After laying eyes on the waters inside Glacier National Park, something I’ve been dying to do, I’m now in need of a new word. Because, there isn’t one that I know of that works to describe the colors in those waters.
Unless we just go with “glacial,” which is an enormous word fit to introduce anything in that park. The glacial landscape. The glacial lakes, filled with glacial blue waters. The glacial waterfalls, the glacial critters and the glacial trails.
There are glacial grizzlies, and we were lucky enough to see one from afar as it chugged across a glacial meadow on our ascent to Hidden Lake – which was carved by, you guessed it, a glacier.
The park is often called The Last Best Place, and it’s a perfect way to describe it. It is so untouched, even in the areas where people congregate, like the campgrounds, the trails and the sweet little camp villages inside the park.
And, what’s amazing is that even after all that we experienced, we saw only a sliver of what the park has to offer. A sliver of a sliver. The littlest bit of this really big place.
We had three days to experience as much as possible, before packing up and heading to our next adventure. And we made the most of it.
We spent late afternoons skipping rocks across Lake McDonald, one of two massive lakes inside the park which just happened to be just down a short trail from our campsite on the west side of the park. We strung hammocks and pitched one tent, rotating kids through one hammock and using the other two ourselves to be sure we got to fall asleep under the park’s canopy of stars.
We drove the winding and absolutely stunning Going to the Sun Road, passing raging and trickling waterfalls along the way – too many to count – and stopped at Logan Pass for what was supposed to be a quick potty break and turned into a three-mile hike to Hidden Lake, which is where we saw that grizzly and came across three mountain goats – one standing in this ridiculously majestic pose atop a waterfall as if he knew people would want to get a picture of him.
Somehow, though, the best parts are those moments you almost miss. The spontaneous ones, and the ones like we had at Avalanche Lake, where we were able to score a late-in-the-day parking spot near the popular trailhead and promised the sleepy kids the hike wouldn’t be long and it would be worth it.
Avalanche Lake didn’t make liars out of us. The trail climbs and winds through dense forest, where bears like to wander (we saw a few piles of scat), along a glacial creek (the color was just, ugh, breathless) that was raging so hard we could feel the updraft some 20 feet above it. At a certain point, the trail transitions from dense pines to leafy but equally-as-dense vegetation that opens to reveal a series of glacial waterfalls cascading down into this crystal lake.
But in Glacier, without even trying, every single trail, viewpoint, waterfall and lake compete with each other for amazingness. Like our day on Lake McDonald, paddle boarding and kayaking. It was one of those magically unreal days, where two of the kids tried paddling for the first time and all of them kayaked for the first time.
Their first outings were on a glacial lake. What? Ridiculous. Even if it’s your hundredth time, there’s nothing like that setting, floating on top of the frigid, crystal lake against a cul-de-sac of glaciers in the distance.
The whole place is at once wild and seemingly safe, in that we all felt comfortable walking to the bathrooms and along trails, even after dark, even after we put our food in bear boxes, even after hiking over bear scat. It’s impossible not to feel at ease there, even knowing that grizzlies aren’t far away.
It’s just part of Glacier’s magic, I guess. It makes it hard to say good-bye, but easier knowing we’ll be back.