Glacier National Park: Visiting in Fall

Written by: Ellie Hanousek

Just 3 hours away from Missoula, Montana sits one of the most pristine and beautiful national parks in the west: Glacier National Park. Planning a weekend trip to GNP in the fall season can be a challenge with the park’s fast-changing mountain weather and wildfire conditions.

Although these can be tricky problems to work around, a visit to GNP during these unpopular times provides an experience unlike any other with minimal traffic, trails to yourself, access to abundant wildlife, and beautiful fall colors. Next time you are planning a trip to Glacier, consider a September or early October visit – you will not be disappointed! If you happen to find yourself in GNP during fall season, here are a few of the must-visit destinations:

Morning Coffee @ Many Glacier Lodge

Kick off the early morning after a night of camping at Many Glacier Lake Lodge. Grab a coffee at the lakeside coffeeshop run by world travelers and sit beside a roaring fire overlooking the lake.

Grinnell Glacier Hike

One of the most rewarding hikes on the east side of the park is Grinnell Glacier. This 7.5 mile out-and-back hike stretches along side bright blue glacial lakes and rocky cliffsides marked burnt orange mountain ash trees and alpine meadows. The trail climbs to a perched valley where you will find Upper Grinnell Lake, where the smallest remaining glacier sits in the park: Gem Glacier. The backdrop of Upper Grinnell Lake is called ‘the Garden Wall’ and is part of the continental divide.

Iceberg Lake

Located in prime bear habitat, it is common to see grizzly bears on the distant hillsides of this 10-mile hike. This moderately difficult hike to the lake includes small crossings over footbridges through alpine meadows. A family of moose inhabit the area surrounding IceBurg Lake and can be seen resting in the shade. If you are brave enough, go for a swim in the glacial waters!

Drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road @ Sunset

During peak season, The Going-To-The-Sun road leading to Logan Pass on both the West and East sides of the park is often the most crowded and trafficked road in the park. However, during fall evenings, the road is completely empty – meaning you can pull over, take photos, and view wildlife on your own time! Bring your binoculars to spot birds of prey, big horn sheep, mountain goats, and bear along the way.

Huckleberry Milkshakes @ Two Sisters Café

Treat yourself after a long weekend of hiking and sightseeing with a Montana famous huckleberry milkshake from Two Sisters Café in Babb, MT. This quirky and colorful restaurant makes a perfect pit stop on the way out of the park!

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Growing Up in Glacier National Park in the 1930’s

I will begin this memoir by introducing my grandmother, Nancy Peck, who has shared with me the many extraordinary stories of her life. From growing up in Glacier National Park to shooting coyotes out of a plane at age sixteen to owning a business to serving in the Peace Corp at age sixty, my Nana has had some extraordinary experiences. Some of my favorite stories are the ones of her growing up in Glacier National Park in the 1930’s. The following are a collection of glimpses into her life in Glacier that she shared with me throughout the years of cozying up on the davenport.

 

I recall how peaceful and interesting growing up in Glacier was. While the park was always lively in the summer with interesting people from all over visiting, we were always ready for the quiet the winters brought.

It wasn’t like living in “small town USA”. People from all backgrounds came through the park, some stayed and some would move on after the summer months. The place was full of artists and authors, each adding to the unique culture of the park.

I remember all the girls saying how boring it must be living in such a rural place. Joanne would always answer by saying, “Are you kidding?! The summers brought in all the college boys!” Glacier was always real lively. All sorts of interesting people visited the park, from all over and we would learn so much from them. Friends of ours would come and stay throughout the year. There never was a dull moment around our home with the nine of us kids and then our visitors.

I still remember the day President Roosevelt came through the park for the dedication of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, in 1933. We were all out on the road waving as he drove by. We had quite a few celebrities come through the park when I was growing up, like Piper Laurie and Rory Calhoun.

My little sister Joanne and I would make the walk to the one room schoolhouse in Apgar together. I remember every day we’d stop at the corner before the schoolhouse and I would fix her up, straighten her coat and push her hair back over to the right side. I was always jealous of Joanne’s haircut growing up. Mine was a blunt cut, while she had a longer cut on one side that would sweep across her face.

Our first schoolteacher was horrid. She had this horsewhip that hung on the wall behind her desk and would always threaten to use it. The only time I can recall her using it was when a little girl couldn’t work out the athematic on the board. I went home that day absolutely shocked and told my parents.

We would put on these fantastic Christmas plays. Dad would make the stage every year. Everyone had to play two parts because there were so few of us. Oh, and the singing…my god, we were horrible! The community was very supportive though and we always had an audience.

We never ran out of things to do, no matter the season. In the summer I was a young entrepreneur. I had a stand set up with cans of worms to sell to the fishermen, as they’d walk by our house on the way to the river. I was going out of town one time and asked my neighbor to watch my worms for me. When I came back he had stolen all my worms and was running his own business. What a crook. In the winters we would continue to play outside. McDonald Lake would freeze over in some of the bays just enough for us to put on our ice skates, which just strapped onto our boots. We did a lot of cross-country skiing around the area on skinny wooden skis. Oh and the ice cream parlors we’d make out of the snow and then pretend to sell ice cream to each other.

 

I had once asked my Nana if she felt Glacier was still her home when she would return to visit. Her reply—“If you’ve lived somewhere and have felt a strong sense of happiness while there, when you return that well of happiness is filled once more. I loved growing up in Glacier and it will always be a place I call home.”

 

 

Written by— Ivy Duncan

Told by—Nancy Peck