I’m a big-picture planner. By this I mean I like to focus on the overall arc of an idea, and let someone else figure out the details. Sometimes, though, both of the other people I’m planning things with are also big-picture planners. The result? Two days in Glacier National Park with less than twenty minutes of planning, total, from our group. And most of that was me booking us a campsite. Which we didn’t even use one of the nights.
Months ago, my sister and I decided that, since our cousin’s wedding was about 5 hours on the road towards Glacier anyways, we would meander on from Oregon through whatever Google said was the fastest route and camp in Glacier for, who knows? Three days? A Week? Summer break, people! But then my dad got a few days of vacation time freed up, so he was able to join us. The catch? We had to be back in time for his knee surgery, which meant leaving the park after only 2 full days.
No big deal. Being an efficient Googler, I would have a plan. I would mark out exactly which trails we could hike, and what to do, and–what? We leave tomorrow morning? I reserved the last available campsite in the entire park and trusted the rest to luck.
Three people. Three people’s camping gear. A very large cooler that in hindsight we could have skipped, because how many bologna sandwiches can three people stomach in two and a half days? (Answer: Not as many as that cooler can hold.). All of this in one Camry, filling the trunk and half the back seat. Not the ideal camping scenario, but since we grew up taking vacations with one child crouching on the floor of our turquoise Aerostar, ducking whenever a police car came into view, we weren’t concerned.
Like family vacations of olde, we got started two hours later than we had intended. And between not wanting to stop for food in case we might miss our campsite, and thinking I might want to start eating healthier now that I’m almost done with college, I hadn’t eaten a lot on the very long drive. (How to reconcile that with bologna sandwiches? Just let it be, folks.) And I had also just done another 1,000 mile road trip a few days before. I was tired! So tired, that by the time we got to Kalispell and decided we were not going to make it to the stressfully-booked campsite in time to pitch our tent, I was running on empty. There may have been tears in the pizza parlor parking lot. Old ladies were giving me sidelong looks as if they weren’t sure if they should call a women’s shelter or an insane asylum.
The pizza place was out of original crust, so we had overpriced thin crust pizza. After throwing my nutritional goals to the wind and eating half the pizza, I felt great. Embarrassed, but great. Lesson learned: if I ever try to become anorexic, someone will probably shoot me before I see any weight loss.
After a short night at the Super 8, we finished our trip to Glacier. At first it felt like a theme park, mainly because of the themeparks and rafting companies gathered around the entrance. Inside, though, we accidentally ended up on the Going to the Sun Road.
I had learned 3 things in my research:
- You have to do the Going to the Sun Road. It’s on some list of awesome Civil Engineering things.
- The Northwest corner of the park is the most remote part of the park, and supposedly has some of the top 100 most scenic backpacking trails in any national park (Per this list compiled by Backpacker Magazine).
- The Glaciers are dying.
What they never told me was that there really is no other option besides the Going to the Sun Road. If you want to cross that park, that’s it. It’s the main road. And though the beginning part is flat and doesn’t make sense as to why it would be a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, after a few miles we completely understood the hype.
It’s steep and beautiful and scary as Hell and I was grateful my Dad came, if only so that my sister and I didn’t have to risk driving.
So we marveled at the road. At the top, we saw a sign for Logan Pass. “Why don’t we get out here and hike a bit?” we thought.
“Because the parking lot is full, and as soon as one car leaves, twelve more swoop in to take their place,” the visitor center answered.
“Let’s not do that,” we decided. Instead, we meandered onto a waterfall just on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. We finished driving the road, found a gas station that charged more for a bag of ice than for a gallon of gas, and returned to the western side to pitch our tent in Fish Creek Campground.
What to do with the remaining four hours of daylight?
“Let’s head over to Bowman Lake,” my dad suggested.
Bowman Lake–in the remote northeast corner! We could finally escape the crowds… that we honestly hadn’t encountered much of the entire trip. But we decided to go, and two hours down a mostly gravel road (again: we were in a Camry) we finally said, “If we haven’t found it within the next ten minutes, we’re turning around.”
Nine minutes later, we arrived. It was a pretty lake, until you stepped out of the car. The only mosquito bites I received the entire trip were bestowed during the hour we spent there. After such a long trip, I found the pit toilets mentioned in the title of this post. We then walked around the lake about a mile, past the sign warning us of Grizzly attacks and absolving the state of any fault if we happened to run into one. The trail was surrounded by dog hair (thick forest and brush that makes it impossible to see more than a few feet).
We played “Would You Rather” so our noise would scare away the bears, and turned around well before leaving the lake shore. We got back to camp, ate quickly, and went to bed with a plan to hit Logan Pass early the next morning.