular. A slim path winds about midway up the mountain before disappearing into the trees.

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We made pretty good time on GTTS, despite stopping many times to take in the views.

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The Weeping Wall

There are over 200 waterfalls withing GNP, but being the bird-loving women we are of course this one was our favorite!

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Apgar Village surrounds the placid Lake McDonald. It is an adorable assortment of shops and lodging with a ranger-led nature center. We had fun learning from the displays and talking to the ranger about local flora.

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Heidi was feeling arthritic after the first two days' activities, so we were going to skip the kayaking. But once we saw how pristine and calm Lake McDonald is, we just had to get out on that water--arthritis be damned!

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The kayak rentals are super affordable. A tandem kayak is only $18.50 for the hour, and the renter generously gave us an extra 20 minutes for free.

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We inquired about birds on the lake, and we were told there were a pair of young golden eagles around, but they hadn't seen them in a couple of weeks, so they thought the birds may have left the nest and moved on to a new territory. We were very surprised when we heard not one but BOTH of them in the trees right along the shore! Luckily, Claudia had her digital camera ready.

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[Lake McDonald video]

If you know anything about us, you know we love drinking beer and visiting breweries. Whitefish, MT is about a 20 minute drive from the West Glacier entrance to the park, and they are known to have some of the best breweries in the state. So, we chose the nearest one (technically in Columbia Falls) and drove there for lunch and a flight.

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The beer and food at Backslope Brewing were fantastic! The bartenders there recommended we also try Bonsai Brewing Project in Whitefish.

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We also stopped at Great Northern Brewing Company

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By the time we reached Sacred Waters Brewing, we were feeling a little wiped out. We played a couple rounds of our favorite bar game Mancala, and struggled to finish one pint of beer each.

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As cute as it was in there, we had a long drive back to Rising Sun campground and we did not want to navigate that narrow mountain road after dark! So we boogied out of there and safely navigated our way back to the park.

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post-brewery happy faces

On the way, we had to stop just one more time to capture these newlyweds getting the most epic wedding shots we've ever seen.

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Tomorrow we have a train to catch at 9:40 am and it's back to Providence for us!

Thanks, Glacier. It's been the trip of a lifetime!

Claudia & Heidi

Posted by baecation2016 05:27 Archived in USA Tagged the village ice cream kayaking sun road to going whitefish montana brewery apgar Comments (0)

Many Glacier

sunny 74 °F
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Day 2 in Glacier was predicted to be absolutely "pleasant," and we were all about it!

Since our brains were still on EST, we knew we would be up before the sun again. So, we planned to head to a different view of St. Mary Lake to photograph the sunrise.

We arrived with plenty of time to see the sun dramatically reveal the massive peaks around us...

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Turns out the site we picked was not as cool as we thought for views, but it was an amazing site for bird watching!

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We saw a massive colony of cliff swallows...

We also saw a slew of spotted sandpipers, a pair of belted kingfishers, a crew of cedar waxwings, and some bully crows.

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It was truly a great morning for birding. In fact, we spent so much time looking at birds that we missed the ranger-guided walk we intended to go on that morning in the Many Glacier part of the park.

But there are no schedules when you're having fun!

After a quick pit stop back to our cabin, we headed out to Many Glacier to guide ourselves on a walk and explore one of the most popular areas of the park. The hotel was constructed in 1915 and maintains much of its original, charming construction.

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The views of the lake were so gorgeous and peaceful. The cliff swallows were even more abundant here. We discovered their many nests that have probably hung from the eaves of this hotel for many birdy generations.

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The Swiss chalet-style hotel was so enchanting to us that we decided to stop in for a fancy lunch before heading out on the trail. The food was pretty good but the views could not be beat!

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With almost all of its original fixtures, the Many Glacier hotel was like a step back in time.

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With full bellies, we set out for the Swiftcurrent Lake trail. The short, 2.6 mile trek wraps around the scenic lake. At the head of the trail, they are sure to remind you that even the easy trails have potential to encounter dangerous grizzlies.

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The presence of several talkative children put our worries at ease (bears will avoid humans at all costs, and chatty kids let them know humans are near), and we proceeded without incident to take in the staggering peaks and the many glaciers that give the area its name.

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Horseback Riding

You can't simply go to Montana and NOT ride horses! There are several iconic trails that begin around Swiftcurrent Lake and the Many Glacier Hotel. For an hourly fee, you can go on a guided, horseback ride of some of these trails. Swan Mountain Outfitters is the official horse touring company inside the park, and they employ very capable, seasonal workers to care for their horses.

Heidi was assigned to ride the massive Beuford, and Claudia was given the sassy, former runway model Astro.

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Beuford
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Astro

Our guide Morgan led us on a two-hour ride along the Piegan Trail, ending near neighboring Lake Josephine (shout out to Heidi's grandma!). Morgan was also sure to point out the several species of edible berries within arm's reach along the way.

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Speaking of berries, Montana is famous for their very special berry that can only be grown and harvested wild in Montana: Huckleberries! We just so happened to be at the height of huckleberry season, so huckleberry products were available everywhere we went. Nothing compares to a fresh, warm huckleberry off the bush, but the next best thing is huckleberry pie. Morgan let us know that the Two Sisters restaurant just outside of the park (and on our route back to camp) has an excellent pie, so of course we had to try it!

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example of mountain huckleberries

The restaurant was very busy that evening, so we ordered a couple slices to go.

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Huckleberry pie
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Huckleberry PBJ pie

Claudia was happy to see the restaurant supporting Public Radio as well!

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We made one last stop in St. Mary, just outside of the park, to get some tacos from Frogs Cantina and a six pack of Montana beers to bring back to our cabin.

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The plan was to eat dinner, shower, and then take a walk after dark to catch a glimpse of the legendary night sky over the park. But after the exhaustion of the long day's activities, we just passed out instead.

Tomorrow, West Glacier Park and Whitefish breweries!

Claudia & Heidi

Posted by baecation2016 12:16 Archived in USA Tagged park hotel lake glacier national chalet lunch horseback riding swiss montana swiftcurrent huckleberry Comments (0)

Empire Builder and East Glacier National Park

The train route to the mountains

semi-overcast 72 °F
View Glacier National Park on baecation2016's travel map.

After a bumpy nights sleep in our roomette bunk beds, we woke up to dawn with views of the plains of North Dakota.
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Example of a roomette and bed set up

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Example of the dining car

Some views of daybreak of the plains of York, North Dakota
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We made coffee in our French Press travel mugs and headed over to the diner car by way of the observation car for complimentary breakfast (all meals are free for sleeper car ticket holders).
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The food is variable and offers a vegetarian option. However, if you’re riding trains for more than a couple days as we did in our Lovebug Train Trip, the selection can get a bit repetitive.

As is Amtrak custom, we dined in a booth across from another set of passengers. It serves a dual purpose of accommodating more people with limited space and to encourage conversation among passengers. At breakfast, we dined with a Texan couple who were also headed to Glacier National Park and staying in Essex to access the park from the west side. At lunch, we met a couple traveling to Seattle to for their grandson’s 3rd birthday party. Since our train was set to arrive on time during dinner service, we were given priority seating so we would be able to eat before getting off the train. At dinner, we had our best pairing with a couple from Delaware also heading to GNP by way of East Glacier. Mike and Mindy (even their names are adorable) were self-proclaimed national park addicts. They recounted some of their most memorable trips as children with their respective families, as young parents with their own children, to now as empty nesters. We lamented over the overcrowding of the parks for those in pursuit of a “picture for Instagram," destruction of the trails, and tourists who do not respect wildlife. Their enthusiasm for NPs got us even more excited to continue pursuing adventure vacations just like this one!

Wildflower farm

The road to St Mary

As the train got closer to the park, the views transformed from farmland to mountain ridge lines. We viewed all this splendor from the observation car, accompanied by our Witbier growler.
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When we finally arrived in East Glacier Village, we could barely contain our excitement. Our new friend Mindy helped us snap our first official pic in the park.
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After picking up our rental car (Dollar is the currently only company at East Glacier) and a failed attempt at purchasing beer (alcohol sales were prohibited on this particular Sunday on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in observation of their tribe's holiday), we began our 1 hour scenic drive from the Two Medicine area of the park to St. Mary. Along the way, we encountered a herd of bison as well as several different groups cows on the roadside hills. Our first local bird, black-billed magpies, also made their first appearance.

The rivers and creeks were beautiful, but nothing compared to our first sight of St. Mary Lake, a massive glacial lake, is the centerpiece of this area of the park. It was breathtaking! The lake and its backdrop of mountains would be the perfect site for tomorrow’s sunrise landscape photography session.

Entrance to the St Mary section of GNP:
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After a brief stint on Going-to-the-sun Road, we finally arrived at the Rising Sun Campsite.
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This area is known for their motor inns and cabins dating from 1940s, which have been refurbished for modern use. Here are some photographs of our cabin:
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St Mary Lake Sunrise session

We woke up just as the day was starting to break around 5:30 am. After brewing and pressing our coffee, we grabbed the tripod and mirrorless camera to make our way to the viewing area spotted the night before heading into the camping area.
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This was a great spot; a Golden eagle (a life-list first for us both!) soared over the horizon and a rainbow emerged across the glacier mountain peaks.
We collectively took hundreds of photographs, but here are a selection of our favorites:
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We later found out that the field right behind us is a popular spot for bears to eat their breakfast. Luckily, we did not find that out on that morning!

Hiking to chase waterfalls

After a quick stop at the St Mary Visitor Center, which has excellent exhibits about the park's wildlife and the the three native American tribes who originally inhabited the area, we packed up our gear and made lunch (tuna wraps, our favorite) in preparation for our hike.
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Going-to-the-sun road
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We decided to hike to Virginia Falls, a short hike (about 4 miles) of moderate intensity (mostly uphill). It passes several waterfalls along the way, including St. Mary Falls. It was a beautiful hike with amazing views, cool mountain wildflowers, and wildlife.
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Thimbleberries
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St. Mary Falls
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When we finally reached Virginia Falls, we encountered another life-list first, the American Dipper. This bird is a small grey bird with long legs that frequents fast moving rocky streams. It bounces (or dips) as it pauses to feed along fast moving rocky streams, in this case the waterfall itself!

Virginia Falls
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American Dipper
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On our trek back down the mountain, we encountered a ton of tourists. Staying at East Glacier was an intentional choice; it’s less touristy (fewer people) and less developed than West Glacier. However, later in the day tourists are everywhere in this popular national park. The east side tends to be windier and cooler from a temperature perspective so the West side is more popular (and warm). A strong storm on the West side that afternoon brought a lot of people to the East that day.
The trail was temporarily held up by a deer and her fawn babies feeding on berries. Some tourists were trying to scare the mother deer off the trail, with limited success. She eventually moved to the side to continue her meal and the hiking groups were on their way.

After lunch and a short hike to Sun Point for views of Wild Goose Island, we headed back to our cabin site for celebratory local Montana craft beers.
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We dined on-site at Two Dog Flats Grill, a restaurant named after an area of rolling plains in St Mary known for its wildlife viewing. That evening we attended a campsite talk on the dying trees of GNP as impacted by climate change hosted by Park Ranger Rebecca.

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It was an informative and interactive presentation on the ability of the mountain pine beetle and western spruce budworm (native, not invasive species) increase their killing potential as warmer climates permit more life cycles than previously observed. These deleterious effects on the pine trees were glaringly apparent during our time in the park. So sad!

On a more positive note, tomorrow we plan to travel to Many Glacier, the “heart” of Glacier National Park, for more adventures.

We hope you’ll join us!

Claudia & Heidi

Posted by baecation2016 09:33 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks wildlife park glacier sunrise national montana amtrak Comments (0)

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