Day 1: Goat Lick, St. Mary’s Visitor Center and Swiftcurrent Lake
Our Glacier adventure begins today when Deborah Lewis picks you up at 1:30 p.m. at the Kalispell Montana, Glacier National Park Airport (FCA). We’ll enjoy a scenic three hour drive through the Park, stopping at Goat Lick between West and East Glacier to watch these amazing animals traverse steep cliffs to lick up natural salt deposits. We’ll also visit the grand Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier and the national park visitor’s center in Saint Mary before traveling to the Swiftcurrent/Many Glacier area. “Many Glacier” is considered by many to be the heart of the Park. With its massive mountains, active glaciers and sparkling lakes, it’s a hiker’s paradise with trails radiating out in all directions, including the classic hikes that we’ll enjoy from our base there. As time allows we’ll go for a walk along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake before our orientation to the week and first dinner together. Walk: 2 mile optional walk if time allows. Meals: D. Overnight: Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
Day 2: Swift Current Pass Trail
The beautiful Swiftcurrent Pass Trail provides superb views yet is also a pleasantly moderate hike for most of the Trail’s length. The moderate first section extends up to Bullhead Lake, passing Fishercap and Red Rock Lakes along the way. This part of the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail consists of very gradual rises followed by long periods of flat hiking, to say nothing of simply gorgeous views, which include Mt. Wilbur, Grinnell Point, Mt. Grinnell, the Continental Divide and Swiftcurrent Mountain. The second portion of the Trail is still relatively flat and provides a longer hike to Bullhead Lake and the base of the Swiftcurrent Headwall that houses Swiftcurrent Glacier. The uphill part of the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail extends from the head of Bullhead Lake and begins a long climb up to the top of the Continental Divide, going over the Divide at Swiftcurrent Pass. We’ll hike back the same way. Dinner tonight is on your own. Hike: Red Rock Falls, 3.6 miles, +100’, easy; Bullhead Lake; 7.8 miles, +150’, moderate; Swiftcurrent Headwall and Pass: 13.4 miles, +2,300’, challenging. Meals: B, L. Overnight: Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
Day 3: Grinnell Lake Overlook or Grinnell Glacier
This area, known as the Grinnell Complex, is a scenic group of hikes, and it offers us two particular choices today, a hike to Grinnell Lake Overlook, or one up to Grinnell Glacier. You’ll pass by crystal clear mountain lakes and towering mountains and will perhaps have the unique opportunity to stand on a glacier. The first two miles of the trail are essentially flat. Beyond that, the trail has a gradual incline up to its end. The trail first follows the shoreline of Swiftcurrent Lake for about a half-mile. It soon emerges onto the shores of Lake Josephine. From here, the Grinnell Glacier Trail offers superb views for its entire length. The trail climbs through a forest of sub-alpine firs, then ledges of sedimentary red and green argillite, which open broadly to breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks, while Mt. Gould and Grinnell tower above. With the distinctive milky flow of glacial melt water, Grinnell Falls cascades into Grinnell Lake below. Wildlife sightings are likely as you travel through the habitat of bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bear, and moose. The turnaround point at Grinnell Lake Overlook is remarkably picturesque and allows for a leisurely pace on the return along the wildflower-studded shores of two lovely lakes. For those, who continue onward and upward, the trail is demanding, but rewarding, and provides access to one of the largest remaining glaciers in the Park. The trail ends at Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier at the base of the Continental Divide. This evening we’ll head over to the rambling, five-story Many Glacier Hotel, built in 1915 by the Great Northern Railway, for a fondue dinner in that hotel’s Interlaken Lounge. The chalet hotel boasts a Swiss atmosphere, from the alpine beauty that surrounds the building to the themed architecture and decor of the striking atrium lobby. It was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Grinnell Lake Overlook Hike: 5 miles, +600’, moderate; Grinnell Glacier Hike: 11 miles, +1600’, moderate to challenging. Meals: B, L, D. Overnight: Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
Day 4: Iceberg Lake
After a hearty breakfast, we head out for a day hike on the Iceberg Lake Trail, one of the Park’s classic and best designed hiking trails, and one of its most scenic hikes. Iceberg Lake is an aquamarine jewel surrounded on three sides by towering mountains. While the trail has a vertical elevation gain of 1200 feet, it has been designed to gain this vertical rise very gradually – almost imperceptibly (honest!) – in most places. In early summer you’ll traverse slopes full of wild flowers, especially creamy white beargrass blossoms and magenta fireweed. All seasons present the spectacular views of the Swiftcurrent Glacier, Grinnell Peak, and towering Mt. Wilbur, otherwise known as “Heavy Shield Mountain” to the Blackfeet. The permanent snow fields at the head of the lake (6,094’altitude) under the 3,000’ cliffs of the glacial cirque are remnants of a glacier that until recently occupied the basin beneath the cool shadows of Iceberg Peak. The Iceberg Lake Trail provides some of the finest wildlife viewing opportunities in Glacier National Park, including grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, mountain grouse, ground squirrels and the occasional mountain goat. We’ll have the option of continuing just to Ptarmigan Falls, a lovely, cool end point on summer days, and returning to Swiftcurrent to spend a relaxed afternoon. Alternatively, we may continue to the cirque with the lake and its ice flows. Hike: 5-9 miles, +600 or +1200’, moderate. Meals: B, L, D. Overnight: Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
Day 5: Saint Mary’s and Waterton Park
Today we’ll give our feet a rest as we board the van to see some of the sights outside the Park. We’ll visit the National Park Visitor’s Center in Saint Mary’s if we have not yet already done so. To strengthen ourselves, we’ll also stop by the 1950’s Park Café near Saint Mary’s for a slice of one of their more than 17 different kinds of pies, all baked daily. Their motto is “pie for strength” and we’ll attempt to live up to that motto. We’ll then drive an hour to Waterton Park in Canada (make sure to bring your passport). In 1932 Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada) was combined with the Glacier National Park (Montana, United States) to form the world's first International Peace Park. Waterton is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserve, the only park in the world that has these three designations. Unlike most "park villages," Waterton Village actually is a village. En route to the village we’ll drive past Lower Waterton Lake, the habitat of bald eagles often perched atop the snags of dead trees. The Park bears a striking resemblance to Grand Teton National Park but the valley is narrower and three-fourths of it is surrounded by peaks, so the overall effect is cozier, but equally dramatic. We’ll go for a walk along the shore of Upper or Middle Waterton Lake, or to spectacular, nearby Cameron Falls, explore the village, and poke our heads into the Prince of Wales Hotel (photo below), a National Historic Site, which was built as an extension to the chain of hotels and chalets operated by the Great Northern Railway in Glacier. Lunch today is on your own. Dinner is in the lakeside Ptarmigan Dining Room at Many Glacier Hotel. The Ptarmigan enjoys (and so will we) picture window views of Many Glaciers’ towering peaks, adding a Swiss atmosphere to this dining experience. Walk: 1-3 miles, easy. Meals: B, D. Overnight: Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
Day 6: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Garden Wall and Haystack Butte
After breakfast we’ll take the park shuttle or our van and venture up the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, an amazing feat of engineering that crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,646’) and that provides an up close and personal view of the park’s mountains, cirques and lakes. Today’s walk is the famous “Garden Wall” section of the Highline Trail, which provides spectacular scenery and excellent opportunities to view wildlife on the open mountain slopes below the rugged ridge of the Continental Divide. The trail follows the west face of the Continental Divide, high above the Going-to-the-Sun Highway. We’ll enjoy spectacular views of Mounts Oberlin, Clements, and Cannon, and may have to share the trail with mountain goats and bighorn sheep, which are at home on the ledges of the rugged, rocky terrain. (They have the right of way.) After crossing a ledge, we’ll wend through fir and spruce that have been formed into eerie shapes after rough winters. After enjoying the view at Haystack Butte, we’ll return on the same trail. As time allows, we may hike to Hidden Lake today. Lying nearly at the top of the Continental Divide, the overlook of the lake is easily reached by a relatively flat hike of 1.5 miles. On the return trip today we’ll stop for dinner at the informal, eccentric, lively and legendary Two Sisters Café for homemade fare topped off by Montana huckleberry pie. Hike: 6.8 miles, +400, moderate Meals: B, L, D. Overnight: Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.
Day 7: Various Waterfalls, Trail of the Cedars and Lake McDonald
We’ll have another chance to experience the Going-to-the-Sun Road today as we depart from the Many Glacier/Swiftcurrent area, with stops en route for several short walks to dramatic views. Our first port of call will be Baring Falls, under a half mile walk down to a dramatic waterfall, followed by a stop and walk at St. Mary Falls and possibly Virginia Falls. On the western side of the pass we’ll stop at Trail of the Cedars, which travels through a rainforest, the easternmost in the country. The shaded trail passes water-carved Avalanche Gorge. Several-hundred-year-old western red cedars, hemlocks, and towering black cottonwoods form a dense canopy that cools the forest floor, where mosses, lichen, Pacific yew, and devil’s club grow in the rich duff. Fire has bypassed this small ecosystem, leaving gigantic old grandfather trees. Let’s see how many arms it takes to hug one especially large cedar growing through the boardwalk! Depending upon time and our mood, we may also want to explore the Avalanche Lake Trail before heading down to Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park and a huge glacial water basin, and Apgar Village, where we’ll be spending the last night of our adventure. We’ll celebrate the week together at a farewell dinner in the Lake McDonald Lodge’s Russell’s Fireside Dining room. Situated on the west end of the park on shore of the Lake, Lake McDonald Lodge has an intimate atmosphere of the Old West. It was built in 1913 by Mr. John Lewis as a private lodge for early day visitors and friends. The hotel’s paneled lobby sports trophies of mountain goat, elk, moose, and sheep, and a fire burns throughout the seasons in the massive fireplace decorated by pictographs drawn by famed cowboy artist Charles Russell. Note: if enough people are interested in a half day rafting trip on the Flathead River from our new base in Apgar Village, we can look into this and plan the day accordingly. Hike: 4-5 miles, easy. Meals: B, L, D. Overnight: Apgar Village Lodge.
Day 8: Farewell to Glacier National Park
After breakfast we’ll say good-bye to Glacier National Park and transfer back to the Kalispell Montana, Glacier National Park Airport (FCA), which will take us under an hour. Meals: B
Please bear in mind that this is a typical itinerary, and the actual walks and sites may vary due to season, special events or weather. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary since tour arrangements are made many months in advance, and unforeseen circumstances that mandate change may arise. Itinerary changes are made to improve the tour and your experience. We also always strive to provide a pleasant surprise or two.