If you would have asked me a couple years ago which states I wanted to visit the most, Montana probably wouldn’t have been on that list. After this trip, I would tell you it should be at the top! We road-tripped for 6 days: leaving Minnesota and going through North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota before returning home. This trip was so full of activities that I’m going to break it up into two posts: this one will focus on Glacier National Park and the second with focus on Yellowstone and the Black Hills. Hopefully it will help if you’re planning on taking a road trip of your own this summer!
First of all, the drive from Minnesota to Montana is not short. It took about 17 hours or so, with some short stops along the way. It was really important for me to try to make this ride as comfortable as possible, especially since we took a truck and not and RV or anything super luxurious like that. I lined the back seat with blankets, brought a pillow plus a neck pillow (key!) and brought things to do in the car. A book, a portable DVD player, and snacks were my lifesavers. I also slept a lot, which was really ideal.
It starts to get scenic about half way through North Dakota, and we actually stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a quick break. It was so cool, and an easy National Park to check off the bucket list!
From there, we drove straight out to Cut Bank, MT where we stayed at the Glacier Gateway Hotel. We planned to do this since we got in around 11 p.m. and then we would head out and claim our camp site first thing in the morning. This hotel is a great reminder that you get what you pay for! Since we basically just needed a place to crash for the night so we found a cheap hotel. Like seriously cheap. As in, $19 per person for the 4 of us. We weren’t expecting much- but let me explain to you the events that occurred in the first 30 minutes of us arriving there…
So when we arrive, the woman working the front desk was clearly drunk. Nothing we can’t handle. It’s late. It’s a very small town. Whatever. We get our room key and open the door. To our surprise, someone from inside the room says “Hello?”. OH MY GOD WE’RE SO SORRY SHE GAVE US THE WRONG ROOM KEY.
Intoxicated woman explains to us that she forgot someone was staying in that room because they were “working for the room” and it wasn’t on the books. Yikes. We get a new room key and get into our (unoccupied) room. Like I said before, we didn’t expect much- but here are the things we didn’t expect:
Lime Green duct taped carpet. Fire Alarm disconnected and removed from the ceiling. Mirrors attached to the wall on a diagonal. A bathroom door that doesn’t close. A bathtub that leaks. A weird Koi Pond in the “lobby”.
We were so tired at this point that we just dealt with it and got the hell out of there at the crack of dawn. So while I’m all for traveling on a budget, sometimes you need to fork out the extra $50 for a decent place to stay.
Luckily, the trip goes uphill from there. We make it to Many Glacier campground in East Glacier National Park and begin the search for our site. They are all first come, first serve so be sure to get there early. It’s not the smoothest process in the world, but if you keep your eyes peeled and ask everyone you see if they plan on leaving that day you can find a site relatively painlessly. Just be patient and polite 🙂 This site cost $23 per night and was not only beautiful, but was in a great location too. They had actual restrooms with running water, showers ($2.50 per token) and a great little convenience store.
Just a few essentials for a trip like this: a good tent that will keep you dry in case it rains, layers (the temp will change as the elevation changes), comfortable and waterproof hiking boots, a hammock (optional, but highly recommended) bug spray, and probably most important is Bear Spray. They take bear safety very seriously out there! I swear I learned more about bears in that few days than I have learned throughout my whole life. More than likely you won’t need to use it, but you definitely don’t want to be caught without it if you run into a bear!
Once we got our camp set up, we headed off to our first adventure. Our first hike was a good warm up at about 3 miles round trip at St. Mary’s Falls. There are two waterfalls along the way and gorgeous scenery throughout. I was also having a real emotional connection with the trees. Don’t judge me.
Day two adventures included Going to the Sun Road and White Water Rafting! We went through Glacier Raft Company in West Glacier, so we had to take Going to the Sun Road to get there. But even if you don’t have a reason to take this road, still do it! It was the most breathtaking drive I’ve ever been on. Be sure to head out fairly early in the morning to beat the traffic and if you’re scared of heights, sit on the furthest side of the car. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife!
White Water Rafting was so fun. I highly recommend it and definitely go through Glacier Raft Company if possible. They’re rated the safest rafting company in the area and the staff was awesome. Zac was the best guide. If you’re lucky you’ll be on his boat! He was super laid back, informative and made sure to learn all of our names and make sure we were having fun.
This was such a cute little town so when we were done rafting and got into dry clothes, we grabbed a bite to eat and checked out the souvenir shops. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it was an old school diner right across the street and they had the BEST clam chowder.
On the way back, we took more opportunities to pull off on Going to the Sun Road and check out the scenery and snap some pics. We stopped at Logan Pass, we hung out in the snow and saw Big Horn Sheep! We also saw Mountain Lions on another pull off. So unreal, they came right up to us.
There’s also another short trail on the way called Trail of the Cedars which was really pretty. It’s super easy at barely a mile. This was also the perfect trail to continue my love affair with the trees.
We saved the finale for our last day. We did a 10 mile hike to Iceberg Lake. It sounds intense, but I do not work out and I survived! It helped that there was so much gorgeous scenery so my endorphins were definitely pumping. Just be sure to bring water and comfortable shoes or boots. You’ll also want to bring a layer because it’s a 1000 foot elevation hike, so you’ll be hot at the bottom then be hanging out on the ice when to get to the lake. If you’re really brave, people have been known to jump in. As much as I wanted to, I chickened out. HOWEVER, I did walk out knee deep and stand on an iceberg so I’d say that was a pretty good compromise.
By far one of the most unreal places I have ever seen. We brought a little picnic and had a few beers, filtered the lake water and filled every container we had. I still have one water bottle left and I just can’t bring myself to dump it out. I might keep it for whenever I need a little extra boost, Bobby Boucher style :).
I hope you get a chance to see some of these places. It really was so amazing! I posted a TON of photos on my Facebook page as well, so definitely feel free to check those out. You can find the widget on my home page. Next week I’ll tell you all about the 2nd part of our trip to Yellowstone and the Black Hills!