Filson Field Guide: Exploring Glacier National Park
Eric Bowley & Ben Schuyler are explorers of the Pacific Northwest. Eric currently devotes most of his time indoors to handcrafting silver spoon rings. Ben manages a coffee shop in Edmonds, WA. Both share a love for the outdoors and exploring the wild landscapes where they live. Ben recounts, “As a young boy, I was fortunate to have a family that enjoyed hitting the road more than flying as a means of getting to a far destination. I have fond memories of driving to Utah each summer to visit family, seeing much of the Great American West along the way. Being brought up this way instilled a love for the road that has only grown as I’ve gotten older a longed to see more this country has to offer. Eric Bowley is one of my closest friends and has grown up loving the road like myself. Together we’ve explored much of our home state of Washington, hiking and driving to beautiful destinations at any chance we get. Glacier National Park had been at the top of both of our lists as a place we wanted to get out to. Though not completely foreign to us, neither of us had explored the park for more than a few days. It was with great expectation that we headed out to the park, and it lived up to every expectation.”
CAMP AT BOWMAN LAKE
Located in the northwestern part of Glacier National Park, we ended up camping a total of two nights at Bowman Lake. Due to the remote location of this spot, it’s not a common area that most visitors ever see. We noticed lots of deer meandering their way throughout the campsites. The campgrounds are located close to the shores of the lake. Fishing, canoeing and kayaking are very popular — especially this time of year. Tent campers who are looking for peace and quiet will definitely enjoy getting out to Bowman Lake.
Eric and I intentionally took our time seeking a nontraditional route through Glacier. While we were definitely excited to see popular sites, as they were popular for a reason, we were also excited at the opportunity to visit areas often overlooked. Bowman Lake is a primitive campground area in the Northwest section of the park. The campground is accessed through a 7 mile dirt road. The road is left in acceptable condition to ward off RV’s or larger vehicles, and therefore seems to attract guests looking for peace and quiet. Not only is the drive to the campground beautiful, but the view from the lake is breathtaking.
DRIVE “GOING TO THE SUN” ROAD
Going-to-the Sun Road is a true engineering masterpiece. In some spots the road is quite narrow and winding. Considered to be one of Glacier National Park’s most amazing highlights. It’s the only road that spans the entire width of the park — 53 miles long. Visitors traveling this road are treated to some of the most amazing sights in northwest Montana. We found ourselves traversing the Going-to-the Sun Road daily as we explored different parts of the park.
This 53 mile stretch of roadway was a location both of us were incredibly excited to see. The road is the only road to cross the entire park, and had only opened for the summer a few days before we arrived. When coming from West Glacier, Going-to-the-Sun welcomes you to the park with spectacular views of Lake McDonald. We happened to arrive just before sunset and were enraptured by the beauty before us. Many of the popular campgrounds in the park sit on Going-to-the-Sun Road including Saint Mary and Rising Sun. Bird Woman Falls, which plunge an incredible 560 feet, are also visible from the roadway. Be aware however that driving during peak tourism dates and times can be incredibly frustrating. I recommend earlier in the morning or during the later afternoon.
HIKE LOGAN PASS & HIDDEN LAKE TRAIL
Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going-to-the Sun Road. A very popular starting point for day hikes and backpacking trips. We decided to take the 2.7 mile trail out to Hidden Lake. Starting on the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center we were treated to the company of some friendly mountain goats. Breathtaking views of alpine meadows and sunshine were in abundance as we reached the Hidden Lake Overlook. We kept our eyes peeled for any signs of grizzly bears, but didn’t happen to see any.
Logan Pass is on of the most popular attractions at Glacier National Park. Welcome millions of visitors each year, it houses the Logan Pass Visitor Center and acts as the trailhead to various hikes including Highline Trial and Hidden Lake Trail. The pass is a popular sight for visitors as it is an excellent place to view wildlife. While hiking Hidden Lake Trail, we spotted mountain goat and big horn sheep. Many of the animals have grown accustomed to the large amount of visitors, so hikers can get a close look at these beautiful animals. Given the popularity, the trails area flooded with people. Don’t expect a quiet hike, but the views and experience are well worth weathering the crowds.
Many Glacier proved to be the most difficult spot to secure camping. Probably due to the fact that this area is considered the heart of the park. Once we got camp set up, we packed our backpacks and refilled our water bottles before hitting the trail out to Iceberg Lake. The hike was 10-miles roundtrip and definitely a major highlight for us on this adventure. One our way up the trail we were greeted by a handful of friendly hikers who had just seen a grizzly bear not too far away from the trail and were eager to warn us to be careful and keep a watchful eye.
Iceberg Lake was the hike the both Eric and I were most excited to do. It was the hike that was recommended to us more times than not when we asked people where we should go or what we should see while in Glacier. The trail offers expansive views of the East side of the park during most of the hike. We also happened to be hiking during the peak of wildflower season, so the variety of flowers felt innumerable. The view from the lake is otherworldly. Large pieces of ice from the thawing lake are strewn across the water; the lake is shrouded by monstrous cliff walls. When timed right during the afternoon, beams of light will break through over the top of the cliffs. The hike is rated as difficult, spanning 9 miles round-trip, but well worth the effort one puts in.
GRAB A BITE AT TWO SISTERS CAFE
We stumbled across Two Sisters Cafe while driving highway 89 on the way to Many Glaciers. The quirky restaurant is hard to miss, brightly painted purple with an invitation to any extraterrestrial friends strewn across their roof proclaiming “ALIENS WELCOME”. Additionally, it’s just about the only restaurant in that area, and as our stomachs loudly demanded food, we stopped in. We were surprised to find a menu with a wide variety of options including buffalo burgers, rainbow trout, shredded pork, and falafel (my meal). The restaurant was started by sisters Beth and Susan Higgins in the spring of ’93. Both sisters graduated from culinary school and floated around different “foodie” cities before relocating in Babb, MT to be closer to family. Beth and Susan are joined by Beth’s husband John (famous for his chili – which Eric enjoyed), and have done a heck of a job making great food in this family owned business.
PITCH YOUR FINAL TENT AT CUT BANK
Cut Bank is a primitive campground located on the East side of Glacier National Park. Sitting 5 miles off of highway 89 by a dirt road, Cut Bank offers a sense of solitude and escape that can’t be found in the larger campgrounds of the park. The campground sits on Cut Bank Creek and is surrounded by trees and wildflower meadows leading into Glacier National Park backcountry. Susan Higgins from Two Sisters Cafe joked with us that the campground was home to the “bad bears” that the park had to relocate after posing a potential threat to camp guests in popular areas. We were in one sense relieved, but also disappointed to have not seen any bears.