Alrighty then, who is up for another Travel Talk? This time around we have Glacier National Park, Montana! Hopefully these are helpful for someone out there who stumbles upon these beautiful destinations.
HOW I HEARD ABOUT IT: My College Roommate
Yes, I've seen Glacier plastered all around Instagram but I was never really compelled to travel out there until my college roommate texted me with the proposition. I didn't really think twice...without hesitating I was looking for flights to Montana.
HOW We PLANNED IT: Yelp/Our AIrBNB host
The nice part about traveling with friends is that the planning can be split up! Some people really enjoy the planning process of a trip...I'm not one of them.
I planned the hikes and sights, M- looked up the food, and C- found some activities.
We thought we had it all planned out until...
Yeah, basically all hell broke loose and bestowed Montana with one of the worst wildfires they've seen. I'm not going to lie, this put a damper on my excitement. I was expecting aqua alpine lakes, evergreen trees and dark blue skies.
Instead, we woke up to hazy skies tinged with a brown gradient and campfire-esque scents hanging heavily in the air. What was heartbreaking for me was not the air quality, but the destruction of the fires. In fact it got so bad that the most popular road in the park, the "Going to the Sun Road", was closed off.
This meant we had to improvise and get creative with how we were going to make the most of our 4 days there. Thankfully, our super sweet Airbnb host gave us several recommendations for where to hike, eat and ideas for backup plans.
Which brings me to my next section:
WHERE I STAYED: Super Fancy/hi-Tech airbnb
This place was my dream retirement home. Not only was did it have the cozy, woodsy feel to it, but also it was super fancy with automated locks, fences and a hot tub! The home overlooked the mountain range, providing a beautiful stage for awesome sunsets and star-gazing.
I could have easily spent another week escaping the world in that house. I think what made it the experience even better was the host and her young son. Both were full of positive energy and exuded the beautiful simplicity of a small-town life.
WHAT WE DID: Lake chilling, SUP, Hike, Raft
Day One: flathead Lake
The day we landed, we were pretty dead. Try going on a 6 am flight out of LAX with a layover and seizing the day after you land. Yeah, not happening.
We kept it pretty chill once we landed, got some food, picked up a shit-ton of groceries and headed straight for the Airbnb to rest our tired eyes. After some time, we ventured out to Flathead Lake to be outdoors and soak up the (heavily obscured) sun.
Highly recommended if you want a chill place and watch families splash around in their kayaks and boats.
Day TWO: SUP-ing and Waterfalls
So before these fires came about, we assumed we could fit in a million things into a day and drive anywhere we wanted. Now that roads and hikes were closed, we had to improvise.
We started off our morning paddle-boarding at the largest lake in Glacier. For $10, we were off, skimming our way through the crystal clear waters and soaking in the serenity that accompanies paddle-boarding.
Afterwards, we pretty much had the entire day open and decided to take the "scenic" route to St. Mary's Falls.
Even though the detour took us an extra 40 minutes or so, the falls were worth it. There are three that you can see in an easy 4 mile hike.
I will say, I was terrified of bumping into a bear the entire time. Bring the spray, make some noise.
Day Three: Rafting and poleridge
Rafting was never on our original schedule, but with the fires getting worse, we thought it would be a good alternative. Bottom line--if you're looking for a crazy adventure, go rafting in spring when the snow has just melted. Most of the rapids are gone in the summer, but it was super relaxing!
Later that evening, we headed up to Poleridge, a remote town with no power lines or cell service BUT it does have an awesome looking bakery. You do need a hefty car to get to Bowman lake since the road is pretty dicey.
Side note--On our way to the raft site, we stopped to take this picture and met a girl (probably around our age) with her grandfather. She was traveling with him through the park since it was the only national park that the grandfather and grandmother never got to go to together. Later that evening, we find out that the other guests at the Airbnb were at the park to spread their father's ashes. It always intrigues me about what brings people to the same place you go to and their stories.
Day Four: Grinnell Glacier Hike
After hearing the two couples in our raft rave about this one glacier hike, we had to head out there to see it for ourselves. What got me really motivated to do it was the fact that the glacier, Grinnell Glacier, won't exist after 2030. It's a pretty depressing thought, I know.
So we packed our hiking bags with lots of water (it was almost 90 F that day!), snacks, bug/bear spray and made the long drive out to the trail head. The couples were talking about how difficult the hike was, so I had pretty high expectations on the incline. For those of you who care, it's 10 miles round-trip and 2,300 ft of elevation gain, which is pretty decent.
The views though...omg (for lack of a better word). Even with the smoke, the hike was gorgeous. This is what I was expecting when going to Montana, and this hike delivered.
We got to get super close to the glacier! I even got to hear the thundering roar of an ice chunk breaking off. When we got to the top, we were in the midst of the smoke layer, hence the foggy filter.
This was my favorite part of the trip, by far. Just expect to spend the entire day outside, because it is a journey to get here.
- Bear Spray: We didn't see any bears thankfully, but sightings are common. You can't bring this on an airplane, so you have to purchase it when you land, but bring it. You will thank me.
- Weather: It was ridiculously hot when we went (early September), but it got cool once we reached higher elevation. I've heard the weather is super unpredictable, so bring sunscreen and layers.
- Food: As mostly-semi-vegetarian/vegan (but let's not put a label my eating habits), eating out wasn't too difficult. Most places had veggie burgers, oatmeal and salads. There are options. Please do stop at the Montana Coffee Traders though--one of the best lattes I've had in a long time.
HOW I LIKED IT: 2 THUMBS UP
Montana is a very simple and outdoorsy state, which I love. While we got very unlucky with the fires, I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would be under perfect conditions. I don't think I will make the journey back again, however. Places like Banff and Iceland have raised the bar in terms of natural beauty unfortunately, and I only have so much time to see what else is out there in the world!