There are times when the mountains are calling, and I must go.
Being a native of Moab, I grew up in one of the major hubs of the outdoor community. I had access to immaculate desert landscape, towering alpine mountains, roaring whitewater and plenty of sunshine.
I identify as a desert rat, because I prefer hot, dry, sunny weather. However, I have a place in my heart for the mountains, having spent many summers in the La Sals at family cabins enjoying the cool mountain air.
I spent the past summer working with the Forest Service in Dixie National Forest, and even my appearance resembles that of a mountain man: long hair, long beard, and a favor of flannel shirts.
The Great Northern Vacation
My wife, Maddie, and I spent a week traveling through the Rocky Mountains, with visits to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park and Waterton, Canada with great excitement.
We took our vacation near the end of July 2019, which meant blissful weather in the higher elevation. The truly scenic part of our road trip began as we drove east from Idaho falls through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest crossing into Jackson Hole, WY.
Driving on northbound U.S. 191, we had a splendid panorama of the Grand Tetons. The jagged gneiss and igneous granite mountain range sticks majestically into the sky at over 12,000 ft in beautiful contrast to the gently rolling hills of the valley floor.
From that point on, we were immersed in the mountains. At Yellowstone, we visited the famed Old Faithful geyser along with many others, and saw plenty of American bison, deer, elk, and coyotes from the road.
As we drove further north and west towards Montana, we learned a bit of history about a tragic earthquake that claimed the lives of 28 campers and drastically changed the geography of the area in what is known as the “Night of Terror.”
We had breakfast in Virginia City, a Victorian era old west mining town that had its heyday during a pioneer gold rush in the 1860s that expedited the creation of the Montana Territory.
Our driving continued northwest through Butte and Missoula before exiting the freeway into Flathead County, the road taking us along the thickly-wooded eastern shore of Flathead lake.
We were steadily approaching our highlight destination: Glacier National Park. We stayed in a small town called Hungry Horse about 10 miles outside the park entrance.
“Crown of the Continent”
The next two days were spent driving and hiking in some of the most gorgeous country I’ve ventured to.
We traveled on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which winds steadily upward from West Glacier through deep, U-shaped valleys carved by ancient glaciers to St. Mary–50 miles of vast, stunning sub-alpine mountains stretching out as far as the eye can see.
The road hugs the side of the cliff as it rises higher and higher in the shadows of towering peaks, upon which rest the many glaciers from which the park gets its name.
Our excursion to a popular site, Grinnell Glacier, began with two ferry rides on historic vessels via the Glacier Park Boat Company.
The first boat, Chief Two Guns, sailed from the Many Glacier Hotel across Swiftcurrent Lake, where we disembarked, hiked 1/4 mile to the next shore over, and boarded a second ferry, the Morning Eagle.
From that boat’s landing, it was about a 6 mile round trip and a gain of 1,600 ft to Upper-Grinnell Lake, where ice-cold, turquoise water trickles down from Grinnell and Salamander Glaciers to fill both the Upper and Lower lakes.
With no light pollution, we had an other-worldly view of the Milky Way and its many constellations.
In the same location the next day, we hiked 1.4 miles up series of wooden stairs through a vast green basin carpeted by green meadows filled with brilliant purple, pink, and yellow glacier wildflowers.
Passing a herd of shaggy mountain goats, we reached the windy viewpoint of Hidden Lake which curves almost 180° around Bearhat Mountain. The iconic location was all the more breathtaking with the alpine glow from the setting sun.
Amidst all of this scenic splendor was an abundance of wildlife. We came in close proximity to mountain goats, big horn rams, hoary marmots, and black bears. We even saw a bear cub in the very top of a tree.
I highly recommend visiting GNP in the next 10 years, as several of the largest glaciers are predicted to melt by 2030.
The pristine mountain beauty of this region was unforgettable, and the trip was well worth all the driving.
Story and Photos by: Reyce Knutson