Friday, August 11, 2017

Tips from our First Day at Glacier National Park!

Once we landed in Columbia Falls, Montana, you can be sure that the very next morning we were on a hike in nearby Glacier National Park. We had read about the summer crowds in the park, so we heeded the advice and set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. We were out the door early, and we sped through town since all the stop lights were still just blinking yellow at this time of the day. The sun wasn't even up as we entered the park.

There was no one manning the entrance gate, and almost no traffic inside the park. We got one of the first parking spots at the popular Trail of Cedars trail head by 7:00 a.m., and set off on the hike towards Avalanche Lake. We give you all this detail to remember, in order to compare it to conditions later today. 

Our first greeting into Glacier National Park was the bear warning sign at the trail head. They are everywhere (the signs--not the bears)! We particularly felt good about hiking on an empty trail this early morning when we read the last line on the warning sign.

We knew that three other hikers were ahead of us on the trail, so we were secretly hoping that the bears would be full of hikers before they got to us. The other hikers increased their lead on us, when we stopped beside the Avalanche Creek waterfall.

It's nice to be hiking in jackets on this chilly morning, and Mark is wondering about his decision to wear shorts. It was 48 degrees when we started, and this is cold glacier water rushing beside us.

By the time we hiked to this break in the trees, the sun was just rising high enough to light up the mountain face in front of us. We were looking carefully into that valley of berry bushes, knowing that bears particularly like huckleberries at this time of year.

We reached our destination of Avalanche Lake before the sun had peaked all the way over the mountains that encircle the lake.

We're not sure what happened to the three hikers ahead of us, because we had the entire lake to ourselves. Maybe we should quit joking about those bears?!?

At 8:56 a.m., we caught the sun peeking over the mountain-top as the first light flooded into the valley.

Now we had enough light on the lake to reflect the mountain faces that surround it.

We are getting these views from the opposite side of the lake, because we have hiked the entire length of the water by this time. It's a beautiful day at the lake, but we have now been joined by many more hikers. But none of them managed to find a way over the rushing water of the incoming Avalanche creek to get to the other side--except us.

It's a struggle to continue around this side of the lake, but we are getting great views of the craggly mountain tops and the waterfalls streaming down the mountain. This water is melting from the hidden glacier just over the ridge, and it is icy cold. It also shows the jewel green color of the lake.

The going is tough, as we are crossing fallen trees and trying to keep our feet out of the water. Denisa doesn't have great balance, but two extra long walking sticks are helping her get over this long stretch of water. We were 3/4 of the way around the lake when we had to admit defeat and back-track the way we had come.

We can see all the way to the bottom of this crystal clear lake. What a beautiful place to be this morning. That was worth setting that alarm. We have been blessed to wander into another of God's wonders!

There are still some wildflowers blooming in the mountains, even in August. Denisa thought this yellow and purple bouquet was especially pretty.

At 10:00 we hiked back to where we got our first view of Avalanche Lake. We no longer had the view to ourselves, as we counted over 60 people on the beach now.

There was no fear of bear attack on the way back to the car. Now the human traffic was so thick on this trail that any sensible bear would stay away for fear of being trampled. It took some skillful camera angles to get this picture without other people in it at the waterfall. We love the way the swirling water has cut circular formations in the rock over time.

What was a peaceful hike on the way up to the lake, was now a noisy parade of hikers. We got tired of greeting each one of the continuous line of people we were meeting. When we were 3/4 of the way down, Denisa started counting hikers that were going in the opposite direction. She counted 300 people in less than a mile. One of our favorite parts of this hike was the solitude at the lake. None of these late-morning hikers were going to experience that magic.

Likewise, the scene at the trail head was frantic. It's not even noon, and there were cars lined up bumper-to-bumper on the only road that goes all the way through the park. The cars on the left side of the picture might look like they are parked, but that is the line of cars trying to drive through the park. None of these cars could stop here for this hike, because every parking spot is filled. The tourists that opted for the shuttle bus to get around the park are cued up in lines of over 50 people. The next shuttle that arrived only had room for 13, so the line continued to grow. All this is exactly opposite from the scene we enjoyed at 7:00 this morning.

We had to fight through that traffic towards the exit of the park, and we decided to make a stop at the Lake McDonald Lodge. We had to park along the road in a precarious spot, but we did get to go into the lodge. We decided to eat lunch, where we shared a marinated elk burger with goat cheese and huckleberry sauce.

The back of the lodge looks over Lake McDonald, with grand views to the mountains beyond.

Just like at Avalanche Lake, this water is crystal clear, showing off the different colored rocks underneath.

We love the inside lobbies of these grand old national park lodges. Denisa has made herself at home in the comfortable lobby.

We zoom in a little to show that she is seated at the piano in the corner of the lobby. There's a sign inviting guests to play, and there is music already set up on the piano.

So Denisa played a verse of the "Glacier Park Song" just for fun, as other lobby guests looked on in amusement.

One way to beat the hassles of traffic and parking is to take the famous red bus tours at Glacier National Park. These buses are actually convertibles, and on pretty days the canvas top rolls back to allow riders to see those tall peaks even from the back seat.

The visitor center wasn't open when we entered the park so early, but it was packed when we stopped on our way out. We got maps and advice from the rangers, and we are set for more great days in Glacier National Park. We had walked over 11 miles by the time we made all our stops in the park. We think our plan to get here early worked great, so we'll be adjusting our bed-time to allow for earlier alarms while we are visiting here.

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