Glacier National Park, or “How McKenna Came to Love Hiking”

On July 9th, we went out of the western entrance of Yellowstone and headed into Idaho to see parts of that state on our way ultimately to Glacier National Park in Montana, where we would be camping for two nights.

We managed to take the longest possible route from Yellowstone to our lodge on the Lochsa River in northern Idaho. Hoping for interesting views on the drive, we were disappointed to see that the southern part of the state was a barren desert.

Then we reached an area to the north that was just as dry but rockier and less barren.

And less suitable for nuclear weapons testing.

Finally, we reached the green area of the northern part of the state.


We turned down Route 12, following the path that Lewis and Clark had once taken. The GPS said that we would reach our lodge at 8:30 but…

Around 4,000 miles into our western odyssey, we reached Lochsa Lodge, our home for the night, and regretted that we had not saved more time to spend at the lodge.

The next day, we stayed around the Route 12 area. There were two hot springs nearby, and we visited each before heading on to Montana. The first was Weir Hot Springs, about twenty miles west from Lochsa Lodge. The hike to the spring was only about half a mile, and we quickly reached the pool at Weir, which was small and extremely hot. Thankfully, while people at the Lochsa Lodge had warned us that clothing was often optional at the spring, everyone was appropriately dressed.

There were three people at the pool when we arrived, and McKenna, always shy, immediately informed them that she was now a Junior Ranger, which meant that they would have to do what she told them. It’s like she was born with an instinct to boss people around or something. Sparing the others at the pool from the commands of imperious Junior Rangers, we returned to the car and drove to another spring, the Jerry Johnson Springs, which we had been advised had more pools and some “warm” springs that weren’t blazing hot. The Jerry Johnson Springs were about a mile from the road, so McKenna geared up.

We had bought a bear bell for hikes like this, but we left it in the car.

Because hiking with these two, I would never, ever, EVER need a bear bell.

After a while, we started to see springs along the creek like this vent flowing into the stream.

Finally, we reached the very popular hot springs.

With all the people there more or less appropriately clothed.

In the afternoon, we hiked back from the springs and drove to Montana, spending the night in Kalispell, which is just south of Glacier National Park. In the morning we did laundry in a laundromat that appeared to be a meeting center for people road-tripping from one National Park to another. Once we had replenished our supply of clean underwear and been reenergized by the laundromat National Park support group, we headed into Glacier National Park.

In a visitor’s center, we learned that our first preference for a campground, for which we hadn’t been able to reserve a site, Many Glacier, was closed to tent camping due to bear activity.

This doesn’t seem promising.

To make the bear situation in the park more intimidating, we were such novices with bear spray that we inadvertently disposed of the safety on the trigger.

But we’ll still be cool using this to defend ourselves if the bear gives us time to remove our Jerry-rigged cardboard safety.

Fortunately, there was no such bear-inspired closure at the campground we ended up staying in, Fish Creek.

Leaving the visitor’s center on the west end of the park, we grabbed a quick lunch and then went on our first “hike,” which was the Path of Cedars. This is more of a boardway stroll than a hike, which is why McKenna looks so happy.

The highlight of the hike is the small waterfall about midway down the trail, which had the bright blue water from glacier deposits.

Tragically, by the time McKenna graduates college, the glaciers will be gone in Glacier National Park and the blue colors in the water will fade away.

And people will have to be happy just looking at trees and mountains and stuff.

There were also some very large cedars on the Trail of the Cedars.

The most spectacular easily accessible feature of Glacier National Park is the Going to the Sun road, a road that winds through the park on an east-west axis. In many ways, it is similar to the ridge line road in Rocky Mountain National Park, as both connect the two sides of a park, climb to high elevations, and steep drops on the side of the road.

The views from the road were so amazing that they look more like the backdrop in a movie than a natural landscape.

The hills were alive with the sound of music.

There were waterfalls all over the park, which gave the mountains a Swiss Alps vibe. Water even came down the rock wall along the road in the famous stretch known as the “Weeping Wall.”

In spite of the warm daytime temperatures, there was still snow along the road in places.

‘I’ll wear flip flops whenever I want! You’re not the boss of me!’

While we had seen many animals in our National Park tour, one of the animals we had yet to see was a mountain goat, which we saw at Logan Pass in Glacier.

Here, the goat seems to be rooting for one of the bears from Many Glacier to take us out.

We realized at this point that we needed to return to the campsite to set up the tent before it got dark. Jumping back in the car, we turned the key to start it and drive to set up camp and…

There are better places to have a car fail to start than the highest point of a narrow two-lane highway where there was no cell phone signal. Finally, the car did start and we made our way back down the road.

If the engine cuts out, we can just coast down the mountain.

Unlike bear-ridden Many Glacier, Fish Creek Campground was relatively bear-free, and a bear hadn’t been seen in the grounds for three days. We set up our tent and elaborate beds of memory foam, air mattresses, and sleeping bags. In spite of all of our preparations, there was one problem: when McKenna requested a “knee pillow” like her mother’s, we realized the six pillows we brought would just not be enough.

Never forget that time that McKenna had to sleep with her knees touching like some kind of savage.

One of the defenses against bear activity that we saw in campgrounds throughout the Rockies was the car-top tent. These were even more prevalent in Glacier.

Although late night peeing could be a risky proposition.

While our campground was mercifully free of bears in spite of the fact that McKenna constantly left paths of Cheese-Its like some kind of bear-attracting Hansel and Gretal, Fish Creek was also on the opposite side of Glacier from almost everything that we wanted to see in the park. We headed back across Going to the Sun road to St. Mary Lake on the eastern side.

That morning, I had reserved the last three seats available for the St. Mary Lake boat tours. The one remaining tour, which was at 2pm, included a ranger-guided hike to St. Mary Falls, which wasn’t something we actually wanted, but the hike cost nothing extra. In addition, the tour produced a breakthrough for us.

McKenna actually liked ranger-guided hikes.

Yes, McKenna chose to favor hikes led by a ranger by applying the same principle that led McKenna to conclude that:

• Only her teacher could instruct her how to do simple substraction, not her clueless parents who, in McKenna’s careful study of our habits, had never evidenced an understanding of how numbers work.

• Her hapless parents could not possibly teach her how to swim, leading her to trust only people officially sanctioned by the esteemed Woodlake Recreation Center to conduct lessons.

Clearly, hikes led by a knowledgeable ranger should be preferred over those selected by her idiotic parents, who, it must be granted, once got lost walking back home from the lake in Woodlake.

Additionally, the ranger actually knew how to use bear spray and had not disposed of her bear spray safety.

The area we hiked through was one of the sections of the park hit by a wildfire, and the effects were still evident.

A mile and a half of blissfully complaint-free hiking later, we made it to the waterfall.

McKenna used the walk back to the boat and the cruise back to the harbor to bond with the ranger, whether the ranger wanted to bond or not.

McKenna had exhibited similar behavior when she played soccer. Every time the coach took her out of the game, McKenna would stand beside home and talk at him.

An additional benefit of ranger-guided hike is that it fulfilled the last requirement of McKenna’s Glacier National Park Junior Ranger booklet.

She’s even more ready now to boss around strangers at hot springs.

As we were already at the eastern edge of the park, we decided to go take a look at the Many Glacier area.

Taking a risk that we could manage this without the help of a ranger.

We didn’t have time to go to the famously scenic Lake Grinnell, but we did swing by the lake at the Many Glacier Lodge.

Finally, we went back down the Going to the Sun road one more time, to return to our faraway but relatively bear-free campground.

4 thoughts on “Glacier National Park, or “How McKenna Came to Love Hiking”

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