Glacier National Park in the Fall of the year of Covid-19 is very crowded. Add a camper that’s too tall to travel on Going to the Sun Road, and it isn’t ideal. However, it’s still amazing and we’ve enjoyed it like crazy. Noelle here, by the way. We drove up from Kalispell, after stopping at the Ranger Station, and spent the night in Whitefish, Montana. It’s only about an hour or so outside of the Park and it’s a great town. Kind of hip, which I didn’t expect to find. The downtown is full of small breweries & restaurants and even with Corona Virus on the rise in the state, the restaurants are full. Of course, we stayed in the camper at a trailhead, which was great. But the town has so many great hotel choices, that it’s an easy stop on your way to visit Glacier.
The Blackfeet Tribe on the eastside of Glacier National Park is experiencing a high outbreak of the virus. Since the only road accessing the Park crosses reservation land, the entire eastside of the park stayed closed this year. That’s a bit of a bummer for us, considering we’re too tall to cut through the middle. Going to the Sun Road crosses the Park from west to east, but it has tunnels and rock overhangs. That limits Vehicle traffic to those under 10′ tall, less than 21′ long and no wider than 8′. We clear the width and length, but we’re about 13’2″ tall, so it’s out for us.
On a side note, after leaving the Park, we headed East on Hwy 20. Stopping along the way at a roadside site, we made ourselves some ramen for lunch. Just after the clean up, a truck stopped beside us. We figured it was another tourist, since several cars had stopped for pictures. Nope, this official guy (complete with clipboard) stopped to say we couldn’t stop there. What? I guess part of the Southern section of Glacier National Park also resides in the Blackfeet land, making it off-limits to visitors.
West Glacier National Park
The Westside of the Park still offers a ton of beauty and we explored as much as we could! We drove up the Outside North Fork Road, which is a mixture of gravel and pavement and a fairly easy drive. The road travels alongside the North Fork of the Flathead River. The views are spectacular, especially with all the yellows of the larch trees. We arrived at the “town” of Polebridge , consisting of a general store/coffee shop and a couple other outbuildings. Surprisingly, there were lots of cars and people milling about. Signed hiking trails dot the meadows. The store sells some merchandise, as well as renting cabins and gear. Definitely worth a stop to stretch your legs.
“IT’S BEAUTIFUL ONCE YOU GET HERE. BREATHTAKING. BUT THE JOURNEY IS PART OF THE REWARD. PEOPLE WHO COME HERE NEED TO ACCEPT IT ON ITS TERMS. YOU DON’T CHANGE IT TO MAKE IT EASIER. AS A SOCIETY, WE HAVE THE EXPECTATION OF INSTANT GRATIFICATION. BUT THAT’S NOT THE NORTH FORK.”SCOTT EMMERICH, POLEBRIDGE DISTRICT RANGER, GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Just across the bridge is the Polebridge entrance to Glacier National Park. No ranger was at post, but we already have the Interagency Annual Pass. It’s a great deal at $85, if you’re going to more than one National Park within a rolling year.
Inside North Fork
From the entrance, we turned South to go towards Logging Lake on the Inside North Fork Road. We’d read about a day hike and wanted to try it. Let me just say that the Outside North Fork road is a dream compared to the Inside one! It’s one-lane, rutted and bouncy, but we stayed the course, probably mainly because there was no where to turn around. Ha! Eight miles of travel down this tiny road made us not so happy. Dump trucks full of gravel passed a couple very scary times for the (closed) campground improvement project.
We parked at the trailhead and hiked in towards Logging Lake. The foot of the lake is about five miles in and from there are views of the glacier-carved peaks in the distance. Along the way are brief glimpses of Logging Creek down below the trail. This wasn’t our favorite hike, to be honest. But any day on a trail, beats a day at a desk, so it was still great being outdoors. Quartz Creek is another great hike, just North of Logging Creek.
Officially, the campgrounds are closed and you’re not technically supposed to camp at trailheads. But we may or may not have anyway. It was late when we got back to Cupcake and driving along that one way road in the dark had no appeal to either of us. Had it been the height of summer, we couldn’t have stayed at the trailhead. October with virtually no other car traffic on the road, we didn’t think anyone would care. Turns out, they didn’t!
One full-time RV’er from Virginia told us his plan for potential questioning about “stealth” camping. He’ll say it was late, he pulled over because he was getting sleepy and now he’s had a couple beers, so he really shouldn’t be driving. I like it!! He hasn’t actually been questioned, and neither was I last summer in the camper van. The key is to stay in your camper, don’t build a fire, and don’t be a nuisance. Then you can pretty much stay anywhere.
Flathead National Forest
By the way, the Outside North Fork Road traverses the Flathead National Forest with ample dispersed camping opportunities. There are also several campgrounds along it, which were still open. Our original plan was to go back to Big Creek Campground. It sits across the Flathead River from the Camas Creek Entrance to Glacier National Park. While options inside the Park are limited so late in a Covid year, there are still plenty of places to camp with easy Park access.
For the rest of our visit to Glacier, we stayed at Doris Creek and Lid Creek Campgrounds in the Hungry Horse Reservation Recreation Area. This area borders the Bob Marshall Wilderness and is every bit as magnificent as the Park itself.
Exploring Glacier National Park
Over the next few days, we explored Glacier National Park via the West Entrance. Taking Going to the Sun Road up to Avalanche Creek, where us larger vehicles have to make our turn around. We stopped at all the lookouts and meandered through Lake McDonald’s (closed for the season) resort grounds. A huge parking and picnic area mark the turn around for RVs. This lot provides easy access to the Trail of the Cedars and the trail to Avalanche Lake. Both beautiful and crowded! On our second day, we circled the parking area a couple times before giving up and heading back down the road. Sigh…
McDonald Lake and Falls in Glacier National Park
McDonald Falls is a great stop that also provides access to the Johns Lake loop trail. Even with our short leash inside Glacier National Park, there was no shortage of day-hikes and eye-popping scenery. The parking lot for Lake McDonald Lodge provides access to the Snyder Creek Trailhead. From it, you can hike to the Mount Brown Lookout, Snyder Lakes, the Sperry Chalet or to Fish Lake. That means easier to find parking with access to several different destinations. Easy parking is a win! 2020 has higher than average National Park attendance as Americans are forced to stay within the States. That means truthfully we probably should have waited to visit Glacier National Park.
We may have enjoyed it more without the crowds and with access to the Eastside of the Park. Our time in the Hungry Horse Reservation Recreation Area was every bit as enjoyable and beautiful as the Park. We also may be a little spoiled having spent all last summer along the Pacific Crest Trail. Stunning beauty every single day kind of leaves you a little jaded to “crowded nature”.