Heading for the Mountains

Lobby of the Kalispell Grand Hotel

We were home for a couple of days after our midwest trip. There was just enough time to unpack, do laundry, and get packed again. Now it was time for our mountain trip!

Sandy had never been to Glacier National Park. I had been there once - in 1977. Even though it isn't that far from Boise it isn't straightfoward to get there. When we go to the Sierras or the Cascades it is interstate most of the way. Getting to Glacier requires driving on US and state highways through some pretty rugged mountains. Because of the large wilderness areas in central Idaho the route to Montana is somewhat circuitous. But I was looking forward to the drive as about half of it would be on roads that I had never driven. We started by driving north like we were going to Moscow on a business trip to U of I (shudder) but turned east at Grangeville. We followed various forks of the Clearwater and Selway rivers through beautiful canyons. There were numerous trailheads leading into the huge Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness to the south. We crossed into Montana at Lolo Pass and dropped down to Missoula. From there we drove north through the Flathead Valley. The Mission Mountains looked very impressive. Another time I would like to come back and hike in the wilderness area there. Finally we drove around Flathead Lake to Kalispell. Very scenic.

Cascades along Macdonald Creek

Our first two nights were at the Kalispell Grand Hotel. It's right downtown in the historic district. It has been operating for over a hundred years but the rooms had been renovated so they were quite nice. Combined with a reasonable price they are ranked #1 on TripAdvisor among Kalispell hotels. We liked the fact that some interesting restaurants and shops were in walking distance. Since we didn't get in until about 8pm we went to the first place we found - an Italian restaurant right next door called ScottiBelli's. We had a good salad and the pizza was authentic Italian style. But unfortunately our waitress was clueless. We ordered wine before dinner which she never brought. She disappeared for twenty minutes until our food came. By then Sandy had gone to the bar to get her wine. The bartender was ver apologetic about it but the waitress never even mentioned it when she finally came to check on us. Oh well. We saved money on the tip. It just meant that we needed to find someplace else for dinner the next night. But it didn't look like that would be a problem.

The ubiquitous bear warning on any trail in Glacier

The next morning our plan was to explore the western part of Glacier National Park. It is a little over twenty miles from Kalispell to the West Entrance. It's good highway so we got there quickly. My recollection was that the west side wasn't nearly as spectacular as the east side. But my one trip there had been over thirty five years ago. I thought that we should at least explore it since it was pretty convenient from our base in Kalispell. The hike we picked was Avalanche Lake - one that I had done on my first trip.

From the entrance we drove about fifteen more miles to the trailhead. Just as we reached it we hit a long line of stopped cars. It turns out that Going-to-the-Sun road, the only highway that crosses the park, was undergoing a major makeover. It was down to one lane and cars were stopped for about twenty minutes waiting to go through. Fortunately we could just reach the turnoff for the trailhead from where we were stopped in line. But that did away with our plan to drive up to Logan Pass after our hike. With a delay in each direction it would take us an extra 30-40 minutes of just sitting and waiting.

Cirque and waterfalls at Avalanche Lake

The trail to Avalanche Lake is easy. It is only four miles round trip with a little over 500 feet of elevation gain. The destination is a pretty spot. It all adds up to make it a very popular trail, especially for families with kids. We were lucky to find a parking spot.

The begining was on a nature trail called Trail of the Cedars. It makes a short loop that only takes about fifteen minutes. It's for people who want to walk a bit but aren't hikers. Instead of looping back we continued on the Avalanche Lake Trail. Since we were in Glacier National Park there was a sign with all kinds of warnings about the dangers posed by bears. It is something to take seriously but since this trail was very popular, we weren't too worried. There was a pretty steady stream of people going in both directions. Which was good because the trail did go through bear habitat and is frequented by bears. We hadn't had a chance to get our anti-bear gear yet, like bear bells or bear spray, so a busy trail was a good start for us. Also the short hike would be good for us starting out a long hiking trip.

Lake McDonald

The hike to the lake was through the forest so we were in the shade most of the way. It didn't take us long to reach the lake. It was very pretty, set in a cirque with three waterfalls coming into the lake. Pictures were into the sun so it was tough to get really good photos. From pictures in our guidebook we were expecting hordes of people. But it wasn't bad. There were less than fifty people there and they were well spread out along the shore. With some work and patience I was even able to get some pictures that didn't have any people in them. Wilderness solitude.

Afterwards we stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge. It's a historic old lodge right on the lake. It's the rustic style of most national park lodges. I didn't look into staying there but some people we talked to later told us that when they checked availability eight months ago it was already sold out. There was a boat dock right behind the lodge where you could get a scenic cruise around the lake. The same boat has been doing cruises on the lake since 1934. We settled for a cold beer on the patio overlooking the lake. Then it was time for us to get back to Kalispell.

Ordering burgers at Norm's News

There were some shops in town that Sandy wanted to check out. On the way back we stopped at the local quilt shop. Sandy had high hopes for it but didn't find anything she wanted to get. Then she checked out a yarn shop that was just down the street from our hotel. She bought some nice stuff there. Then it was time for dinner. We had several choices within a block. We picked Norm's News. It is an old-fashioned (founded in 1938) soda fountain/ice cream place. But they were supposed to have great hamburgers too. That sounded good so we gave it a try. The burgers were freshly made and were delicious. They must have been good because we didn't even have room left afterwards for ice cream for dessert. Sandy did get a piece of their fresh fudge to take with her for later. She said that it was delicious as well. I will confess that I came back later while Sandy was shopping and got a milkshake.

Sandy tries on some fancy boots

Right next to Norm's News was a large western wear store. The two were even connected inside. We walked right from Norm's into the western wear shop. The walls were covered with shelves from the floor to about seven feet high filled with cowboy boots. They had every design imaginable in every size. Sandy couldn't resist. She spent a long time looking at boots and trying them on. She always wanted to get a pair of fancy cowboy boots but always had trouble with finding something comfortable. Most of the stores at home have a limited selection. Ordering online makes it tough to find a pair that fits perfectly. But here she had hundreds of pairs of boots to choose from and she could try them on right on the spot. She finally found a pair that she really liked and that fit well. I suspect that she won't be wearing them on the trail much on this trip though.

We liked Kalispell. The area is pretty. It's close to Glacier NP. The town itself seemed nice. The historical district was fun. We liked the hotel and there were lots of interesting restaurants and shops nearby.