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September 12, 2016 / mws

2016 Glacier Nat’l Park

Top Ten Highlights from our 2016 trip to Glacier National Park

September 4 – September 11
NOTE: This blog also includes some highlights from our journey west of Glacier to the Kootenai National Forest.  ***

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Honorable Mention:  Getting health care in Glacier Park

You never want to need health care when you are traveling, but sometimes it happens anyway.  I include this in the list of our favorite moments in Glacier because without it, I would have suffered.  When I searched Glacier Park for a health care facility, I was told by an employee that West Glacier had an Urgent Care facility. So we headed over there and could not find it.  We stopped at the store and inquired again.  A very nice gentlemen informed us that the West Glacier Urgent Care facility closed on Labor Day.  We were 2 days late!

We were then referred to Columbia Falls (15 miles away) to an Urgent Care Facility there.  When we arrived, we could not locate the facility, so we stopped at a clinic to ask.  Lucky for me, the clinic had an opening and the doctor was available.  I offer my sincere thanks to Dr. Kevin and the staff at the Columbia Falls Health Care Clinic for their stellar service. They were kind, capable, and efficient in treating me and in a few days, I was back to my normal schedule.

10. Ross Creek Giant Cedars ***

From Ross Overlook

From Ross Overlook

Located southwest of Libby, Montana, is an ancient forest of giant cedars.  Some trees are over 400 years old.  Among these ancient western red cedars, there are trees that are more than 8 feet in diameter and up to 175 feet high. There is a self-guided loop about 1 mile long with interpretive signs about the history and ecology of the area.  It’s almost a rain forest atmosphere along the trail as the greenery sweeps above you and the massive tree trunks greet you with their grandeur. It would be even better after a rainfall with misty skies.

The paved road to get to the Ross Creek Giant Cedars is a 4 mile switchback road that leads up the mountain to the Red Cedars trail. About 2 miles on this road there is a scenic pullout where there are excellent views of the Bull River Valley and the Cabinet Mountains.

9. Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway***

Koocanusa Bridge

On our drive west from Glacier Park, we traveled north on Route 93 to the Tobacco River town of Eureka, Montana. This town is only 9 miles from the Canadian Border and serves as the northern end of the 60 mile long Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway.

The byway features the massive Lake Koocanusa, created by the building of Libby Dam on the Kootenai River.  The name, Koocanusa is made from the first three letters of the Kootenai River, Canada, and USA…KooCanUSA!!  (This 90 mile long narrow lake stretches from northern Montana into southern British Columbia). Lake Koocanusa is situated in a typical northwestern mountain and valley setting but is in a remote area.  This makes a great scenic drive for those nature lovers who prefer solitude.

The main feature along the drive is the Koocanusa Bridge, the longest and highest bridge in Montana. With a length of 2,437 feet, and standing more than 250 feet above Lake Koocanusa, the views from the bridge are stunning. A small parking area is available off the highway, and sidewalks on the bridge allow visitors to stop and walk onto the bridge.

8. Yaak River Falls***

Yaak Falls

Yaak Falls

Just 8 miles from Troy, Montana on Route 508 we found the cascading Yaak Falls. Of course, there were signs indicating that this was bear country, so we strapped on our bear spray and made a lot of noise.

It was just a short stroll to the falls. With a solid pine background, the Yaak River flows over the shale like stairstep rocks and creates the lively falls. Since we visited in September, the lower water level allowed us to climb around on the rocks and enjoy the peace of the river. We were surprised to find an Amish community in the Yaak Valley and there was an Amish family out enjoying the day at the falls.

7. Libby, Montana – The City of Eagles ***

We had planned to travel into Canada from Glacier Park and revisit Waterton Park for a few days.  However, there was major construction in Waterton, so we used Plan B. Instead of Waterton, we traveled west to Libby, Montana.  There we found a lovely small town surrounded by a nature lover’s paradise…the Kootenai National Forest.  Some have dubbed this area “Glacier Park without the crowds”.  We were intrigued!

Libby MT eagle sculpture

Libby MT eagle sculpture

Located in the far northwestern corner of Montana, Libby is the gateway to the Kootenai River Valley. Being an avid fan of raptors, I was interested to learn that Libby, Montana is nicknamed “The City of Eagles”.  There are eagle nests at the Libby Dam, but the nickname comes from over 40 eagle sculptures in the town. The eagle sculptures are composed of iron and steel and range in size from a 6 foot wing span to over 25 foot wing span.  A local art teacher started sculpting these spectacular pieces of eagle art. The town purchased them and began displaying them in various locations.  Shortly after the sculptures began, Libby became “The City of Eagles.”

We were fortunate to arrive in Libby when the town was celebrating the Libby Nordicfest.  This festival has been a part of the local culture since 1985. The area is known for it’s Scandinavian heritage.  The 3 day Nordicfest includes food, a Bunad Parade, a juried craft show and local outdoor entertainers.

We found the Last Straw Cafe on the edge of town.  It’s one of those places that from the outside doesn’t look like much.  But inside we found a charming decor with a friendly waitress and outstanding food.  Libby also has one of the many well known Montana Farmers Markets which we enjoyed.   This was a great way to spend a weekend and take in the small town sights and sound.  Of course, our 2 days in Libby also included many photos and some great new friends.

6. Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge  ***

Kootenai Falls

Kootenai Falls

Just south of Libby, Montana, the Kootenai River goes through a canyon and over the Kootenai Falls.  This is one of the largest free flowing waterfalls in the northwest and was the setting for the movie “River Wild” and for “The Revenant”. The falls drops 90 feet in less than a mile and the main falls is 30 feet high. The falls are very wide and along the trail are breathtaking views of the Kootenai River.

We’ve been to many waterfalls in our travels and we always enjoy the flowing water. Kootenai Falls has to be the best one yet.  It was so wild, rugged and stunning.  There were numerous falls at one viewpoint and all were flowing freely. The surrounding mountains and the towering pines add to the majestic view.

There is a rough walking trail and a fascinating swinging bridge to cross to the other side of the river.  The bridge was a little nerve-wracking since it swayed if others were walking on the bridge.  There was a sign posted that limited the bridge crossers to 5 at one time. An added attraction is a small restaurant and an ice cream shop…Lances’ favorite!

5. Running Eagle Falls in East Glacier

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Running Eagle Falls

This was our first official stop on our trip to Glacier Park. Running Eagle Falls is a very popular attraction, but on our Labor Day Visit to the falls, we enjoyed light crowds.  The falls are easily accessible via a paved flat trail leading to the viewpoint. Running Eagle Falls is also called Trick Falls.

The water drops into a sinkhole and then cascades out of the cliff face. The nickname Trick Falls derives from the fact that the water appears to be coming out of the side of the cliff.  And the trick depends on where you are standing and waterflow level.  You may see one falls OR you may see two falls!  We had great luck to spot a moose along the trail eating leaves off the bushes.  We watched the moose for awhile and then he came across the trail.  It was a good start to seeing wildlife, we hope!

Moose on Running Eagle Falls trail

Moose on Running Eagle Falls trail

4.  Paradise Point and Aster Falls – East Glacier Park

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Aster Falls

The hike to Paradise Point begins from the South Shore at Two Medicine Lake.  The view from the eastern shore of the lake, with three mountain peaks forming a picture perfect backdrop, is one of the most beautiful scenes in Glacier National Park. We arrived to begin our hike on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend.  There were some hikers, but it was not at all crowded.  It was a bit cold with temperatures in the low 40’s. Our main concern was the overcast skies and the threat of rain.   It was about a 3 mile round trip and it just misted a little before our return. So we lucked out!

We started our hike with an uphill scramble and crossed Aster Creek on a cute footbridge.  The trail  went through fir and spruce forests and into open meadows. After about 1/2 mile, there was a spur trail to the right that takes hikers to Paradise Point.  At the end of the spur, Rising Wolf Mountain rises from the valley to create a great photo composition.

Continuing on the trail, there were beaver ponds and willows, great places to spot foraging moose!  We arrived at the base of Aster Falls and were thrilled with the lovely cascading water. The moss rocks surrounding the falls added to the sublime view.

3.  Going to the Sun Road Features – Glacier Park

Wild Goose IslandWild Goose Island   There’s a native American story about conflicting tribes and a romance that developed between a man from one tribe and a woman from the other.  According to this legend, the tribes would not allow them to be together, so the Great Spirit transformed them into two beautiful geese and they lived on a small island in the middle of a lake.  Of course, this island would be Wild Goose Island on St. Mary Lake.  It just kinda gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?

However the name really developed, this is one of the most iconic and beautiful images in Glacier Park.  Most visitors stop here for photos and scenic calendars often include this lovely scene.

Baring Falls, Glacier Park

Baring Falls, Glacier Park

Sunrift Gorge and Baring Falls  A parking area is located along the GTTSR for both areas.  Located only 200 feet from the Going to the Sun Road,  Sunrift Gorge was formed by a stream cutting through the rock.  In addition to the gorge, the architecturally beautiful Baring Creek Bridge is at this location.  From under the bridge, a short hike leads to the 25 foot Baring Falls. The falls tumbles over the rock ledge and flows about 100 yards into Saint Mary Lake. 

Heading down the trail past the falls, the effects from the 2015 wildfires are evident.  The burned trees are very visible and the new underbrush has already grown in along with beautiful wildflowers.

Logan Pass Visitor Center  Located at the point of the Continental Divide, this is a great stopping point on the Going to the Sun Road. The visitor center is the place for information, a few exhibits, and a gift shop. One note of experience, of the four times I have been to Logan Pass, there have always been high winds in the area.

From the large parking area, there is a trailhead to Hidden Lake. There are also paved paths around the visitor center with great views and possible wildlife sightings. Visitors can spend an hour or all day there if hiking.

One essential note about Logan Pass.  There is not enough parking for all who want to stop here.  It is a good idea to use the shuttle or get there by 9AM.  We arrived with the crowd at about 11AM and circled for awhile.  When I saw someone getting in their car, we waited and managed to butt in before the other cars.  Whew!!

2. Highline Trail – Glacier Park   The trail head for the Highline Trail is across the road from the Logan Pass Visitors Center.  I knew we would not be able to do this entire 11 mile trail, but it seemed like a good idea to try part of it.  Many reviews called this hike the best in Glacier Park.

HIghline Trail

HIghline Trail

The trail loses elevation gradually for the first quarter mile as it makes its way through a very nice alpine meadow that is partially forested by evergreens.  Following the meadow views, the trail becomes rocky as it makes its way around a cliff.  Strung along this part of the 3 foot wide Highline Trail is a safety cable (on the cliff side) that makes nervous hikers feel a little more at ease.  This is where I discovered that my husband has a fear of heights!!

After passing around this cliff, the Highline Trail makes a very gradual descent, staying above the Going to the Sun Road.  The scenery is fabulous, with the mountains towering on the right and left sides of the trail.  And, directly in front is Haystack Butte, a flat topped mountain that marks the halfway point on the Highline Trail between Logan Pass and Granite Park Chalet.

No matter how far you hike on the Highline Trail, it will be worth it.  The scenery is incredible and there is always a chance to see wildlife along the way. It’s a good idea to take a rain jacket, and a fleece jacket in your pack since weather can change very quickly.  We were glad we made the effort to experience part of this worthwhile trail.

1.  Moose watching at Fishercap Lake – Glacier Park

From the parking lot of Swiftcurrent Motor Inn where we stayed, there were several trailheads.  With suggestions from fellow travelers, we strolled out to Fishercap Lake to do some moose watching.  This lake is about 1/4 mile from the Red Rock Falls trail head. There is an odd looking tree (we call it the elbow tree), and from here there is a short spur to the left that ends at the lake.

There is high opportunity for wildlife sightings in this area, especially deer, moose and sometimes bear. Each evening we took the little journey out to Fishercap Lake in hopes of seeing moose.  The lake is shallow and silty and the moose love to wade in and munch on the aquatic plants.  In the early mornings when the lake is calm, the mountain reflections are stunning.  When luck brings a moose into the area, the scene is close to perfect! 🙂

There was even one couple who brought lawn chairs and wine. They were settled in and enjoying the moose show!  What a great idea!!  We so enjoyed the time we spent at Fishercap Lake moose watching.  Most folks, (me included) lined up on the shoreline to get photos.  But Lance went a little ways into the woods and got his pics from there.  At one point, the young moose got excited (scared?) and ran up into the woods right by Lance!

We have a large framed photo hanging in our home of a moose in the lake with the rugged mountain backdrop. Of all the experiences we recall from our trip to Glacier Park, this is our favorite.

 Remarks about our trip to Montana

We determined years ago that Glacier is the most scenic park of all the National Parks.  There are others, of course, with awesome vistas, but in Glacier, the views are ubiquitous, the wildlife is abundant and natural beauty abounds.

It’s difficult to put into words our thoughts about Montana.  When we are home on the east coast, the back roads of Montana are often a relished topic of discussion.  The memories that we have experienced for the last 25 years provide a lure to the west that I hope continues for our lifetime.  John Steinbeck said it best:

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”

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For more photos of our 2016 trip to Glacier Park, click here

Link to itinerary for our entire Fall 2016 trip

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