A Whole Lot of Montana

Our stop in Dillon was just one night spent doing laundry and cleaning Merlin. We left the next day headed for Hamilton. On the way, we visited Big Hole Battlefield National Park. This was a part of history that Bryan and I knew nothing about – so it was a very educational stop. This is the site of a battle between the Nez Perce tribe and the US military. It was a tragic event that resulted in a huge loss of life and another example of a really dark time in the US’s past. We had the chance to walk through the area where the attack happened – it was a somber experience but something that was definitely important to be part of and understand.

Leaving the Battlefield we were on the way to our brother in law’s family’s home in Hamilton, MT. They welcomed us to Shea RV park (as they referred to it) which was them being so kind as to let us park in their driveway and extremely generous and thoughtful (thanks again so much Pam and Jim, cannot thank you enough for everything!). We rolled into town just as the County fair started! We got to experience our first bull’o’rama rodeo! It was pretty awesome. We also enjoyed the fair food, livestock, and produce showcases. Pam and Jim were great hosts taking us on a tour of the town, feeding us from their garden, and helping us plan our trip through Glacier onwards. Bryan even got to enjoy some homemade/Pam-made ice cream and fresh strawberries for his birthday! One more note about Hamilton… there are two great breweries in town. We enjoyed both very much. We also enjoyed the fried cheese curds, barley wrap, and wood fired pizza we got between the two.

Our time passed quickly but in order to navigate around Missoula traffic and construction and Labor Day madness on the road – we had to hit the road Sunday. We headed towards our next BLM stop on the way toward West Glacier.

On our way to Glacier, we spent two nights camping on free federal forest land that just happened to be outside of a ghost town called Garnet. The weather had turned cold and rainy, but we still headed to Garnet and explored for a bit. Another fun experience stepping back in time. Also fun was getting to watch several deer forage around our camp for the few days we were there.

Glacier was an important stop for us and the reason why we have sort of been rushing through the other stops so far. We knew that after September – the weather up that way could turn bad at any moment and we really wanted to get there before winter started to set-in. We almost made it… We ended up staying in West Glacier at the park’s Apgar Campground. This was a pretty awesome spot located inside the park and just off the Going to the Sun Road (one of the park’s biggest points of interest). All the sites are nestled between thick clusters of trees. This made for a really pretty spot! The campground was also on a bike path that took you to Lake McDonald / Apgar Village and West Glacier. We used this path a few times during our stay and it was a big plus!

Neither one of us had been to Glacier and knew very little about this park – except for having seen pictures. From the pictures we gathered it was a majestic place with natural beauty on a grand / extreme level and something we HAD to experience. Thankfully Glacier did not disappoint with its sky-high jagged rocky peaks, glacier carved valleys and lakes. The weather was – for the most part – not in our favor for a good chunk of the trip – but thankfully there were little pockets of sunshine and clear sky here and there. Also glad we have access to all of our winter and rain gear – as it was much needed and make exploring the park possible. Have to admit though – the dusting of snow and the mountain tops shrouded in storm clouds made for a pretty gorgeous view!!

Our campsite had no hook-ups and with the shade from the trees and daily storm clouds – we had no use of our solar panels. This meant Merlin was really cold inside most of the time (except for the few hours a day we could run the generator) and we had to use lights very-very sparingly. Although we had a site – we were roughing more than we’ve done so far.

As we made our way up the Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR), we were enveloped in a storm cloud, it was freezing, and raining. Although there were plenty of signs at the look-out points telling us about the awesomeness just off in the distance – we could not see a thing.

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This was our first drive up the GTTSR and this was actually at a good point…
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Things getting a bit better.

Admittedly – I was a bit disappointed, but we pushed on through. I’m so-so glad we did because as we came down into East Glacier – the sky was blue and clear! Winding down the mountain you’re met with St. Mary Lake and it was absolutely beautiful. The lake is framed by huge mountains – it was so exciting to finally get to see some of the park. We had lunch and then set off for a short hike alongside the lake. We took a detour from the trail and walked on the shoreline for quite aways. We got back on the trail but the hike was cut short when we came upon 6 really large cows on the trail. Just seeing a black creature at first was quite startling since we were on extreme bear alert. Those cows are lucky I didn’t douse them with bear spray. They were also startled and were frozen in place. Not able to get around them – we turned back and returned to the car. Too bad about the hike, but it was super funny!

The next day at Glacier was another rainy one on the West. Fearing it would only be worse up at the pass we decided to stay on our side. We dressed warm, packed up our rain gear and headed down the road for a day hike to Fish Lake. The hike was really pretty with nice views of Lake McDonald going up and was quite eventful weather wise. Throughout the 6-miles we encountered several cycles of pouring rain, thunder/lightning, hail, and bouts of beautiful sunshine. We took off and put on so many layers – it was exhausting in itself – ha ha! The pay-off was a rainforest-type area just before Fish Lake that was full of ferns and an array of crazy looking mushrooms. We took a short rest at the lake and then headed back down the mountain. We had hoped to do another hike this day – but we were wet and cold and the rain had started again. Instead we headed into town for groceries.

Friday ended up being the day that we finally got to take in a good chunk of the look-out points on the GTTSR. The majority of the clouds had lifted and we were totally in awe with every turn! Glacier is absolutely gorgeous!! It’s amazing to think how this entire place was shaped by enormous, moving chunks of ice over tens of thousands of years – it was mind blowing. There was one massive rock face set above a rich green valley that brought me to tears – seriously.

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This day we were headed to the East. My mom had told us about a top rated hike (Iceberg Lake) that was located in Many Glacier. We had to exit the park on the East side, head north, and re-enter the park. The drive to the trailhead took a lot longer than we had expected because we spent so much time stopping at all the look-out points and we didn’t get to the trailhead until 3pm. This was definitely a bit late to be starting a 10 mile hike almost 80 miles away from our camp considering that we’d have to drive the extremely scary, and high-elevation GTTSR to get back. Determined to see this lake, we hit the trail and hauled-ass. The scenery on this trail was beyond comprehension – just truly incredible! Iceberg Lake, though, was absolutely OUT OF THIS WORLD. Bryan and I agree – it was by far the most beautiful and amazing thing we’ve ever seen. Everything about it was off the charts striking: colossally high rock faces dusted in snow; the thick chunk of what I think was a glacier tucked in at the back of the lake; the most brilliant turquoise water; the exquisite view of the bright green valley below; and the ice cold wind whipping up from the water. Each part on its own would be breathtaking – but put it all together and it was extraordinary!

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We thankfully made it down the mountain and back to our car by 7:30pm and started the long trek back home. We were on the GTTSR just before the sun went down and the temps were still in the low 40s – so this was all good news. The drive still took forever and a day – but we did see a bear cross the road and the snow topped mountains in the moonlight were incredible. We arrived safely back to Merlin a bit after 10:30pm – exhausted but still on a super high from the amazing hike!!

We were at Glacier for 2 more full days and fit in another shorter – yet still REALLY beautiful hike (Hidden Lake hike just behind Logan Pass) and really fun bike ride on the trail I mentioned above. We were really happy we had more time at Glacier and got to experience it a bit more in depth than Yellowstone.

After Glacier, we were in desperate need of showers, power, warmth, and SUNSHINE – so south we went in search of all of these things.

4 thoughts on “A Whole Lot of Montana”

  1. oh my that road did look scary.. glad I was in austin ha ha.. boy iceberg lake was worth the drive.. next time u can jump in for a splash around. love u guys

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