Glacier Day 3: Many Glacier

First, the bad news: we didn’t get to do a single thing we’d planned to do on Day 3 in Glacier.

The good news?

Day 3 turned out be one of our favorite days of the whole trip!

We pulled into the Many Glacier entrance of Glacier National Park early with high hopes of hiking Grinnell Glacier. Chatting with the ranger at the guard shack, however, we were crushed to learn that the last 2 miles of the Grinnell Glacier trail were closed. The ranger explained that we could do the first half of the trail if we wanted to. “But,” he said, “I wouldn’t advise it.” He peered into our car and shook his head, solemn. “Especially not with little guys. The snow’s really steep and sketchy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wound up closing the whole trail later today.”

From the backseat, my daughter cheered; she’d been dreading this hike for months after reading accounts of bear maulings on the trail. The boys were more stoic about the situation, though I could’ve sworn I heard a whispered, “Thank goodness, we don’t have to hike 12 miles today!”

“So, what now?” my husband said, eyebrows raised.

I unpacked our itinerary and pointed to a list of alternate hikes. “We choose another trail,” I said, but my heart wasn’t in it. Grinnell Glacier is an iconic hike, one I’d been anticipating for months. To be sure, this unexpected monkey wrench was about as First World as problems come, but I was still disappointed. And then it hit me–this was Glacier. Iconic or not, every hike here held promise. I scanned the list in earnest. “Well, we could try Piegan Pass,” I offered. The kids nodded. With renewed enthusiasm, we headed to the nearest bulletin board to check on the trail’s status.

Only to find that Piegan Pass was closed.

Ditto for the Highline Trail. And Siyeh Pass. And Ptarmigan Tunnel.

Feeling more than a little desperate, I pointed to one of the few ‘open’signs left on the list. “Look! Swiftcurrent Pass is open,” I said. I traced a finger across the posted map to locate trail details. “And it’s only…15 miles long,” I managed to say, before being met with a chorus of “Are you crazy? 15 miles? No way!”

My heart sank. And then I remembered the one option I’d forgotten to list: Grinnell Lake. To be sure, it was no Grinnell Glacier. But it was the gorgeous turquoise lake I’d looked forward to seeing from the Grinnell Glacier trail. Seeing that the lake was open, I quickly scanned the trail details.

“It’s a little less than 8 miles roundtrip,” I said. “And there’s no elevation gain, I promise.” The kids were dubious, but we were already in Many Glacier, minutes away from the trailhead, and the next nearest option meant an hour-long drive to Logan Pass, a prospect no one relished. And so it was that we found ourselves pulling into the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot.

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Historic Many Glacier Hotel
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View from the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot

Situated along the scenic shores of Swiftcurrent Lake in the heart of Glacier National Park, Many Glacier Hotel is an historic lodge reminiscent of a Swiss-style chalet. With its incomparable views of Grinnell Point and Swiftcurrent Lake, Many Glacier is the kind of hotel that gives new meaning to the phrase “location, location, location.” It’s the kind of place I dream of staying at post-lottery win. It’s also the kind of place that can be confusing to navigate when you’re searching for a trailhead, especially with all of the renovation work being done there this summer. For those who may be planning a Grinnell Lake hike in the near future, please note that the trailhead is not located near the parking lot. You’ll want to avoid poking around various stock trails near the parking lot like we did and mistaking them for Grinnell Lake trail. Rule of thumb? If it smells reallllly bad and/or you find yourself sidestepping steaming piles of unknown origin–gingerly as through a minefield–you’re probably on the wrong trail. Instead, take the stairs from the parking lot down into the hotel lobby’s back entrance, and exit the lobby via the hotel’s front entrance toward the boat dock. Following the lakeshore, bear left past several private cabins, eventually reaching a marker for Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail, which you will follow for a mile. Note that there is no actual marker for Grinnell Lake for at least 2-3 miles.

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Why my kids don’t trust me, otherwise known as Mom’s famous last words: “I’m sure the trailhead is somewhere around here.” …Not!

About a mile in, we reached a proverbial fork in the road and opted to take the North Shore Josephine Lake Trail instead of the South Shore trail. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, both trails eventually merge into a single trail to Grinnell Lake. Without a map or printed directions, we were operating on faith in choosing the northern route and hoping for the best, our flawed logic being, “well, if we can see the ferry, we must be going the right way…right?” We agreed to confirm with the next visitor we saw–only, there were no visitors to be found! We plodded through the shoulder-high shrubbery, calling “Hey, Bear!” every few yards to nary a soul. The secluded quiet came as a welcome surprise. Any worry that we might’ve taken the wrong trail disappeared as we contoured gorgeous Lake Josephine. The going was easy, all flat terrain and soft dirt; the unassuming views both immense and peaceful. If the North Shore trail was wrong, we had no desire to be right.

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The last visitor we would encounter for a while, Lake Josephine
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Beauty in the details, Grinnell Lake Trail
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Grinnell Lake Trail via Swiftcurrent Nature and Lake Josephine North Shore trails

Eventually, we reached the ferry dock (the merge point for the North and South Shores), hearing the familiar strain of voices and laughter ahead of us. Ferries shuttle visitors across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine Lake several times a day; this popular-though-somewhat-pricey option saves you 5 miles roundtrip. Still, the term “crowd” here remains relative, with less than 20-30 people entering and exiting the trail from the landing at any one time.

We took a short spur trail to a small cascade called Hidden Falls 3/4 of a mile past the boat junction and crossed a suspension bridge, continuing the last 1/2 mile to Grinnell Lake along narrow wooden boardwalk planks. The kids loved the swinging suspension bridge–or maybe they just loved poking fun at my irrational fear of swinging, unstable structures. All I know is that we seem to have an inordinate number of video recordings of the ‘Mom crossing the bridge incident’ where the sound of rushing water is obscured by giggles and shouts of “Don’t die, Mom!”

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Why people look at signs that say, “Danger: Cross One At A Time” and think, “Ooh, fun!” is beyond me.
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Suspension bridge, Grinnell Lake Trail. Love those colorful rocks!
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Boardwalks mean you’re almost there…
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Final boardwalk before Grinnell Lake

Grinnell Lake was every bit as gorgeous as I’d imagined, hints of its famous turquoise tinge visible in the distance. On the opposite shore, Grinnell Falls meandered an intricate yet gentle path beneath Salamander Glacier, with Angel Wing and Grinnell Point towering above all.

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Beautiful Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park
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Hints of turquoise in the distance
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The view across Grinnell Lake
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Grinnell Falls beneath Salamander Glacier, Grinnell Lake

We sat along makeshift log seats, hoping to enjoy our picnic lunch among the grandeur. The mosquitoes, however, were relentless in their voracious pursuit of our every square inch of exposed flesh. We gave lunch a valiant attempt before fleeing to the mosquito-free asylum of the boat dock. From there, it was an hour and a half jaunt back to Many Glacier Hotel, where we nursed hot coffee from the gift shop before gatecrashing the lobby to take a peak at how the other half lives. It was quite the luxurious bathroom break, complete with plush arm chairs, power naps, and picture windows overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake.

Caffeinated and refreshed, we decided to rent a rowboat on Swiftcurrent Lake, just outside the hotel lobby. I cannot recommend this highly enough! For a grand total of $18.50, the five of us had more fun in an hour than should be legally allowed. None of us knew what we were doing, which made the experience all the more fun. We bumbled around the lake, alternately lazing and laughing at each person’s pathetic attempt at rowing and then combining our efforts in furious, panicked, spastic bursts to avoid colliding with incoming ferries. I can only imagine how ridiculous we must have looked from shore, but we had an absolute blast!

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Boat dock and rowboat rental, Swiftcurrent Lake
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Row, row, row your boat…

 

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Quick stop at Many Glacier Ranger Station to turn in completed Junior Ranger books

Rounding out our evening was dinner at Nell’s Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. Though not inexpensive, dining out was a treat, having cooked the rest of our meals at camp. And boy, had we worked up quite the appetite! We feasted on burgers and salad, finishing the evening with sweet and smooth huckleberry soft serve from the gift shop next door and a final dip in the St. Mary KOA swimming pool and hot tub. It was as perfect a day as I can remember. It’s said that happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember. All I know is we were lucky enough to find ourselves in the midst of a perfect day–and even luckier to know it. Thank you, Glacier.

 

 

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20 thoughts on “Glacier Day 3: Many Glacier”

  1. Just when I thought I had seen enough of Glacier! I want to go back.. Now!!! Great pictures and how fun to be spontaneous! I tried everything Huckleberry I could find.. Huckleberry vodka, Huckleberry shake, pie, chocolate , cobbler , etc.
    Fun to see we were in some of the exact same locations as you.. Made me sad we didn’t rent a canoe. Your kids will remember this trip forever!

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    1. I want to go back, too! Judging from your list, we clearly did not sample anywhere near enough of the delectable huckleberry fare they had going on at Glacier. Huckleberry vodka and shakes? Um, yes, please. πŸ˜€ So great to see your Many Glacier shots and be able to recognize a few of the locations. I think we were even standing on the same hill above the hotel parking lot–only, you actually meant to be there for Cracker Lake trail, whereas we were just plain lost, lol! No better place to be lost, though–love this park!

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  2. Wow, I love seeing these pictures! It makes me want to go back there so bad! Your kid’s comments about long hikes remind me of my kids. When we finished Grinnell Glacier they both said I need to keep our hikes under 8 miles. πŸ˜‰ Yeah right, that was one of the best hikes ever! And like you described it was a perfect day. We also ate dinner out that night after working up quite an appetite, and then enjoyed the KOA pool and hot tub. Too bad we weren’t there at the same time! 😊

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    1. It would’ve been so fun to have been there at the same time! Our kids could have commiserated in the KOA hot tub about their crazy moms, lol. Your comment made me laugh because my kids said something similar like, “Yay, only 7 miles today!” πŸ˜€ I can’t wait to go back, too. Hoping we can cross paths on the road next summer!

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    1. Thank you SO much for these awesome recaps of Glacier! My fiancΓ© and I just arrived in the area last night, and reading over these has helped us decide how to spend our limited timeβ€”and it’s also reassured me that basically no matter what we do, it will be spectacular! I am somehow even more excited to experience Glacier myself now. πŸ™‚

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      1. This makes me so happy to hear–thank you, Laura! I am so excited for you and your fiance; Glacier is incredible! I don’t think you can go wrong with any hike or experience there. Even if you were to do nothing (which I know you won’t, lol), just being surrounded by the grandeur of it all is amazing in itself. Have a wonderful time in Glacier! Can’t wait to read all about it!

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    2. Well said; I couldn’t agree more! I tend to be an obsessive ‘planning is the best preparation’ kind of nut, so this experience was a good reminder to relax the reins and be more open to spontaneity. This trip was full of last minute detours–some fun, others less so–but it was definitely an adventure we look back on fondly.

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  3. I love that you had such an amazing day just playing it by ear. I tend to over plan and I have to remind myself to chill out and be in the moment. Grinnell Lake looks beautiful! And the Many Glacier hotel – wow! I don’t think I can fit in any more on my list (thanks to your wonderful suggestions)! But I’ll have to squish Glacier NP in, looks too amazing to pass up. Enjoyed reading your post as always!

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    1. “Chill out, Mom!” is practically my family’s mantra to me, lol! It was so liberating being spontaneous, but there was definitely a minor freak-out moment first for sure. It was a good reminder for me that being in the moment is the goal–not the perfect itinerary. And I totally agree with you–Many Glacier Hotel looked so awesome! I can’t even imagine how amazing the views from those rooms must be. You’ll have to stay there for me when you go so I can live vicariously through you!

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  4. Sounds and looks like an awesome day. I hiked to Grinnell Lake a few years ago and while I may not be on the same level as the Grinnell Glacier Trail it still is an amazing hike. The lake is stunning from above and at eye level. Makes me want to return to Glacier tomorrow.

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  5. I am loving reading about your adventures, especially to Glacier which was on our list this summer but unfortunately we had to cancel at the last minute. Now I am even more stoked to visit. Your blog is great and it is awesome that you are exposing your kids to hiking in all these beautiful places (we schlepped our son everywhere too and although I recall a fair share of initial reluctance it was so worth itβ€”I think he’d say that too). Thank you for checking out/liking my hiking post. I look forward to reading more of yours.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I am loving reading about your adventures, too. I’m not very familiar with Canada, but from what I’ve seen on you blog, Canada’s parks look absolutely stunning. I’d love to explore north someday and am glad to be able to live vicariously through your posts. And I couldn’t agree with you more–hiking/traveling with kids is hard work but so rewarding! Glacier is fantastic–fingers crossed that you’re able to visit soon!

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