by Seth Burgett
Camping is a big part of my family’s life. The opportunity to get away, appreciate nature and reset from the demands of modern life, is something that we prioritize every year.
Glacier National Park in Montana is our favorite place to camp. The fresh mountain air, spectacular views, miles of hiking trails, glaciers, and crystal-clear lakes and streams make it a place that constantly amazes. Glacier is also important to me because it is an opportunity to spend quality time with our daughter.
For this year’s expedition in September, we flew into Spokane and picked up our 1972 F-100 truck hooked to a No Boundaries Outlanding camper. Our intern at Gateway Bronco drove it up from our home base of Hamel, Illinois, and he did a great job making sure the truck was ready to go.
The vintage Ford is a worthy travel companion, but we still take it easy with the F-100 so we don’t put extra strain on the original powertrain. That slower pace also helps us to ease into the camping mindset.
While in Montana we have several favorite stops. We took a break in St. Regis to stock up on groceries and enjoy huckleberry shakes. We went through Kalispell and had dinner at our favorite sushi place in Montana. We always try to support local small establishments with a unique vibe.
After spending the night in Kalispell, the next day, we made it into Glacier. We took the east entrance into the park; most people enter on the west side, but we try to take the different path. It’s like going to Disney — everybody goes right, so we tend to go left.
Our favorite campsite is Many Glacier Campground. We got set up and kicked off my favorite week of the year. We took two hikes the next day, going at our own pace and enjoying the natural beauty of the area people call the “Switzerland of North America.” The trails lead around Swiftcurrent Lake with stunning views. The next day, I took a solo hike towards The Granite Park Chalet along the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail with epic views and multiple lakes along the trail.
I encountered some people who were excited about a bear sighting near one of the lakes. Evidence of the bear was found in scat on the trail where it had just crossed. With bear spray in hand, I went deeper into the backcountry towards the Chalet and had a great and uneventful hike. I even met some people from our area back home.
One of our favorite regular hikes at Glacier is to Avalanche Lake, and that’s where we headed the following day. We generally spend the whole day hiking, fixing lunch and taking a nap at the far end of the lake. Visitors to the trail tend to stop where the trailhead ends at the overflow of the lake, but we go to the opposite end where the waterfalls are, and few visit that location. We follow up the day with dinner at a café in West Glacier, where we enjoy locally sourced bison burgers and another round of Huckleberry shakes
A highlight of the trip was sunrise at Logan Pass on the Continental Divide. We left pre-dawn and hiked to the best vantage point we could find. It was a stunning moment seeing the sun crest the mountains.
It was the perfect trip with beautiful weather as we experienced total peace off the grid. I spent a lot of time in the hammock; one night I fell asleep in it because the hammock was the ideal place to enjoy bright stars without light pollution.
This is the adventure we’ve been working toward since our first trip to Glacier in 2016, which was a five-week excursion with many challenges in an original paint 1973 Bronco. This trip was the culmination of many incremental changes and adjustments, having the proper gear, and getting the scheduling right. It all came together this year. If we can repeat this experience every year, life will be really good.
In a previous newsletter I shared some camping tips that have served us well over the years. After years of traveling to Glacier I’ve compiled a few that work particularly well there, although they are applicable to most Rocky Mountain parks.
• Take snorkel gear to the mountain lakes. It’s cold but the reward is phenomenal. We bought our full-face snorkel masks for clear water lakes and it was perfect. If you’re a dedicated swimmer, take goggles and swim the width of Avalanche Lake. Avoid sunscreen, deodorant and soaps to not contaminate the waters. Take along an inflatable paddle board and your companion can be the spotter. Their view is memorable and they will have a wonderful experience while you relish a great mountain swim. No one would regret that they went in the cold water and made the swim.
• Bring a tick removal tool and a plastic baggie. You can use the twist-off tool to get the tick and then lock it in the baggie. That way you can send it in for analysis when you get back to learn whether or not it carried Lime disease or Rocky Mountain Fever.
• Bring fishing gear. These mountain lakes, even though so remote, have fish and it is just wonderful sport. But make sure you’re not using lead weights so that mineral stays out of our pristine lakes.
• Plan six to nine months, if not a year ahead. The campgrounds at Glacier National Park are reserved quickly. We were fortunate to secure a spot at the Many Glacier Campground this year. If you can’t plan that far ahead, then make sure you’re the first on the scene to get a non-reservable first-come, first-served campsite. At Glacier, you must arrive at 4:30 in the morning or stay the night to get at the front of the line. The line begins at 5:00 or 5:30, and it can sometimes go 100 cars deep.
• Altitude acclimation is important. We occasionally encounter a touch of altitude sickness in the form of headaches, and it usually happens a day and a half or two days after we arrive. Sometimes it can take away from the day’s activities, so planning around it, like getting to altitude in a nearby town, will make things easier. By the time you get to your destination, you are already acclimated.
• Pack some huckleberry jelly! Everyone loves huckleberry jelly and huckleberry pancakes. Those are two of our favorites that we consistently use and enjoy.
• Recognize and appreciate the brief moments of wonderful. Everything can be perfect, and then things can suddenly change. Living in those moments of wonderful will create memories you’ll carry your entire life.
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