By Jelane A. Kennedy
Glacier National Park is in a remote location in Montana and the park extends over the Canadian border, making it a joint Park with Canada (yes you need your passport). One the best things we did before our arrival to Glacier National Park was making a stop in Cut Bank, Montana at the grocery store. With the Park being so remote it was a good plan as campers to consider that there might be a lack of strong grocery store resources. When we arrived we did not know how long we would stay. We ended up spending just over 2 weeks total in Glacier. If you are only planning a short trip it may not make much of an impact on your plans but if you are a bit more nomadic, like us, it may help to stock up before arrival, we found this was in our best interest with many of the National Parks, they are usually in wilderness areas. With our camper van we don’t have a lot of room but when we stopped to stock up we thought about what would make our stay the easiest for us, simple meals, lunches to for the trail, etc.
On a couple of days when we stayed put to rest: get caught up on laundry, plan our next big hike, download photos, write post cards, along with emails, we would pull out our little crock pot and make soup. We both love homemade soup and when it is cold out, for us it can be a great comfort food. It was hard to imagine we would see snow at the end of August early September, so hot soup was just the ticket.
At the park we did try going to the Park grocery store and found it a bit on the wanting side. It seemed like it was in a state of being ready to close. This may be because we were at the Park during the last few weeks (end of August until Mid-September). We did find out that making stops here and there at local general stores many times helped to just top off our supplies. Prices at times were a bit more, so we were careful.
Also during our stay we visited the IGA in Browning, Montana a couple of times. It is on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. We couldn’t find some of the fresh vegetables we wanted. The store was like a small local mom and pop place with some variety. It was more similar to area grocery stores in Albany that are marked by high poverty with their limited stock and more processed foods. These stops gave us a better appreciation of the hard life in that area for the Native American population as this was their only grocery store. The others were much further away.
When considering packing for Glacier it was important to think four seasons. We were glad we had our long underwear with us and a wool sweater apiece. Most days we would start out in our sweaters and slowly throughout the day begin to peel down. An average morning might start with long underwear under my zip off pants, and a basic shirt short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt and sweater. We also carried a rain jacket in our packets and a polar fleece vest. One evening we each pulled out down vests while we were working on laundry. We have gotten into a habit of packing a light winter jacket that we can zip into our other mid weight raincoats along with having a neck gaiter, hat, and mittens.
We had two different daypacks with us. One was a smaller packable daypack that we might take when we were visiting a park and doing a short day of hikes of an hour or two. But most of the time we had our larger Kelty daypacks (until mine blew out a shoulder strap and I had to replace my pack) that had padded back, padded straps and could hold our varying clothing gear, a pack lunch, water, first aid kit and maps/guide book for hiking. The first majoring hiking day was the hardest, trying to make sure we had what we wanted in our packs and getting them set-up with our basic gear. When we were at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we had used our packable daypacks so we had not set-up our big packs. But once we got it all straightened out, we were set for the duration of our stay.
There are two locations that people usually arrive and enter Glacier National Park. One is through St. Mary and the other is West Glacier. There are two main visitor centers one on each end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (St. Mary Visitor Center and Apgar Visitor Center) and another in the middle (Logan Visitor Center). For traveling in the park we relied on the buses that took us from St. Mary’s visitor center to West Glacier via the Going-to-the-Sun Road. We were able to plan many hikes by using the bus service. The visitor center at St. Mary’s is a must see, they had just installed a new interactive display about the relationship with the Native American tribes in the area. We saw all the movie clips, it was really well done, the other two Logan and Apgar weren’t as impressive.
When we went to Many Glacier’s another section of the park we did have to drive. We loved Many Glacier and went back several times. We checked out the campground there but decided that we were better off at the KOA. It was less rowdy and cleaner, we have not always had great luck with the campgrounds in the Parks, and they seem to vary a lot. We have found though that having a fan with us helps with dealing with the noise from loud campers. The white noise that was created by our ceramic heater fan was great along with the battery operated little fans we have. We carry the ceramic heater for back up to our propane furnace and when we have electricity it works great to take the chill off, which we needed many a morning while at Glacier.
We also stopped in to East Glacier to see the big lodge there. Amtrak makes a stop at East Glacier. The lodge was impressive and we did enjoy reading some of the displays in the lobby area. Our trip also included a drive up to Waterton Park in Canada. We were glad we went but we found it a bit too commercial for us. The only section of the park we had planned to visit but did not get to was Two Medicine.
In my next post about Glacier I will talk more about our hiking. I decided with this post it would be good to give you a heads up about weather and being prepared for anything. The day we arrived in Glacier at the KOA the Going to the Sun road was closed because of a snowstorm. The next morning we hopped the first bus headed over the Going to the Sun road, it was the first morning in a week that it was passable and not socked in with snow or fog. What a spectacular ride we had. We were so glad that first day to go from one end to the other and back, it gave us the lay of the land as did picking up a Falcon guide to hiking trails. Glacier was so full of surprises for us; we were touched and overwhelmed by scenery.
© Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran