Up until recently we had only driven past exits to Glacier National Park off I-90 in Montana on our way to Yellowstone. Later, while we were still living in Singapore, I read Christopher White’s compelling book The Melting World, which centers on the detailed impact of global warming being observed in Glacier National Park by several research teams—this sparked my interest in actually visiting the park.
We finally got to make our first trip to Glacier in May of this year (2015), and enjoyed it so much that we went again in late September.
I did very little preparation for our visit in May, as I knew the Going-to-the-Sun Road was still closed for snow removal, and initially I wasn’t sure it made sense to go before it was open.
We drove up the Clearwater River and its tributary, the Lochsa River to Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana border, then continued via Missoula, to Polson at the south end of Flathead Lake. We enjoyed the views of the lake decided to make the short drive to Bigfork at the northeast end of the lake.
As we walked around the boardwalks of Bigfork (population 4,270), we happened upon a set of rental cabins and had a brief tour. We were so impressed with the quality of the cabins that we cancelled other reservations and spent three nights in Bigfork.
Although it is a 45-minute drive to West Glacier, Bigfork has a decent (although confusingly laid out) supermarket, attractive shops, good places to eat, and a most enjoyable 2.2 mile nature trail easily accessible on foot from the cabins.
After driving to West Glacier and stopping in at the Apgar Visitor Center, we continued on the Going-to-the-Sun Road to the gate at Avalanche Creek. The parking area was so crowded (even on a weekday in May) that I almost gave up, but persisted and found a place to leave the car.
The Trail of the Cedars boardwalk served as our walking introduction to the wonders of the McDonald Creek valley. My wife and I both enjoy walking along boardwalks, and this one with all the wonderful tall trees and helpful interpretive signs was a special treat.
I later learned from David Rockwell’s excellent Glacier: A Natural History Guide, that the geographic characteristics of McDonald Creek Valley are such that trees found in the rainforests of the Oregon and Washington coasts, western red cedar and western hemlock, also grow here (the eastern-most extent of their range).
The Going-to-the-Sun Road was still closed for snow removal beyond the Avalanche Creek gate, so we walked from there to Red Rock Point and marveled at the clarity of McDonald Creek, and the rugged surrounding rocks and mountains.
On our second day of walking along the road, I spotted a large fresh pile of what I assume was grizzly bear scat, which led me to promptly return to our starting point as we weren’t carrying bear spray, and there were only two of us.
After two days of being in Glacier, we were keen to come back when the Going-to-the-Sun Road was fully open to cars.
[Edited for style and clarity.]