Wednesday, June 23, 2021
The drive from Great Falls to Glacier took most of the day. We learned online that the only way to drive the Park’s Going to the Sun Road is to have an entry pass, have a park tour booked, or to stay at a lodge in the Park. The passes were gone within minutes of becoming available. We did book a tour for the east side, but all of the tours were gone on the west side, and there was no lodging available in the park. We drove into the west entry anyway, and spoke to a very helpful park volunteer. She’s from Rochester, Minnesota, and truly espoused the concept of “Minnesota Nice.” She told us that no entry pass is required after 5pm, and since the sun doesn’t set until almost 10pm, we would have plenty of time to explore. She suggested that we wait until 5:45, because a lot of people will be lined up at 5, and the wait will be shorter later. We had hoped to do the entire Going to the Sun Road, but it’s actually blocked by snow about half way through!
The road was built between 1921 -1932, and it has been named an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It’s the only road that crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (snowed in today). The road is considered one of the most difficult to plow in the spring, with up to 80 feet of snow accumulating on Logan Pass. The Park’s website recommends waiting until June 20 to drive the road to be sure it is free of snow, but that still wasn’t late enough!
Established in 1910, Glacier National Park covers over 1 million acres in northwestern Montana. Besides glaciers (only about 25 considered active,) there are over 700 lakes and 200 waterfalls. The mountains in and around the park were carved by huge glaciers during the last ice age. Evidence shows that over 300 glaciers have disappeared over the past 170 years. If we’d waited much longer, we might have missed them entirely. Along with Alberta, Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, the two parks combine to serve as the International Peace Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site bin 1995. Unfortunately, COVID restrictions prevent us from visiting the Canadian side on this trip.
Our evening drive on the Going to the Sun Road turned out to be very lovely. There wasn’t as much traffic as we’d feared, and we had no problem stopping at several locations. We were able to go about 15 miles into the park before the road was closed.
Lake McDonald was simply stunning, both the water and the surrounding mountains. Like Flathead Lake, the beaches are pebble, not sand. The water is very clear; it is an oligotrophic lake (relatively low in plant nutrients and containing abundant oxygen in the deeper parts), typical of a lake that is created after a glacier disappears.
Besides all of the water in the park, there are more than 1,000 species of plants and hundreds of species of animals, including grizzlies, moose and mountain goats, the official park symbol. Sadly, we didn’t see any of them during our evening drive.
McDonald Falls was quite impressive, and we were able to view it from a few different spots.
We paid a visit to Lake McDonald Lodge as well, where Snyder Creek empties into the lake. Although the water is cool, about 68 degrees right now, we saw several people swimming and floating on the water. It looked very inviting.