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Badlands and Beyond, Part 7, East Glacier Nat’l Park

We woke up to overcast skies again on June 17, 2018, so we decided to pull stakes a little early and drive to the east side of Glacier in search of sunshine and drier weather. Arriving at St. Mary’s campground about noon, we called to cancel our reservations at Fish Creek. The park rangers swapped our sites and we were all set except for the last night. We would need to find another campsite for the 19th.

Down the road was another campground, Rising Sun, which had more trees and seemed more secluded. As we were driving through and checking out the sites, a very brazenly beautiful red fox was sleuthing around, searching for food in the campsites. He did not seem the least bit afraid of us in our van and I was able to get some excellent pics!

Stopping to take in the striking mountain views of the Sun Point area, with St. Mary’s Lake and the Rockies in the background, we drove to the Jackson Glacier Overlook and found we could drive no further. The road was closed due to avalanche damage and we were SO disappointed! Going to the Sun Road is one of the most popular destinations in Glacier and we couldn’t believe that in mid-June it was still closed to through traffic!

I had watched YouTube videos, one after the other, of people driving this spectacular highway with breathtaking views and we would not be able to experience it for ourselves. We discussed returning to this place after our one week stay in the Canadian Rockies. The possibility of driving the entire Going to the Sun Road would be much better at the end of June.

St. Mary’s Lake

Upon stepping out of the van and seeing the glorious views from the overlook, we noticed that people were walking down the closed section of the road. We asked a ranger if we were allowed to walk Going to the Sun Road and he said, “Yes, you may walk it or take a bicycle.” Phil and I were ecstatic!!

It was getting late in the afternoon, around 3:30pm, and it was nearly a 10-mile round trip hike, so we calculated how long it would take us to walk to Logan Pass and back. We were confident we could make it back before sundown, so we donned our packs, making sure we had warm clothing and rain gear, grabbed our cameras, bear spray and started walking.

The vibe I felt walking that road with very few people for company, was both eerie and exciting! Being on a paved road makes one feel somehow safe and secure, but looking up into the mountains and not only seeing, but absorbing the very essence of wilderness, was invigorating. We were definitely riding on a “high” of epic proportions!

We talked to several different people who had already been up to Logan Pass and were hiking back to the Overlook. One couple was from Jackson, Michigan (just an hour from our hometown), and a man who noticed my Michigan State University sweatshirt and commented that his sister attended MSU. I’m always amazed at what a small world it is! A couple of bike riders passed us going up, then coming back down, and after that… not a soul on the road except Phil and I.

Mountain goats were walking around the sides of the mountains, and we came across some piles of half-eaten grass laying in the middle of the road, along with piles of bear scat. I had seen bears eating grass and wondered out loud to Phil, “Maybe we’re not as alone as we think?”

Mountain Goat baby and mom

As we hiked closer to Logan Pass, the sky became darker and the drizzling began. We walked through a tunnel and the wind was much stronger, getting colder by the minute.

At last we arrived at Logan Pass, the highest point on the Going to the Sun Road (6,700ft.), according to http://www.visitmt.com. There was snow EVERYWHERE and we were the only ones in the entire visitor center! We found where the restrooms were and thankfully, the doors were unlocked.

Phil took a video of us, all alone, at a place that usually has thousands of visitors every day during the summer. The feeling was very surreal…

While we were taking a snack break, two guys on bikes road up from the west side with the intention of skiing somewhere around there. We chatted with them for a few minutes and found out that the one guy was from Alpena, Michigan, and had moved to Montana years ago. In the meantime, the clouds were getting lower and moving in pretty quickly, so we thought it best to head back down the road. The weather in the mountains can change from sunny skies to blizzard conditions in moments!

Words cannot express the exhilaration we felt being the ONLY people on that road at that moment in time. Unquestionably the most epic hike of our lives! As we were walking back, a herd of Bighorn rams moved along the mountain, just above us.

Further down the road, ole “Eagle Eye Phil” spotted a grizzly down in the valley.

Grizzly down in the valley

This hike will certainly be remembered for the rest of our lives. Lesson learned: Be open to new adventures whenever they make themselves available. Driving the Going to the Sun Road would have been fantastic, but HIKING Going to the Sun Road was SPECTACULAR, and we feel truly blessed to have been one of the very few who have had the privilege of experiencing this magnificent road on foot.

Hiking back to our van on Going to the Sun Road

Upon reaching the van, nearly 10 miles and four-and-a-half hours later, our bodies were tired! There were just a few cars left in the parking area and a man that was close to our van told us they had seen a grizzly bear just a mile or two down the road. We took off in hot pursuit and wonder of wonders, this bruin was still walking along the road. Phil abruptly parked the van, grabbed his camera, and was out the door before the bear’s duff disappeared in the nearby brush.

Thankfully, the bear was more interested in eating shavegrass, dandelions and other delectable greens and didn’t seem to care that we were taking his picture. We ended up with some decent shots.

The next day, June 18, 2018, was pretty uneventful. It was a rainy morning so we decided to sleep in, then try to locate a laundromat in the teeny tiny town of St. Mary’s. We happened upon the Johnson RV Campground that had a laundry facility and a restaurant. The lunch we had there was some of the best food we’d ever eaten at a restaurant! Thick slices of melt-in-your-mouth, homemade bread with fresh huckleberry jam, homemade vegetable beef soup to die for! The wait staff were very friendly and helpful with questions we had regarding the St. Mary’s area.

While doing our laundry, some of the local restaurant crew came in to wash their clothes. There were three guys, all in their 20’s, who told us their stories of drifting to different locations in search of work and beautiful surroundings. The one was very animated when he told of hitch-hiking from Rhode Island. Between hitches, he would walk for miles and he imagined every sound was a bear, just waiting to attack! These young men were an adventurous bunch and listening to their intriguing tales of travel made a routine, mostly mundane job quite memorable.

We ended up back at the Johnson’s Restaurant for supper… just couldn’t pass up their family-style dinner of homemade soup, fried chicken, salad and more of that wonderful, freshly-baked bread!

Coming up next… the last two days in Glacier. Hike with us on the incredibly beautiful, Iceberg Lake-Ptarmigan trail and experience the exciting, close encounter with a bear… right in our campground!!

6 thoughts on “Badlands and Beyond, Part 7, East Glacier Nat’l Park

  1. Actually, Traveling Maiden, Going-To-The-Sun Road is usually closed until early – mid July and sometimes a little later, depending upon the amount of snow and the weather, in general. nps.gov/glac is pretty good about reporting on road conditions and they usually have photos either on that page or their flickr.com page showing the progress of their snow plows. On a side note, I really do enjoy reading your trip posts.

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    1. Thank you, Rebecca! I love looking at your photos. You are a very talented photographer!
      In doing the research for my blog, all of the literature I have read says typically mid to late June for Going to the Sun Road to be fully open. https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/news/going-to-the-sun-road-will-be-fully-open-on-saturday-for-the-2018-season.htm

      Last year it opened on June 23rd. The earliest it has been fully opened is May 16, 1987, and since 1952 it has always been open before July 1.
      https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/news/upload/Logan-Pass-Open-Close-Dates_Press-Kit-6-26-2017.pdf
      Thank you for allowing me to verify the information I post. 🙂 Thanks for reading my blogs!

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