(hannah) MONTANA

Guys we finally made it back from Glacier and Banff National Parks!  Despite everyone thinking I would marry John Mayer and not come back, I’m sorry to disappoint–I have returned and am not betrothed to John (YET).  But I have loads to share about our amazing trip!

So to start off, Sarah (one of my absolute best friends–since 12 years old!) and I began planning this trip 6 months in advance and we still were met with very few hotel vacancies.  If you decide to go to Glacier/Banff, PLAN AHEAD.  I cannot stress this enough.  Like a year in advance.  It’s that busy…  Anyways, we booked our flight into Kalispell, picked out an awesome B&B and off we went!

We stayed in the Great Bear Inn, a beautiful Bed and Breakfast that was only a short 5 minute drive to the Glacier National Park entrance.  We opted for the Mini Grand Room, which featured wood floors and a semi-private balcony.  The views were incredible too!  The only downside was the train (Thanks Amtrak…).  It seemed to come by every 30 minutes.  Although it was very bothersome in the beginning, I soon learned that the train seemed to be inescapable.  I started hearing it everywhere–in town, while driving, at restaurants.  Maybe it was all in my head at this point.  Also note that unlike a regular B&B, the breakfast here is continental, which consists of some bagels, bread, fruit, packaged muffins.  Nothing to write home about.  However, you are provided with a full kitchen, which is helpful in the event of packing lunches and eating in, which we did every day since we were always on the go.

Unfortunately our trip started off with lots of wildfires and smoke EVERYWHERE.  Even when we landed, smoke surrounded us so much so that we couldn’t even see the mountains.  Thankfully, after the first two days, rain fell and it helped clear up a lot of the haze.  However, our first two days of exploring the park and hiking were still very beautiful.  Check it out below!

Highline Trail to The Loop

The Highline Trail was the first hike we did in the park.  It was a great intro into the park and was physically pretty moderate.  Although it’s an 11.6 mile hike, the first 7.6 miles feature a gradual climb, with only two or three steep climbs.  Once those first few miles are completed, you’ll reach Granite Peak Chalet, where you can enjoy your lunch, book a room or just take in the 360 degree scenery.  After this, you only have 4 miles left and they’re nearly all downhill.  We chose to start at the Logan Pass trailhead for exactly this reason because if we had not, we would instead have to climb 4 miles straight uphill.  So start at Logan Pass (GET THERE EARLY ~7:30AM OR ELSE YOU WON’T HAVE A PARKING SPOT) and end at The Loop, where a shuttle bus will take you back up to Logan to pick up your car.

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Going to the Sun Road/St. Mary Falls/Virginia Falls

Today we did the full Going to the Sun Road (Apgar to St. Mary’s) and a few waterfalls.  Although we had originally planned to do more hikes today, Sarah and I were pretty exhausted from our hike the day before and only ended up doing 3.6 miles of St Mary and Virginia Falls.  This hike was fairly easy and featured two large waterfalls–St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls.  The hike was fairly hilly and nearly all uphill on the way to the falls.  But don’t let that deter you!  The falls are definitely worth it.  St. Mary Falls may be one of the bluest waterfalls I’ve ever seen and Virginia Falls one of the most unique, with it cascading down in multiple sections through a canyon.  And along the way, you get to walk by St. Mary Lake, which is one of the bluest, clearest lakes I’ve ever had the opportunity to see.  It’s absolutely stunning and will leave you mesmerized.  I found it to be even more beautiful than Lake McDonald…and much less crowded.  And if you take the Going to the Sun Road all the way to St. Mary’s Visitor Center, you’ll get to see the lake in its entirety along mountainous backdrops!

Going to the Sun Road

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St. Mary/Virginia Falls

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Hidden Lake Overlook

This was probably one of my favorite hikes on the whole trip.  And it was definitely not because of the hundreds of steps leading to Hidden Lake or the hoards of slow tourists I had to briskly pass on the way up (please note that I consider myself a traveler, not tourist).  Not even the overlook was my favorite part.  No–it was what I found off the trail that was stunning.  On your way up, just before you reach the overlook, you’ll find a small, man-made path that shoots off to your left and seemingly disappears into a forest.  Well, take that path and it’ll lead you to a wildflower-filled meadow with mountainous vistas spanning for miles and miles.  And you’ll be the only one there.  This secret path is actually part of the trail that leads up to summit Mt. Reynolds.  We did not summit that day but instead enjoyed a delicious hand-packed lunch on a rock that jutted out from the mountainside.  And even took some pics on said-rock that made it look like we were on a cliff!  Overall 10/10 day.

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Trail of the Cedars/Avalanche Lake

This was another fun, easy hike.  Well, hard for me because I was blessed enough to experience the effects of hikers knee on day 3 of our 8 day vacation.  But for the average person, I wouldn’t categorize it as difficult.  It’s a 4.5 roundtrip hike that takes you to Avalanche Lake, with the first part of the trail being wheelchair accessible.  Avalanche Lake Trailhead can get pretty busy, so arrive early or plan to part at Apgar or Lake McDonald and take the shuttle, as we did.  The trail follows a beautifully carved canyon and the lake is nearly translucent, as you can see the trees and rocks clearly through the water.  It’s definitely a fun hike for the weary traveler or with kids/older parents!

Hungry Horse Dam

Okay, so this wasn’t technically a hike.  But it was a cool site to see near Glacier National Park.  Hungry Horse is a small town nestled in the canyon between Columbia Falls and West Glacier.  It’s famous for its dam, which Sarah and I had greatly underestimated.  We expected to see a small little dam but instead were met with Montana’s Hoover Dam!  It was big, it was beautiful and it was drive-able.  It was a nice side trip from the usual daily routine of hiking.  On the way back from the dam, we stopped a this little hole-in-the-wall shop in Hungry Horse, where we met our new toothless BFF who showed us around his awesome redneck shop.  He was just chilling with his friends, drinking whiskey on the shop’s front porch.  And we even got to pick up some Flathead Cherries while there!  Definite trip highlight.

That’s it for Montana!  Check out some random pictures below that didn’t make it into our hiking slideshows.  Next stop, Banff National Park!

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