Trip Report: Glacier National Park
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
August 5 – 9, 2017 Fish Creek Campground (site #79)
Glacier is neck-and-neck with Mt. Rainier for the most beautiful national park we’ve visited so far. Our trip was cut a day short due to Odie’s vet stay last week, so we had three days to spend at the park. We kept it low-key and took all three dogs along for each activity.
We’re staying at Fish Creek Campground, which is within walking distance to McDonald Lake. So we all hoofed it to the lakeside Sunday morning. I thought we’d look at it for a while—take in the beauty—then head back to camp. But the water was so clear and inviting that we decided to strip the kids down to their diapers and let them splash around. They had a blast!
About an hour later, we headed home—me pushing an empty stroller with Clark and Odie on either side, Wendy walking CeCe, and the kids following along in their shirts, shoes, and soggy diapers.
We got them into dry clothes, loaded everyone into the car, and headed to nearby Apgar Village to explore and eat lunch. It was really crowded, but the view of the lake was amazing. We managed to find an empty bench in the shade, and shared a delicious pulled pork sandwich and salad with the kids, followed by a couple of small cups of over-priced, crystallized ice cream. Before we left, Wendy and I took turns going into stores, then I took the kids to the Ranger Station, which had a bunch of pelts and bones on display—specifically so people could touch them. It’s a little creepy but the kids really liked feeling the different textures.
The next day we loaded our family of seven into the van to travel the Going-to-the-Sun road. We weren’t sure what to expect since Wendy had seen a t-shirt for sale at the Apgar Village declaring “I survived Going-to-the-Sun road,” and when we entered the national park on Saturday afternoon, the attendant said “Do you know you can’t take trailers on Going-to-the-Sun road?” My itinerary had a note that we should leave early because it gets crowded, so we headed out by 8:30.
We should’ve left earlier. The 50-mile road has a lot of overlooks and exhibits, but we didn’t get to see them all because there was nowhere to park. When we reached Logan’s Pass (a continental divide), the Visitor’s Center parking lot was completely full. We just drove through then kept on driving. It could’ve been frustrating but it wasn’t. The scenery was stunning and we were able to stop at pullouts now and then to take it in. Besides, stopping also gave Wendy a chance to catch her breath from all the gasping. I think the survival t-shirt is for people in the passenger seat, closest to the edge.
After reaching the end of the iconic road, we headed to Many Glacier for a picnic. It wasn’t far away—another 20 miles or so. But a couple stretches of rough road prolonged the journey, so we didn’t arrive until about 11:30. It was beautiful! There’s a lodge next to a lake and I pictured my parents staying there. It’s visible from the main road and we decided to drive down to look for a picnic spot, but it was too crowded. We drove to the end of the main road, which dead-ended at an inn with a bustling parking lot and no picnic spots. We drove back the way we’d come and decided to pull into the campground for our picnic; we were immediately greeted by a sign that read “No picnicking in campground.” So we continued to the Ranger Station, where I talked to a ranger and was told “There are picnic tables about 200 yards down the road, but parking is a problem right now.” No shit. We wormed our way through the parking lot surrounding several picnic tables—some of which were available. But it was such a blah place to hang out; it was literally like picnicking in a parking lot.
So we continued back the way we had come, back out of Many Glacier, back to Going-to-the-Sun road. It was now 1pm and we were starving. “By hook or by crook, we will picnic in the park today,” Wendy declared.
We saw a sign for Rising Sun and Wendy said “Turn here.” I asked if they have picnic tables. “I don’t know,” she said. “Yes, they do,” she added. “We’re going to picnic there, dammit.”
And they did. And we did. There were about seven tables scattered in a large open field. Five were taken and two tables in full sun remained. We tied the dogs to a tree then pushed a table about 30 yards to the edge of the field, into the shade. A ranger approached. “We’re gonna get in trouble,” Wendy said, uncomfortable with my method of flipping the heavy table over and pushing it through the grass. But instead he said hello and offered to take our picture. CeCe rewarded his kindness by barking at him as he walked away.
We settled at the table, unpacked our cheese and crackers, and then it happened, like something out of The Walking Dead. Hoards of asians descended on the field and began walking past us, brushing by the table, within inches of the dogs, silent, except for some uncomfortable laughter by a man who got too close to CeCe.
For the few minutes this scene persisted, I just stood there, watching. It reminded me of something I’d heard or read (can’t remember which) about different cultures having different senses of personal space and how Americans tend to require a really large sphere to remain comfortable. I understood that in theory but had never had it play out on such a large scale. It made me laugh. I took a picture of Wendy and the kids sitting at the table with their backs to about 30 on-comers scattered across the field like dispersed molecules.
After the tourists had moved on and we were about halfway through lunch, CeCe jumped up and barked toward the woods. I decided to get up and take a look, just in case. I walked a few feet to the edge of the woods and rounded a corner toward the beginning of a trail. I didn’t see anything except a sign with two interesting pieces of paper tacked to it. One was titled “Entering Grizzly Country” and had a picture of bear spray on it. The other was bright orange with “DANGER” in red letters above a notice declaring “All Area Beyond This Sign is Closed Because Of Bear Danger.”
We will picnic today. We will picnic today. Even if we do it quickly.
Glacier’s newsletter provides in-depth bear advice. If you see a bear that doesn’t seem agitated, you’re supposed to speak nicely to it and back away. If it seems agitated, you’re not supposed to run—you’re supposed to “prepare to deploy your bear spray” and try not to shit your pants. (The latter is inferred.) If you don’t have bear spray, you’re supposed to fall to the ground on your stomach and clasp your hands around your head. If the attack was “purely defensive,” the bear will bat you around a bit then leave. But if the attack persists, the newsletter warns in bold: “Fight back!”
“Yes, I’m going to fight back against a 600-lb bear,” Wendy said when she read it. “We’ll see how that goes.”
The advice Wendy and I discussed most though, when I told her about the DANGER sign I’d just seen, is Glacier’s insistence that if you have food on a table and a bear approaches, “Don’t let the bear get the food!” I understand the concept behind the “a fed bear is a dead bear” tagline. I get it—if a bear eats people food and keeps coming around, they’ll have to kill it. I don’t want that to happen. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to discipline a bear who’s wandering toward my picnic table. If a bear had suddenly emerged from the woods a few feet away from us, I’m not even sure I’d have the presence of mind to unhook the dogs’ leashes from around the picnic table before scooping up the kids and backing away while peeing my pants. “I hope you like cheese!” I’d say nicely. “There’s tomato and salt, too.”
Read the next trip report: Canada