Story and photos by Larry Turner (

High on Adventure, September 2018


Glacier National Park

Some call Montana's Glacier National Park the Crown Jewel of our national park system. I wouldn't argue that, but I personally feel that all of our national parks have a crown jewel look, but some have some extra jewels in the crown and Glacier is among those. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of jewels in Glacier but every-time I visit, I find more. My last visit was this last month.

There will be more visits, too, as my son Steen and his wife Hallie (Montana-born and raised) moved back to Whitefish, Montana, earlier this summer. Whitefish and Columbia Falls are the western doors to this magnificent Park.

Late summer and autumn are wonderful times to explore the Park, especially after Labor Day when the number of visitors drastically decrease. My recent summer forays into the Park (I made six over a three-week period) brought some surprises. Never before have I seen so much traffic, and no matter where I traveled in the Park, all the campgrounds were filled, underscoring the importance of advance campground reservations.

  Glacier National Park Apgar lodging   Glacier National Park Apgar view  
  Glacier National Park kayaking   Glacier National Park kayaks  
  Glacier National Park evening   Glacier National Park Lake McDonald view  
  Glacier National Park Red Bus   Glacier National Park swimming  


After Labor Day weekend, the visitor rate in Glacier drops dramatically. It is the perfect time to visit, especially if there is an Indian Summer. The temps cool down, there are plenty days of sunshine, fish are biting more liberally, wildlife sightings increase, the deciduous trees begin to change color (especially the aspens) and generally, the pace of life slows down as traffic decreases and there is more elbow room with fewer visitors. I remember once years ago, we were the only folks camped at Two Medicine.

At this writing, there is a forest fire burning in the Lake McDonald corridor, causing a shutdown of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway from the foot of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass. However, the entire east-side of the Park is open, including the Going-to-the-Sun Highway from Saint Mary to Logan Pass. Apgar Village is open at the south end of Lake McDonald. Snow and rain is falling at this moment of writing which will help immensely in quelling the fire. Check here when planning your visit:

Keep in mind, there are a variety of early campground closures, depending on where you are in the Park, some as early as just after Labor Day and some well into October. Camping in Glacier is based on the summer and shoulder seasons along with primitive camping. Their website will provide all the info that you adventurers desire. The Going-to-the-Sun Highway openings and closures are weather generated but traditionally it opens in June or early July and closes the third Monday of October.

  Glacier National Park exhibit   Glacier National Park flowers  
  Glacier National Park inside Glacier Lodge   Glacier National Park inside Glacier Lodge  
  Glacier National Park distillery   Glacier National Park Clacier Lodge lobby  


In my many forays into the Park, if it is a more extensive visit, I prefer going to the east-side first and traveling the Going-to-the-Sun Highway east to west, as was the case with my brother-in-law Ray and me last month. There is less traffic along this route. If it is a day outing, I go through the west entrance via Apgar.

On a lovely summer day, we drove beautiful Highway 2 along the Middle Fork of Flathead River to Essex, and south of there, we swung northeast to East Glacier Park. While in Essex, we visited the historic Izaak Walton Inn, built by the Great Northern Railroad in the 1930s. I first stopped there via the Amtrak Empire Builder train in 1998. The Inn is a great stopover place for exploring this less- visited part of the Park. Wintertime activities are equally as robust as their summer offerings.

Glacier Park Lodge ( in East Glacier Park is a sight to see. I've never seen anything like it with the interior and exterior three-story structure supported by 60 Douglas-fir (cut before the sap had risen to insure the outside bark was intact) and cedar trees, each 40 feet high. The architecture was influenced by the Swiss. The immaculate grounds surrounding the lodge were festooned with summer wildflowers and achingly green, green grass, with a western backdrop of pleasantly imposing Glacier Park peaks. While moseying around inside the lobby, I had the pleasure of sampling spirits from Glacier Distilling ( during a tasting. The lodge is located directly across from the railroad depot. Many Park visitors arrive via Amtrak. Glacier Park is one of the last National Parks with a direct railroad connection to their lodges. The Empire Builder markets Glacier as a tourist destination. On one of the lodge's historical exhibits, I saw several photos of actors and actresses visiting the lodge during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Clark Gable especially stood out as he was sworn in as an Honorary Member of the Blackfeet Nation.

  Glacier National Park Cutbank Camp   Glacier National Park camping  
  Glacier National Park entrance   Glacier National Park horses  
  Glacier National Park Cutbank   Glacier National Park fishing  
  Glacier National Park Two Medicine Mountains   Glacier National Park Two Medicine  


In delicious hot weather we made our way to Two Medicine inside the park with plans to camp, but all of the camps were filled. Years earlier in autumn I remembered a stay here with my son Steen and friend Lynette. Fresh grizzly droppings were everywhere. We pitched two tents for sleeping, but I stayed up all night tending a fire, periodically taking time exposures of the spectacular mountains and mesmerizing starry sky. Steen and Lynette slept like spring lambs. The main reason I stayed up was to ward off any grizz that might wander in. My bear spray was ready! The following morning we skedaddled. The following week I read about a grizz attack and mauling at Two Medicine involving two hunters. Make sure you read up on the dos and don’ts when in bear country!

National Park bear policy and contemporary protocol came about as a result of two 19 year old ladies being mauled to death in separate incidents in Glacier on the same night on August 13, 1967, which resulted in the book Night of the Grizzlies ( They were the first bear fatalities in the Park's history.

Leaving Two Medicine we took the spectacular, winding Highway 49, cutting off on a dirt road to the seldom traveled Cut Bank. Cut Bank camp was also filled so we eventually settled along North Fork Cut Bank Creek where a couple of other parties were camped. The spot was idyllic though we got a scare that evening from a bellowing bull that we first mistook as a grizz. I slept in the camper with Ray that evening, after having spent the previous evening sleeping in my screened pop up tent along the banks of the Flathead River.

The following morning I fly fished (no license is needed in the Park) but to no avail. We had a great visit with some local Blackfeet folks who came for the day to play in the creek and picnic.

  Glacier National Park author fishing   Glacier National Park Blackfeet Nation  
  Glacier National Park camp view   Glacier National Park Elvin Ray  
  Glacier National Park Lodge at Many Glacier   Glacier National Park Many Glacier Hotel  
  Glacier National Park Many Glacier Hotel   Glacier National Park Many Glacier Hotel view  
  Glacier National Park Many Glacier   Glacier National Park night camp view  
  Glacier National Park Red Bus   Glacier National Park wildflowers  


Glacier National Park tourists

  Glacier National Park red fox  


We made our way to Saint Mary the following day, which is the main east entrance to Glacier Park and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Hwy. Stopping by the local store for ice (and ice cream!), it was fortuitous that we would meet Elvin Ladd, a local from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Elvin invited us to camp on his property which is right on the Saint Mary River, just above where it empties into Lower Saint Mary Lake. Ladd's neighbor is the local KOA Campground which charges $50 a night to camp. It cost us nada and our view was 100 times better than KOA! “You guys just didn't look like the normal tourist. That is why I approached you and made the offer,” spoke Ladd. The three of us immediately struck up a friendship.

In revisiting my notes for this story, I read this longhand notation: “The first sounds come from across the river. The cry from the osprey. I am seated in my camp chair with my first cup of jo. The gin clear glacier river is a mere 12 feet away. We're camped in the horse pasture of our new friend Elvin Ladd, half Blackfeet-half White. His land is part of the Blackfeet Nation. GNP borders his land. We have one of the many perfect views of the grandiose east entry to the Park, and the G-to-the-S Hwy, arguably the most extraordinary drive in America and one of the finest in the world.”

The solitude of the river and the surrounding mountains was immense. Our stay was deeply relaxing.

The following day we traveled to Many Glacier. During my last visit to this spectacular landscape, an irate cow moose chased me and hit my car, just as I sped away. We were hoping to see an abundance of wildlife but our only sighting was a grizz with two cubs a great distance away. We entered Many Glacier on a Sunday and we were delayed a couple of hours as vehicle capacity in the Park was maxed out. That was fine and dandy with us as time was no factor. We found a beautiful turnout with a splendid view and commenced to read, relax and sleep. Many Glacier is tantalizing—with some great hiking—so don't miss it.

  Glacier National Park falls   Glacier National Park waterfalls  
  Glacier National Park full moon   Glacier National Park sunset  
  Glacier National Park Going to the Sun view   Glacier National Park Goose Island  
  Glacier National Park Logan Pass storm   Glacier National Park sunset  
  Glacier National Park Logan Pass   Glacier National Park moon over glacier  
  Gladcier National Park moonrise                        
  Glacier National Park tourists   Glacier National Park wildflowers  


Give yourself a whole day to travel this remarkable highway, filled with spellbinding views, access to remarkable hikes, grandeur that will leave you speechless, and the possibility of viewing wildlife up close and far away. Be on your “A” driving game, though, as the road is very narrow at times and filled with curves and sometimes inattentive tourists. Ray and I made numerous stops, explored and hiked Sun Point Nature Trail, Jackson Glacier Overlook and the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail. The Weeping Wall placed us in a meditative state of being. I had the pleasure of photographing a full moon and setting sun over Mt. Oberlin and the Livingston Range. When we hit Lake McDonald, darkness had descended over the Park. On another day we did a day trip to the Park, spending our late afternoon time at Apgar. This location on the south end of Lake McDonald is perfect for paddle boarding, boating, swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and sight-seeing. There are shops nearby, too, for food, tourist items and recreation rentals.

  Glacier National Park bald eagle  


Glacier National Park fly fisherman on phone

  Glacier National Park Apgar Village   Glacier National Park author and son  
  Glacier National Park Bear River crossing   Glacier National Park black bear  
  Glacier National Park stand up kayaking   Glacier National Park Mary kayaking  
  Glacier National Park quiet river passage   Glacier National Park rafting the Flathead  
  Glacier National Park rafting   Glacier National Park Steen rafting  


During our recent visit to Glacier, we spent two extraordinary days rafting the Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River with friends of ours that live nearby and have their own gear. Both Dennis and Mary Devane Hertrich have river guide experience from the past. During the summer months there are several local rafting companies providing all kinds of packages for the adventurous tourist (;;; With most, the season closes after Labor Day, but some go into September. Kayaks can be rented throughout the region.

During our first outing, I photographed a black bear enter and swim across the river. I also captured bald eagle, osprey and other birds with the lens. My only regret is that I didn't bring a fly fishing rod, as I found out that fishing is quite good on both river tributaries.

The highlight of both excursions was having my 33-year-old son with me. Dennis and Mary had their son (and Mary's mom) along on the North Fork which made it extra special.

Important Information:

Moon Glacier National Park (Travel Guide) by Becky Lomax
Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks: A Guide To The Parks' Greatest Hiking Adventures (Regional Hiking Series) Falcon Press
The Best of Glacier National Park by Alan Leftridge 
Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park's Highway to the Sky by CW Guthrie 


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