Sneak Peak: The Beauty of Western Montana!

Yellow Columbine along the Iceberg Lake Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana

Yellow Columbine along the Iceberg Lake Trail in Glacier National Park

Every time (but one) that we’ve visited Glacier National Park, we’ve been rained out.  It’s almost a joke how many times we’ve visited or tried to visit Glacier, only for the weather report to be dismal.  But the good news is that I just spent three weeks in Glacier and western Montana, and all I can say is, it’s truly beautiful!  The weather was sunny only about half the time – and we definitely saw rain, hail, and snow – but overall, it was a fantastic trip, and I am so excited to share these beautiful hikes!



Wildflowers along the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana

Wildflowers along the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail in Glacier

We started off by driving across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been up there, and since we had to get across the northern US to Montana somehow, it seemed like a good idea (just like avoiding Chicago seemed like a good idea).  It turned out to be an extremely peaceful drive, and I’m very glad we did it!

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan

We arrived at Glacier, bought our annual park pass, and jumped in feet first the next morning on one of our favorite hikes: Reynolds Mountain.  Actually, we went to the Hidden Lake Overlook first, since it literally is only about a quarter-mile (RT) out of your way (maybe less).

Early morning views from the Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park, Montana

Early morning views from the Hidden Lake Overlook

The Reynolds Mountain Trail doesn’t actually climb Reynolds Mountain, but it does go along the mountain’s side with some pretty amazing views of Hidden Lake and nearby mountains.  We followed a mountain goat all the way out to the end of the trail, then it followed us up the Dragontail.

Views from the Dragontail at the end of the Reynolds Mountain Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana

Views from the Dragontail at the end of the Reynolds Mountain Trail

The next day we decided to tackle Siyeh Pass.  I had originally wanted to start at Sunrift Gorge, hike up to the pass, then come back down to Siyeh Bend (backward to the way most people do the shuttle), but the ranger talked me out of it (she thought I was crazy to want to go up the hard part, but my knees agreed with me!)  So we did an out and back from Siyeh Bend.  It was absolutely spectacular, so I’m thrilled that we did it!

Along the Siyeh Pass Trail above Preston Park in Glacier National Park, Montana

Along the Siyeh Pass Trail above Preston Park

The next day we drove up to Many Glacier and tackled the trail to Iceberg Lake (I had two lists for the “best hikes in Glacier” – one from Jeff and one from Jake – so we were basically making our way down these lists throwing in our own “bests” as well).  It’s a popular hike, and I know why – the Iceberg Wall is jaw-dropping and the icebergs floating in the green-blue lake below the cliffs is stunning!

Iceberg Lake below the cliffs of Iceberg Peak, Glacier National Park, Montana

Iceberg Lake below the cliffs of Iceberg Peak

We decided it would make sense to avoid Glacier over the weekend (actually, it’s not that much worse than a weekday; maybe even less crowded), so we drove over to the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness between Glacier and the Idaho border.  Our first hike was up to Leigh Lake.  The sunshine didn’t cooperate over the lake, but the views of the falls below the lake were spectacular.

The waterfall below Leigh Lake was beautiful! Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

The waterfall below Leigh Lake was beautiful!

Since we were driving right by, we stopped at to look at the falls and the swinging bridge.  They’re replacing the bridge, so we got to go across the old swinging bridge one last time!




Both the old and the new swinging bridges at Kootenai County Park, Montana

Both the old and the new swinging bridges at Kootenai County Park

We moved on to one of my favorite hikes on the trip – up Berray Mountain to the fire lookout at the top.  The wildflowers were stunning, the views were long-distance, and the fire tower was definitely cool.

Climbing to the Berry Mountain Lookout in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Climbing to the Berry Mountain Lookout

The next day we decided to hike what would be one of the hardest hikes on the trip: Goat Peak (via the Wanless Lake Trail).  Yes, the elevation gain was difficult, but really, the strenuousness came from the lack of views.  Still, those of us who made it all the way up to the peak saw a pretty spectacular view down on Wanless Lake and the nearby mountains.

Wanless Lake from Goat Peak in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Wanless Lake from Goat Peak

The next day, we took it easy and went swimming in the Bull River where it flows into the Cabinet Gorge Reservoir.

Swimming at the boat launch on the Bull River, Cabinet Mountains, Montana

Swimming at the boat launch on the Bull River

I’d read about an easy hike in the Cabinets up to Chicago Peak and St. Paul Peak via Copper Lake and Cliff Lake.  It sounded nice and easy (even if there wasn’t a guaranteed trail), so we headed up to the trailhead.  But the road to the trailhead had about a quarter-mile of 4×4-required terrain, so we ended up hiking about 2.6 miles up to the trailhead (oh well).  The views of the lakes and from the peaks made it well worth the extra miles!

Views from the slopes of St. Paul Peak in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

Views from the slopes of St. Paul Peak

We’d pretty much done the Cabinets (more trails, but similar scenery) so we drove back up to Glacier.  I had been toying with hiking to Cracker Lake for most of the trip, but 12+ miles gave me pause.  I finally fell off the fence on the side of doing it, and I’m so glad we did!  Despite a long forest section, about half the trail wanders up a mountain canyon, ending at the turquoise-colored Cracker Lake.  The wildflowers were out in force, too.  Spectacular!

The beautiful waters of Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

The beautiful waters of Cracker Lake

The next day was forecasted to be cloudy (actually, it rained half the day, complete with hailstorms) but we hiked out optimistically from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead to walk along Swiftcurrent Lake, Lake Josephine, and then up to Grinnell Lake.  I remember doing that on another rainy day about 15 years ago and that it was a beautiful hike.  It didn’t disappoint.

The sun shines momentarily over Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

The sun shines momentarily over Grinnell Lake

We had time for one more long hike in Glacier, and several of us wanted to do Swiftcurrent Pass.  It’s a long hike – my GPS came out at 17.5 miles – but it was oh, so worth it!  The easy part of the trail wanders up to the Amphitheatre, about 4.5 miles from the trailhead.  The Amphitheatre itself is exceedingly spectacular, and if you turned around here, you’d have had a well-worth-it hike.  But we continued up the very steep switchbacks, rising high in the Amphitheatre with spectacular views of both the cliffs and back down the valley.  Once in the pass, we went up to the Swiftcurrent Lookout (thus the extra miles).  The views range across almost the entirety of Glacier National Park, even up into Canada.  Despite the snowstorm as we were heading down, and freezing winds that just about blew me off the mountain, I have to say it was probably the most spectacular hike we did the entire trip!

Hiking up above the Amphitheater on the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana

Hiking up above the Amphitheater on the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail

We decided to take it a little easier the next day, so we hiked the Highline Trail to Haystack Pass.  There had been a bear incident on the trail a few days earlier, but the trail was reopened to the public, and the views were just as spectacular as last time I hiked it.

Beargrass below Haystack Pass along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana

Beargrass below Haystack Pass along the Highline Trail

On our way home, we dropped south into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (we have the park pass, we might as well use it, right?)  Our first stop was at the brand new Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook:

Views of the Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Views of the Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook

And we kept on hiking to Fairy Falls.  I’ve never been to either one, so that was fun (and beautiful).

Fairy Falls in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Fairy Falls

We spent a gray afternoon in the Upper Geyser Basin.  We saw eruptions of Old Faithful Geyser, Beehive Geyser, and Daisy Geyser (a new one for me).

Beehive Geyser and Old Faithful (left) erupt simultaneously in the Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Beehive Geyser and Old Faithful (left) erupt simultaneously

We weren’t looking for an epic hike (difficulty-wise) in Grand Teton National Park, so we took in the Leigh Lake Trail.  For being a fairly easy hike, it certainly is beautiful, especially in the early morning when both String and Leigh Lakes are still as glass – and give glass-like reflections.

Reflections in String Lake en route to Leigh Lake in Grand Teton National Park, Montana

Reflections in String Lake en route to Leigh Lake

Our last stop was at Hobo Pool (what else is new?)

Beginning of the Siyeh Pass and Piegan Pass Trails in Glacier National Park, Montana

Beginning of the Siyeh Pass and Piegan Pass Trails in Glacier National Park

Overall, I hiked 130 miles in two states (mostly Montana) and we really did have fun.  The scenery was great, and I’m so blessed to have been able to experience it!

 

Be on the lookout for hiking guide posts of these hikes in the next few months!