Hiking The Highline Trail – Finally!

Since the fall of 2014 we have been trying to hike the Highline Trail at Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, road closures, swarms of visitors, and snowy weather have gotten in the way. But finally the stars aligned on the last week of September and we were met with a sunny, uncrowded day to head out along the Highline Trail.

Due to an active forest fire in the park the Going-to-the-Sun Road was closed from Lake McDonald to Logan Pass meaning that we had to drive an extra hour and a half to reach Logan Pass from the St. Mary Lake entrance. However, the extra drive time was so worth it considering the conditions that we met once in the park.

Even though there was snow at the top of Logan Pass the sun was shinning, the sky was a brilliant blue, and there were hardly any other people visiting the park that day. In addition having the Going-to-the-Sun Road closed from the west made the Highline Trail super quite and peaceful as the trail winds on the rocky cliffs above the road for the first mile or so.

The Younger Fives really enjoyed hiking along the ledge at the beginning of the trail and looking down at the sheer drop. It is a good thing that none of us have a fear of heights as the hand cable that provides some extra security had already been taken down for the season. Once off the cliff section High Five discovered that the trail side plant species were covered with seeds just waiting to be caught by the wind and he spent the rest of the hike helping to disperse seeds. At times he released so many seeds that we were completely covered with seed fluff and looked quite ridiculous.

As we progressed along the trail we could see smoke from the Sprague Fire, but it didn’t affect the air quality where we were hiking. However, as we made our way up Haystack Pass we were met by hikers returning from the other direction that said the other side of the pass was getting pretty smoky. At that point we decided that we would rather hike in the fresh air and decided to turn back.

Turning back before Haystack Pass left us with enough time before dark to stop at Two Medicine Lake where we picnicked and enjoyed the scenery. The lake was really cold but felt great on our feet after hiking.

The Autumn scenery throughout the drive and hike was absolutely amazing and it was hard to think of this as being one of our last visits to Glacier National Park for the time being. Wildlife viewing for the day was also really great as we saw a mama Grizzly Bear and her cub, an American Pika (these guys are amazingly adorable), Mountain Goats, and a large heard of Big Horn Sheep that walked within feet of our picnic table. All in all it was very hard to drag ourselves away from the park at the end of the day and we all agreed that our Highline Trail experience was definitely worth the wait.

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Picnic at the Pass

Ever since our thwarted efforts to reach Glacier National Park’s high country during our first visit to Montana, we’ve been eager to make the drive up to Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road. This past Wednesday the entire stretch opened after plow crews worked diligently for weeks to clear out the feet of snow and debris left over the winter. Knowing how busy Glacier gets in the summer, we jumped in the car this past Thursday to make our first successful trip to Logan Pass.

While the road itself was clear of snow, the top of Logan Pass definitely was not. After a quick picnic lunch, we headed out on the Hidden Lake Trail. The mix of snow below and sun above made for a quasi-winter wonderland. Hikers, skiers, and snowboarders shared the trail, and quite a few snowball fights were in full swing all around.

On the way back down the trail Five Spice had the inspiration to pull an emergency tarp out of our backpack and fashion a makeshift sled. While not the smoothest sledding experience, the backdrop of the surrounding peaks couldn’t be beat!

When we set out for the park we hadn’t planned on a romp through the snow, but it ended up making for a wonderful day. The park had definitely transformed since we last visited this past winter, and it was hard to imagine just a few months previously we had been cross-country skiing on the road we were driving on. For those not yet ready to let go of winter, Glacier provides plenty of snowy fun well into the summer.

Cross Country in Five Days

There’s been no shortage of snow here in Western Montana, and we’ve been eager to introduce the Younger Fives to skiing. As a first step we decided to begin with cross country skiing to give everyone a feel for moving through the snow in a new way. After looking into our options (and there are plenty here in the Flathead Valley), we found the following to be ideal for learning to Nordic ski as a family.

West Shore State Park
Family-Friendly Features: uncrowded, Flathead Lake

 

Blacktail Mountain Nordic Trails
Family-Friendly Features: groomed trails, mountain setting

 

Herron Park
Family-Friendly Features: sledding hill, plenty of space

 

Bigfork Community Nordic Center
Family-Friendly Features: groomed trails, forest setting

 

Glacier National Park
Family-Friendly Features: trails over and along streams, mountain scenery

 

Glacier National Park in Bloom

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We were fortunate enough to slip away for a few days to Glacier National Park early this month before the summer crowds arrived. While the Going To The Sun Road wasn’t fully open the park did not in any way disappoint. As always Glacier National Park provided some of the most spectacular scenes of beauty that we have had the fortune of seeing in our travels. From cascading waterfalls to blooming wild flowers we had a wonderful visit and left wishing that we could stay in such a magical place forever.

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During the one rainy day of our visit the kids worked hard to complete their Glacier National Park junior ranger booklets while we parked the car in a scenic pull off near Jackson Glacier Overlook. As the wind whipped rain along the mountains the kids learned all about how the park was formed and the native peoples that lived in the park before the National Park Service took over managing the land.

The remainder of our trip was spent at the Two Medicine area of the park where we set up camp and had a blast hiking around the lakes and to several waterfalls. We all enjoyed watching the sun slip behind Rising Wolf mountain and listening to the tail slaps of a very active beaver out for an evening swim. We were greeted with such a variety of wildflowers around the Two Medicine area that our resident photographer (Five String) had a hard time keeping up. We were excited to have along a copy of the wonderful Lone Pine field guide Plants of the Rocky Mountains. This is one of the most comprehensive yet easy to use plant field guides that we have found. The descriptions accompanying each plant picture are fabulous especially the traditional uses of each species.

*** Note all wildflower common names listed above (scroll of the pictures) are guesses by the kids using Plants of the Rocky Mountains. A great homeschool project and definitely hard work when it comes to telling the difference between two different species.

We can’t wait until October when the summer crowds thin out and we can get back to Glacier National Park one of the true gems of America’s national park system and definitely a family favorite!

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Goodbye Glacier, Hello Yellowstone

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Our last day at Glacier National Park.

Living a life on the road is always full of surprises, and our time outside of Glacier National Park was no exception. The government shutdown closes the park the day we arrive in West Glacier ready to drive to Logan Pass, so we make the best of it and spend the next two weeks exploring other public lands in the area. We then finally get back into the park ready for two weeks of hiking and exploring only to learn that the internet at our month-long rental cabin crashed and will take weeks to repair.

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The Roosevelt Arch at the Northern Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Since we work entirely online, having wireless internet is a necessity. Therefore, we quickly realized that spending the rest of the month in our cabin was not going to work, and we scrambled for a new plan. Out of the panic emerged a pretty darn good idea: spend the final days of October in Yellowstone National Park. So with little notice we packed up on Sunday morning and headed to Gardiner, Montana, the north entrance to Yellowstone.

While we are looking forward to some quality time with bison and Old Faithful, we’ve learned that when it comes to travel in general and October in particular, you just never know.