Following a really fun and challenging run at Yellowstone I rolled into Glacier National Park excited to experience it. I’ve been wanting for a long time to try the Crown of the Continent on for size (Ha! Yes, I know that’s terrible. Insert groan here…).
When visiting Yellowstone, I stayed at the Rustic Wagon Campground in West Yellowstone, Montana. West Yellowstone is a great base for exploring the park and Rustic Wagon is nicely quiet but still only a few blocks from the tourist shops and restaurants. It was a perfect place to base my run. The campsites turned over quickly so I only had a few passing conversations with people. I also wasn’t able to get anyone to join me on the run. So while full of anticipation I still arrived in Glacier a bit lonely.
I stayed on the west side of Glacier at the North Fork Hostel in Polebridge, MT. Polebridge is just outside of the park boundary, has no cell coverage, and no electricity except solar and generator. Located there is the Polebridge Mercantile, a great bakery and general store since 1914 and the Northern Lights Saloon & Café, a place to wet your whistle and watch occasional live music.
The North Fork Hostel is clean, well maintained, and remote. You get one hour of electricity and internet a day from 7-8pm, the restroom is outside (remember your flashlight!), and the interior lights are propane. You fire them with a match old-school-style. The simplicity is what drew me to the place.
While I was there many of the guests were through hikers dropping off the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) or visitors to the west side of the park, both types usually staying only a night or two. I was there a week. While I had some enjoyable conversations with my fellow guests most were short chats during meals or in the early evening before the dark settled in.
As an aside, I now have very high respect for through hikers. Covering 20 to 40 miles a day and sleeping along the trail is very impressive to me. Anyone who attempts, much less completes a trek like the PNT, Appalachian Trail (AT) or Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) has my admiration.
I rested on Monday and Tuesday. I read a bit and explored the area around the hostel. The North Fork of the Flathead River is close enough to hear. It was very gentle and relaxing.
Wednesday August 17 was my 45th birthday. I decided that would be my “tourist day”. I drove the Going to the Sun road from the west to east side and came back via the roads that cut through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Lewis and Clark National Forest and the Flathead National Forest. I took many photos. With so much beauty sometimes it was hard to stop shooting.
But being alone on my birthday threw me into a bit of a funk. When I had coverage I received many digital good wishes. I am grateful for the beautiful people in my life but nothing replaces true interpersonal interaction. The remote area was regenerative and isolating at the same time. I was missing family and friends.
The next day I did a further exploration of the west side and a little hiking to kick myself back into the groove. I drove out to Bowman Lake. Remote and spectacular! I also explored the Inside North Fork Road until I came to the tree down across the road. That was the sign to get out and walk around. The area was recovering from a fire from a recent year past. Even though there wasn’t anyone around for miles and no animals I could see I felt like I was being watched. Eerie but made me feel alive.
I started to feel better as I approached the run date. I worked with the rangers and developed an east side loop route starting near the Many Glacier Hotel (where the bellmen wear lederhosen and the waitresses Swiss peasant dresses). The plan was to take the Ptarmigan Trail to the Redgap Pass Trail back around to the hotel. This route would take me through the famous Ptarmigan Tunnel and around Apikuni Mountain.
Unfortunately, when I arrived the Ptarmigan Trail was closed due to bear activity. I had not contemplated a second option. Interestingly I was not annoyed or angry in any way. Here was something to figure out. I was there to run. Figure out a way to run.
I found a ranger station near the Many Glacier Campground. One of the rangers was a runner and suggested doing an out and back of the Swiftcurrent Trail. It was a beautiful trail and would have some climbing. Perfect.
In less than a mile from the start my fellow hikers and I were stopped due to a bear on the trail. He/she was not in any hurry to go anywhere. We kept a distance until it finally veered off into Redrock Lake for a swim. From there I only saw one other animal, a moose in the middle of Fishercap Lake chomping away and minding its own business.
I climbed the Swiftcurrent Trail up 2,300 feet to the Granite Park Chalet (elevation 6,693 ft.). The Chalet was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914 and is a National Historic Landmark. Today it is an overnight stop for hikers and backpackers with a communal kitchen and dorm-style accommodations.
From there I ran back down and onto the Grinnell Glacier Trail. When I hit my mileage target I headed back toward Many Glacier around the backside of Swiftcurrent Lake. While not the course I originally planned it was still stunning. I’m not sure there is any part of Glacier that would have disappointed.
A week after my run the rangers closed the Swiftcurrent Trail because an off-duty National Park Service (NPS) employee off trail picking berries surprised a bear and was scratched up a fair bit. She had bear spray but the attack happened so fast she didn’t get a chance to use it.
If you are planning a trip to Glacier and considering where to stay here are my recommendations. Unless you are planning to fight for an NPS campground (they were filling up by 7am, really) I would stay on the west side if you want a remote location with quiet and solitude. Polebridge is a highlight. If you are looking to do more running/hiking and have easy access to a vast trail system, I would suggest the east side of the park specifically near Many Glacier. That’s where I will stay the next time I come back.
This trip continues to reinforce that my personal balance is best when mixing people and nature. I enjoy and need solitude and reflective time but I also crave camaraderie and engagement. While planning the logistics of sleeping, eating, exploring, writing, traveling and running I need to also, as silly as it may sound, plan the logistics of engaging with people. And that does not mean via a computer or phone. I was doing better since Badlands but I think my birthday wrinkled the paper. For this trip to be successful and enjoyable all sides of me need to be nurtured, explored, and fed. It is a continuous process that takes work.