Montana

The most important lesson I’ve learned since returning to the northwest is to a) check the weather b) expect it to change at any time c) get the gear d) don’t let the rain deter you from being outside. Years ago, I would have likely checked the Kalispell forecast leading up to my trip, but avoided packing all the appropriate outerwear optimistic it would be sunny and pleasant, and told myself if it rains I will just relax indoors. Present-day Mary was well-prepared for an early June weekend getaway, my first time in Montana.

I’ve always had a curiosity about Montana, not based on anything other than a pressing urge to visit big sky country to see if for myself. Since we could only commit to a 3-day weekend, we chose to take Alaska Air’s convenient flight round trip from Seattle to Kalispell instead of visiting by car.

We arrived Friday afternoon, hopped in our rental truck and hit the road to the Many Glacier park entrance of Glacier National Park. Since Going to the Sun Road was not yet fully opened from winter’s delivery of snow and subsequent road clearing & maintenance, we had to drive around the southern, then eastern portion of the park to get to our habitat for the weekend, the picturesque Many Glacier Hotel.

Friday’s weather in Western Montana was incredible for early June, high 70s and sunny. After getting checked into our room, we wandered around the hotel and the grounds, taking time to enjoy a can of huckleberry wine spritzer while reviewing the map of nearby hiking trails. The swiss-style hotel is situated on Swiftcurrent Lake, so snagging a lakeview room with a balcony is worth the splurge. We enjoyed gazing at the sunset from our balcony, completely in awe of the view. The sun set quite late, the last tidbit of daylight lingered almost into the 10:00pm hour, which is even later than our beloved Seattle sunsets.

Saturday morning we awoke to the sunshine, and headed out for a hike. The bellmen (dressed in lederhosen) suggested Iceberg Lake trail, which was just shy of 5 miles each direction. They also suggested taking bear spray with us, since it is apparently completely routine to encounter bears on this trail and basically any part of the park, but we decided to forego the $50 can of spray, and hoped to avoid a situation like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant. Wise plan? Not so sure.

The hike to Iceberg Lake was so scenic, just under 1,400 feet of elevation change, and the perfect hike for a Saturday morning. We didn’t come across too many fellow hikers on the way up to the lake, but did come across quite a bit of snow as we approached the lake. While seated on the rocks overlooking the lake, enjoying a quick snack, I noticed the thick clouds rolling in and that was our cue to head back. Now I’ve never been to the Alps, but as we hiked down the trail, I looked around at the mountains, flora, snow fields, and truly it felt as if we were transported to what I’ve visualized the Alps to look like.

Good news, no bears were spotted. We made sure to yell out “hey bear!” ever so often as to not surprise one if we had come upon a grizzly. Take that, $50 bear spray in the hotel’s gift shop!

We were occasionally sprinkled on during the hike back to the truck, but the clouds really opened when we were safely in our room getting showered and changed. We relaxed in the hotel much of the rest of the afternoon & evening after an early dinner at the hotel bar. I even took a glorious nap to rest my tired body.

Sunday we awoke to confirm the forecasters were correct, the temperature had dropped 30+ degrees. We had a 7:45am horseback riding tour for which to bundle up, followed by a boat ride around Swiftcurrent Lake & Lake Josephine. I was so grateful I brought warm layers as well as my rain gear. Saturday morning I was hiking in a tank top…Sunday morning I was bundled up as if it was late Winter! Old Mary would have been grumpy about the weather, hoping the horseback tour be canceled. New Mary was excited despite the precipitation and temp.

In total, there were 6 of us on horseback for the 2-hour tour along Cracker Lake Trail – four of us visitors with two wranglers. I was somewhat hoping to see a bear or two while on horse, because the horse would have obviously protected me. While we saw no bears yet again, Firestone did take good care of me (despite wanting to snack on plants every chance he got) and we did spot a moose casually strolling through the woods.

While the scenery of the Many Glacier area of the park is truly breathtaking & inviting, what I couldn’t help but notice during our time in Many Glacier was the friendly and hospitable employees who live and work there during the summer season. Everyone from Sara at the front desk, to Kim (from Rochester, NY!) who led our horse riding tour, to Ben and James, our Captains for the boat ride. They all seemed incredibly knowledgeable about Glacier and eager to provide us with the best experience.

Now that I’ve had a small taste, I’d love to explore more of Glacier National Park as well as the vast state of Montana. Until then, I’ll treasure the memories and photos of the very first time visiting with my partner in all things adventure.

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