It’s so hard to get back into the swing of real life after a great vacation! A month has passed since we returned from our trip, and I still find myself thinking, “Wait, didn’t we just get back?” with regard to work, email, and other real life responsibilities. Oops, not so much!
This year’s trip began with a 3 hour drive to Moses Lake, WA after an early evening touch down in Seattle. Our original plan was to drive 4.5 hours to Spokane to decrease our drive time to West Glacier the next day, but considering how exhausted we were, I’m glad we opted to stay in Moses Lake instead. We were only there long enough to enjoy late night pizza at Guido’s and an evening at the Interstate Inn, but we enjoyed our time in this quiet little town nonetheless.
The next morning, we drove an hour and a half to Spokane to stock up on groceries and supplies at Walmart and Trader Joe’s before tackling the 5 hour drive to West Glacier. I loved the ever-changing scenery through Coeur d’Alene, Flathead, and Kalispell.
Knowing we had two weeks of camping ahead of us, we decided to splurge on a one-room kamping kabin at the West Glacier KOA for the night. What a treat this was! It was so nice to be able to unload our sleeping bags from the car and call it a night. We all enjoyed the pool, playground, and porch swing before drifting off in our comfy bunks.
We checked out bright and early to get a jump on our first day in Glacier National Park. After a brief stop at Apgar Visitor Center for Junior Ranger booklets and bear spray, we traveled the much-anticipated Going-to-the-Sun-Road. GTSR is a 32-mile engineering marvel that connects West Glacier and St. Mary, hugging sheer cliffs and winding through majestic mountains that overlook glacially-carved valleys. Glacier has been on my bucket list for ye-e-e-ars, and I’ve googled every image and video of the park available, but nothing could prepare me for the grandeur and incomparable beauty that is Glacier in-person. Standing along the bank of Lake McDonald, admiring the expanse of crystal-clear lake before me, I felt my eyes fill; I had to swallow to keep from embarrassing myself. The placid, mirror-like lake seemed to have a similar effect on other travelers, whose raucous shouts and laughter in the parking area faded to reverent silence upon reaching the lake.
At the time, I was convinced that Lake McDonald would remain the highlight of GTSR, not realizing that each new twist and turn in the road would reveal more awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping beauty than the last. I’ve never seen so many cascading waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, and verdant valleys in my life! GTSR truly is a feast for the senses.
Located at an elevation of 6,600 feet, Logan Pass marks the highest point along GTSR, as well as the start of numerous hikes in Glacier National Park. It is also the most popular and crowded stop on GTSR. As the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot can be somewhat of a nightmare to navigate, we were happy to secure a parking spot and set out for Hidden Lake without having to circle too long.
Hidden Lake Overlook trail is a short and sweet 3-mile out and back hike that begins on the west side of Logan Pass Visitor Center. While there is usually an option to continue an additional mile past the overlook to the lake itself, this portion of the trail was closed due to high bear activity that day. The announcement put us slightly on edge as a man had been killed by a grizzly a mile away from our campground a day earlier, just an hour before our arrival. My bear concerns, however, took a backseat once we got to the top of the stairs at the trailhead and were greeted by this looming wall of white:
I quickly scanned the area for the “easy boardwalk” path I’d read about. Turns out, Hidden Lake boardwalk and 85% of the trail were hidden under winter snow and recent snowfall from the previous two evenings. Visitors paraded past by the dozen as my eyes flitted between our flimsy hiking shoes, woefully unequipped with microspikes or crampons, and the dirty blanket of snow before us. Hikers tromped up the hill in a motley assortment of swim shorts and Chacos, tank tops and flip flops, unfazed by the wall of white that was no doubt as familiar to them as tropical sand and surf are to us. Their confidence only served to reinforce the singular thought looping through my head: we are not a snow people. The farthest I’d ever walked through snow was maybe several hundred yards. During a snowball fight, no less!
We had no business leading three kids through 3 miles of snow.
And then my youngest squealed, “Ooh, I can’t wait to hike through snow! This is going to be the best hike ever!” and just like that, we found ourselves squelching through icy puddles, crunching our way up that slick initial climb. The going was slow–two steps forward, one giant sli-i-i-de back–but the husband and kids could not have been more delighted by the novelty of it all. They hiked circles around me, running ahead, then sliding back down to where they’d left me behind with my cautious turtle steps. “C’mon, mom!” they’d yell. “Go faster! You have to embrace the slide!” Me, on the other hand…I was just trying to remain upright. Which I wasn’t all that successful with to begin with, but I was pretty sure going faster probably wasn’t going to do me any favors in that department. 😀
Our trekking poles definitely came in handy for navigating the slippery slopes and ice. And the 360 degree views on this trail? Simply STUNNING. I was so glad my phone was dangling in a waterproof case from my neck, because I found myself reaching to take pictures nearly every second. About ten minutes from the Hidden Lake overlook, we were thrilled to come upon a family of mountain goats, baby kid safely shepherded between mom and dad. Clearly habituated to humans, the shaggy, snow white trio paid us no heed as they ambled across the trail to graze. It was a thrill to come so close to these beautiful creatures.
After all of the fun we’d experienced on the trail, I wondered whether the journey might prove more exciting than the destination itself, but I needn’t have worried. Hidden Lake did not disappoint, its beautiful sapphire depths punctuated by chunks of floating ice. Photos and words do no justice in capturing the tremendous scale and beauty of this lake and Glacier National Park. We sat at the overlook for almost an hour, sketching and absorbing the stunning view before reluctantly turning back. Once we hit the snow, trekking poles were key for the descent; I can’t imagine having navigated some of the sketchier sloped sections without them. Once we completed these portions, though, the kids tossed their poles aside and ran/slid their way back to the trailhead.
They had such a great time; you couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces! We all agreed: Hidden Lake was one of our favorite hikes ever. It was an amazing beginning to our explorations in what was to become one of our new favorite parks. With Hidden Lake behind us, we made our way to St. Mary to set up camp for the night, excited and full of anticipation over what the next three days in Glacier had in store for us.