I have been dreading writing this blog entry. And not because I didn’t enjoy my time in Montana. No, we all loved Montana. I have been dreading weeding through the thousands of pictures that I took to narrow down to a few for this blog. I have pictures on my phone and pictures on my Canon camera. I have ten pictures of nearly the same view for every one stop we made. There was so much beautiful scenery that I was just taking photos nonstop, wanting to take in every angle. I didn’t want to forget a thing about what we were seeing. How it felt. The way the air smelled so fresh. The way that the water in the lakes and streams was unbelievably clear. And that’s another thing that I have been dreading. How to bring all that emotion into this entry. I saw things that I don’t believe there are words to describe. I had high expectations for Montana, and I can tell you that Montana did not disappoint. I was truly in awe of Montana.
We left North Dakota with the intention of stopping four or five hours into our drive. When the time came, we decided that instead of stopping for one night somewhere, having to set up and take down, we would push through and do the entire drive to Glacier National Park in one day. That meant that with stops we were looking at about 11 hours of driving.
The drive was unlike any drive I had ever experienced before. We were only on the interstate for a short time before we had to take off on a highway heading north. We drove past field, after field, after field, never seeing a house as far as the eye could see. We saw sheep, cattle, but rarely another person or another vehicle. The rolling one lane highway took us up hills and then quickly back down. We passed through a wildfire area and saw our first ‘Fire Camp’, a field full of tents where the firefighters stay to battle the wildfire. The air smelled of smoke and the sun had an eerie haze.
We drove hundreds of miles in between gas stations. At one point we were down to only 14 miles in our gas tank before we finally came to a small town with a gas station. It was a scary moment as we really thought we may not make it.
The rolling hills gave way to flat farmland for awhile before we could see mountains in the distance. I have seen the Smoky Mountains and parts of the Alps, but I had always dreamed of the time that I would see the Rockies. And when I saw them, it truly took my breath away.
The campground we chose was actually a recommendation from a RV Facebook group that I am part of. Because Glacier National Park has such a short tourist season, I knew that it would be difficult to find a decent campground for a week without reservations. We didn’t need fancy, just electric and water and near the park if possible. This campground did not disappoint. We stayed at the Chewing Blackbones Campground within the Blackfeet Reservation near East Glacier. The campground is completely run by the Blackfeet Nation. It is also right on St Mary Lake, which is the second largest lake in Glacier. The campground was not much to look at at first, but we loved the set up. Each lot was large and near bathrooms. And the view was stunning. It was almost dark by the time we pulled into our site, but the mountains still looked amazing.
Remember how hot it had been in North Dakota? Well our first night in Montana the temperature dropped to 38 degrees. We could see our breath and had to put layers on to sleep. It was a welcome change. Every night we had temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s. During the day the temperature would climb into the 80’s. The sun did not set until after 11 pm and would begin to rise before 5 am. In the night sky, we were able to see the Milky Way more clear than we ever had before. I wish I had a better camera for night-time photography.
We spent two different days driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only path that travels from the east side of Glacier to the west and vise versa. The full road is 50 miles and takes about two hours if driving straight through one way. We did approximately 35 miles of the road each time before turning around. After stopping for photos, a swim, and lunch, the 70 miles took us nearly eight hours both times. The highest point of the road is Logan Pass, which is 6,646 ft. If you have ever watched the Stanley Kubrick version of “The Shining”, then you know what the road looks like. It is featured at the beginning as the car travels through the mountains. A few reminders before taking the road:
- Because this is a mountain road, there are vehicle size restrictions. Your vehicle can be no longer than 21 ft long, 8 ft wide, or 10 ft tall. If your vehicle exceeds these restrictions, you will need to park at the entrance to the road and take the free shuttle from each stop. Many people seemed to be using the shuttle and it seemed very frequent. You can also do the popular ‘Jammer’ tour, which uses cars that are similar to what were used when Glacier first opened. The cost of the tour varies based on length of tour.
- You will need to pay the entry fee into the park or have your park pass to drive the road.
- There are places to eat and shops along the way, but no gas stations. Be sure that you have your tank full before entering the park. The gas stations right outside of the park are very expensive, but there isn’t a lot of choice nearby.
- If you are scared of heights, parts of this drive are very difficult. I looked down a few times and could feel the start of a panic attack arise. It helped to be either looking through my camera or straight ahead. And the views are worth the anxiety. I would not take back the scenery I saw for anything.
- Glacier National Park can be dangerous. Most deaths are due to falls or drownings. The day that we arrived, a man fell to his death while taking photos. Always be aware of your surroundings.
For lunch both days that we drove the road, we stopped at Jammer Joe’s Pizzeria and Grill located near the Lake McDonald Lodge. The first time I had pizza, Louie had a lamb burger and Lil Louie had a pasta dish. The second time we all ordered the lunch buffet. The food was very good and the prices decent for a National Park. We really enjoyed our meals.
My favorite part of Glacier National Park was the water. The waterfalls that we stood under and the streams that we swam in. Finding a blue hole of water so deep that you couldn’t see the bottom. Watching people jump from the rocks into the crystal clear water. Enjoying the goosebumps that ran up our arms from the cold fresh water, even though it was in the 80’s. Seeing the snow melting from day to day and knowing that it was feeding the same water that we were enjoying. It was all stunning.
After a few days I was craving a Walmart or a Target or any sort of grocery store. All of the name brand stores were over 2 1/2 hours drive from where we were. I googled, “grocery stores near me” and a locally owned general store was just up the road.
The Thronson’s General Store was such a unique find. The floors were wooden and creaked as you walked through the store. While many items were displayed for customers to grab, some items were also held behind the counter. Need a can of green beans? Ask at the counter. Toothpaste? Same thing. The prices were higher than at a big box store, but not by a lot considering the travel that needed to be done to keep the store stocked. They even had freeze dried meals that just needed boiling water added, which turned out great considering we couldn’t cook much over our campfire due to a fire ban. I highly recommend this brand. I enjoyed the chicken and rice just slightly over the stroganoff, but would eat either dish again in a heartbeat.
Our family also spent a lot of time enjoying St Mary Lake from our campground. The temperature of the water was absolutely perfect for cooling off during the day.
We ended our week with church on Sunday at the Saint Mary Mission Catholic Church. The church was up a steep dirt road at the top of a hill near the general store. It was a very small, simple, but beautiful church. Many of the people in the congregation were from the Blackfeet Tribe. As usual, it was really great to enjoy Mass with the locals.
I am not going to lie. Glacier National Park is very crowded, especially with the Going-to-the-Sun Road only open a few months out of the year. Sometimes the traffic on the Going-to-the-Sun Road was bumper to bumper. Sometimes the photo spots had no parking spaces. But take some time to journey off of the road. Find a place to park and hike to a quiet stream. Sit on the rocks and take in the scenery. Dip into the cold clear water. Make Glacier National Park feel like your own place.
So that is about all that I can put into words. Our week in Montana was unique and amazing for so many reasons. It was incredible to experience a much slower way of life. A way of life where gas stations, stores, and neighbors are far apart. A place where the number of cattle outnumbered the amount of people. A place where the landscape transitioned from flat farmland to rolling hills to majestic mountains. Majestic Montana will always have a very special place in our memories. On to Washington…and oh what a start we had to that journey!! For now I leave you with a few last pics of our time at Glacier National Park.
*There were so many photos that I have that I couldn’t fit into this post. Please take the time to check out our Youtube channel and watch our Montana video. Subscribe to our channel to get notified each time a new video is posted!