Nature trails and activities at Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks

By Jelane A. Kennedy

Dramatic moments seen from KOA in St. Mary's, Montana

Dramatic moments seen from KOA in St. Mary’s, Montana. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

There are lots and lots of hikes in Glacier National Park. From easy, day hikes to back country adventures. We decided when we arrived that we would take advantage of the easy day hikes, as Lucy our golden retriever had taught us, it’s not how hard, how high or long you hike, it is about getting out there and being in and with nature. Enjoying the beauty all around us, and being together sharing the experience was our aim.

Being in high altitude atmosphere it was important to take care of our bodies, hydrating and being respectful of our selves and our energy was part of the plan. After our first day taking the bus over the Going to the Sun Road and getting acquainted with the area we decide to add to our resources that we had picked up from the park rangers (maps and newspaper) and to pick up the Falcon Guide on “Best Easy Day Hikes Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks”. For the rest of our time we would use the guide to help plot our hiking.

As luck would have it the Saint Mary’s Visitor Center near us had just had a huge up date on their educational displays. They had added an amazing interactive display discussing the relationship of the park with the area Tribes and the significance of the park to the local Tribes. What an incredible resource and a must see experience. We learned so much! The interviews were very poignant. We were so glad that Saint Mary’s Visitor Center ended up being our base camp for the park. Many folks use West Glacier and may miss out on Saint Mary’s.

Eileen hanging out inside a tree while on the Trail of Cedars

Eileen hanging out inside a tree while on the Trail of Cedars. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Our first hike was Trail of the Cedars; it was a loop hike that was 0.7 miles long. The trail was wheelchair accessible. This was a hike we took the day we rode the buses over the Going to the Sun Road. It was also one of the last hikes we did on our last day. It was a short lovely nature walk through what we called the ancients. We loved walking among these old Red Cedar and Black Cottonwood trees.

“What do you think they would say to us if they could speak our language?” asked Eileen

We could not get over how large the trees were and how stately they felt. Walking mostly in silence seemed respectful as though we were walking through a church.

The view from Sun Point of St. Mary's Lake

The view from Sun Point of St. Mary’s Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Another trail we hiked more than once was the Sun Point Nature Trail; with a magnificent view of St. Mary’s lake and the sundial like marker that helped to identify the mountains around the lake. The trail was a 1.3 mile round-trip. Standing out on the rocks and watching the sun play over the mountains and lake was a treat! We also saw Baring Falls as part of this hike, it was great and Eileen found a little side trail that took us down to the rocky lake beach, where we sat in silence just listening on one occasion.

One other small hike included Swiftcurrent Nature Trail in the Many Glaciers section of the park. It was a simple trail around the lake, quiet and relatively flat, 2.5 miles. My guess would be that many serious hikers would skip this trail but the views of the mountains and the play of the reflections on the lake especially on low wind day was just amazing. We ended up over at the Many Glaciers area multiple times, twice for hikes and another for a day of rest. On the day of rest we sat out on the huge porch overlooking the lake and read, wrote and I took pictures. The morning we were there for our rest day, the water was still and the reflections of the mountains onto the lake were amazing. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. That was also the day we did the guided ranger tour of the Lodge. I could write a whole other blog post about the lodges we visited at Glacier and Waterton Lakes, but that will have to be another time.

Eileen at the shore of Avalanche Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Eileen at the shore of Avalanche Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Probably the only two trails that were our least favorite were Avalanche Lake and Cameron Lake in Waterton. The guidebook warns that the Avalanche Lake trail was a favorite and so it could be busy. And it was a bit busy that day with a school group. But maybe it was the overcast weather or the loudness of the group, but this hike really excited neither of us. The book talked about the “specular destination” but I think we had been so wowed by Lake MacDonald, St. Mary’s Lake, and Swiftcurrent Lake, it was a disappointment. The best part of the hike was the gorge and the falls we saw. The hike was relatively flat for the 4.6 miles and the school group had a student in a wheelchair with them. The best part of this hike was revisiting parts of the Trail of Cedars for us.

Near the end of our time at St. Mary’s and before we went over to West Glacier we decided we need to visit Waterton in Canada. Glacier and Waterton were a joint park, the first international peace park, so we thought we should take our passports in hand and take a visit. We decided for a hike to head out to Cameron Lake, the hike was 2.2 miles round-trip. It had been suggested to us by one of the owners of the KOA where we were camping. I think the big thing we felt overall was that all seemed too commercial for us in town and at the lake with all the boaters and the facilities that were lacking. We were underwhelmed after being at Glacier. The best part of the trip to Waterton was the view from the Prince of Wales hotel that was amazing. Too bad there was not any patio furniture out so people could just sit and watch the lake. Eileen found a concrete block to sit on as she gazed at the Lake that day. I got a couple of good pictures of her there.

While in town we stumbled across a peace pavilion that had been sponsored by Rotary International and we enjoyed walking through it. Overall we were glad we went but probably on a return trip to Glacier we would by-pass going. But it was worth the effort.

In my next post I will talk about the longer hikes we took at Glacier and end the visit to this park.


Boats on the dock at Many Glaciers. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Boats on the dock at Many Glaciers. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

© Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen McFerran

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Photo Essay: Summer Solstice 2016

By Jelane A. Kennedy

Sometimes I think the move from Spring to Summer is probably the hardest move for me. It probably has to do with how erratic the weather can feel, from cold with snow to hot and humid. It’s hard to figure out what to wear and what to have with you! Maybe it is the endings and the beginnings all bunched together.

We have not taken many photos this Spring it seems like the mad rush to the end of the school year and all has added to what seems like a blur of time and place.

The first Photo of the tree, gives a sense of how things can be in transition.

Transition Photo by Eileen McFerran

Transition Photo by Eileen McFerran

This second photo is of one of my favorite Spring flowers: Lilacs, they remind me that winter is truly over.

Sweet smell. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Sweet smell. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Boats on the water, a day in the sun.

Summer is near -Lobster Boats

Summer is near -Lobster Boats Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Kite boarding, the joy of water, sun and wind.

Spring - not yet warm but oh so tempting! Kite boarding. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Spring – not yet warm but oh so tempting! Kite boarding. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Finally the Spring garden readying for the summer bloom.

Eileen in the garden preparing for summer blooms. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Eileen in the garden preparing for summer blooms. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

© 2016 Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran

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Prepping for Glacier National Park.

By Jelane A. Kennedy

Someone kindly took this photo of Eileen and I on our first hike (me on left and Eileen on the right). Photo by unknown

Someone kindly took this photo of Eileen and I on our first hike (me on left and Eileen on the right). Photo by unknown

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.

Abbey parked in our campsite at St. Mary's KOA. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Abbey parked in our campsite at St. Mary’s KOA. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

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.

Eileen just enjoying the view. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Eileen just enjoying the view. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

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.

Jelane hanging out having a snack. Photo by Eileen A. McFerran

Jelane hanging out having a snack. Photo by Eileen A. McFerran

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.

Jelane watching the mountains. Photo by Eileen A. McFerran

Jelane watching the mountains. Photo by Eileen A. McFerran

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.

Eileen on our ice cream break at McDonald Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Eileen on our ice cream break at McDonald Lake. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

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.

Us at Sun Point, Jelane on the right and Eileen on the Left. Taken by an unknown person.

Us at Sun Point, Jelane on the right and Eileen on the Left. Taken by an unknown person.

© Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran

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Spring Equinox 2016 Photo Essay

By Jelane A. Kennedy

It has been an odd winter this year. The last two winters have been full of snow and biting temperatures, but this year we saw less snow and milder temperatures. I for one thought we would end up seeing a lot of ice, but though we have had some ice it has not been nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I have missed the snow this year, we only went snowshoeing once. I missed the bright white that offsets what can be cloudy gloomy days.

In the days after winter solstice, we went on a delightful hike and followed this the same on new year’s day. Little did we know that most of our winter  hikes would be without snow.

At this point I am ready for Spring!

Below you will find photos from the last few months as reminders of the time between winter solstice and spring equinox – enjoy!

Start of winter:

Light evergreen tree as during dusk at Mt. Marcy field, ADK New York. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Light evergreen tree as during dusk at Mt. Marcy field, ADK New York. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

A visit to Chicago:

In Chicago under the "bean". Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

In Chicago under the “bean”. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Stop action:

Ice waves crashing on the boat launch in Schroon Lake, NY. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Ice waves crashing on the boat launch in Schroon Lake, NY. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Maple Sap a great reminder that Spring is coming:

Seed Pod Lady of Chicago – Spring will come!

Seed Pod Lady as I call her, calling for Spring's return. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Seed Pod Lady as I call her, calling for Spring’s return. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

(c) 2016 Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park: The creating of a President and a movement.

By Jelane A. Kennedy

Landscape TRNPI must confess, I had never heard of Theodore Roosevelt National Park until a couple of mornings before our arrival. How we came to visit the park was by accident. Our eyes were set for Glacier National Park in Montana. We wanted to arrive before Labor Day, so while pursuing our atlas and looking at our destination I saw this small green area marked on the map-Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the upper part of North Dakota. I pulled our national park guide read a little. The drive looked simple and it seemed like a short detour. We had been on the road a few days and we both were in need of a hike, to stretch our legs. There had been some stormy weather in Montana so this short detour would give us a chance to chill a bit while the weather passed on.

Is it really that high?The plan was to stop for a couple of hours, take a hike and then get back on the road. But once there we couldn’t resist staying. It was quiet, and charming with unexpected geography. I think this was so striking after the grueling ride that took more than two hours rather than the normal 45 minutes to an hour dealing with the Bakken oil boom and traffic that was generated from that enterprise (See my post on How I Earned by Road Warrior Badge). We felt like we had reached a safe haven. After our first small hike we knew we needed to explore more.

Our first hike was a nature trail, gentle and easy, Little Mo. The hike took us along the Missouri River. The trail guide gave a sense of the fauna and flora. We also got to see some of the shelters constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back during the depression. These structures are always beautiful and blend well with the landscape. The spring and summer flooding from that had occurred that year was still evident and added to the mystery of the place. So we decided to check out the campground since we were now hooked. Many of the campsites were in reconstruction mode from the flooding but we found a great little site, gathered some dead wood and got ourselves set up so we could go out again for another hike.

cool plantsWe discovered that this was the less visited section of the park. We were in the North Unit and that it’s remoteness meant that more people hung out in the South Unit. The last time I was in North Dakota was when I had just graduated from high school and getting ready for college. My Mom decided to take us on a road trip to visit her cousin in Grand Forks, North Dakota. We set off on our great adventure our Ford Fiesta. So my memories were of very flat land, ranches and the moon so big it looked like you could touch it.

PillarsThe flooding closed the scenic road through the park halfway, but we were able to get to the Capstone Coulee area. It was one of the areas that really captured our attention. We took the nature hike in that section. In some ways the Coulee’s looked like a pipe organ in a big natural outside church. The rock looks so dry and grooved. The colors were black, white, gray and reds as compared to the Badlands National Park ; in South Dakota we had visited years earlier that seemed more white and golden. I kept waiting for the wind to play a tune. Mixed with all this was the juxtaposition of the prairie grasses and junipers all around. Once we finished the nature trail, Eileen found another trail that took us up onto a butte where we could look out over everything. We saw no other humans and heard no cars. It was just the wind and we. We felt as though we had stepped into another time. We just sat and soaked it up.

Capstone and PillarOn the trail earlier we also saw the tracks left by bison and a few of their moon pies. We did not run into any bison but we did have a friendly “oh Hello” with a very tame deer. It was cool to walk the trails that the bison follow. To think about how this was their land.

After our dinner we went to the Ranger hike/talk and learned more about Teddy Roosevelt. We didn’t realize it but this park is the only one named after a President. It was here in this area that his love of the out of doors came to fruition. Growing up in New York City he was a sickly kid struggling with even being able to breathe. Out here he found himself and learned of the power of nature to health. There is another third Unit to the park (Elkhorn Ranch) that takes you out to where his ranch was but you need a high clearance vehicle and Abbey just wouldn’t be able to make it with her low running boards.

It felt like in many ways visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park was like visiting the beginning. Yes Yellowstone was the first but this was the land that inspired a President that we all needed wild places to roam. We could have stayed longer but Glacier National Park was calling us. I’d like to return and check out the South Unit and stay awhile.

Capstone Coolie Nature trail

© 2016 Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran

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Weekly Photo Challenge-Vibrant

By Jelane A. Kennedy

This week’s photo challenge is called Vibrant. My first thoughts are of those things in nature that make me stop and look. I want to soak it all in, it is like a mini-meditation.

(c) 2016 Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran

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19 things to bring with you when visiting our National Parks!

By Jelane A. Kennedy


Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

2016 is the Centennial for the National Park Service! 100 years ago the National Park Service began, Yellowstone was the first park established in 1872 by an Act that President Ulysses S. Grant signed. This year in celebration the Parks will be holding a variety of events to encourage us to visit. So I decided that this year I would revisit in my blog many of the parks we have been to over the years and share some of the highlights to maybe inspire you to seek out a National Park.

Stamps in Passport book

My passport book with some stamps. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

I must tell you up front that I am sort of a National Park geek. I love our parks and most of our vacations out of New York State have included visiting a National Park/Lake Shore/Historic Site, etc. I am the proud owner of a Passport Book! I collect stamps for each park; some parks have multiple stamps in my book, others I am missing since I visited them before getting my book (i.e. Mount Rainer, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic Peninsula, Gettysburg, USS Arizona Memorial, Oahu, Hawaii).

There are multiple ways to visit our Parks, you might watch Ken Burns (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; six episode series), read a book, you might go and take a hike, or you might ride through in your car or on a bus. Personally my favorite way to visit a park is to spend time in the park hiking, depending on the size it might be a day or a week. For some people they have a favorite park that they visit over and over again, becoming experts of the park. My wish is to visit all the parks in my lifetime, I’m not sure I make it but (there are 409 park units, examples 59 National Parks, 80 National Monuments, 19 National Preserves, 50 National Historical Parks, 78 National Historic sites, etc.). It kind of fits with my wish to visit all 50 states (my rule: I must spend at least one night in each State, so far I’m missing Oregon, Nevada (driven through not stayed), Alabama and Iowa (driven through not stayed). To date I have about 43 different stamps from: 17 National Parks, lots of National Monuments, Lakeshores, Seashores, Memorials, Historic Parks, etc.


Eileen with one of our day packs while visiting Acadia National Park. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Below is my list for visiting a National Park:
1 Pay the entrance fee/ buy access pass (America the Beautiful Annual Pass; Senior Pass for those over 62; Access Pass for those with a permanent disability; Annual 4th grade Pass, or Annual US Military Pass).
2 Stop at the visitor center: see the exhibits and stamp my passbook.
3 See the movie that gives an overview of the Park.
4 Check out the listing (usually in the Park newspaper) for a Ranger led program- find, one of interest and attend.
5 Find a walk or hike that meets our skill level and interest. Nature trails are usually lovely experiences of the park. Check with Park Ranger at the Visitor Center for options. The Rangers are very help they will provide a map. The Visitor Center Shop also usually carries several hiking books. I personally usually look for the Falcon Guides.
6 If there is a free shuttle use it. We have found the shuttles take the guesswork out of driving, so we have more time to hike and spend less energy dealing with traffic or parking. The bonus is we both get to see the sights while some else driving.

7 Bring a day pack.
8 Pack a lunch so that you can eat when you need to and aren’t dependent on having to spend time hunting for food. We carry our lunch, snacks, water and Gatorade.
9 Pack the first aid kit in one of our day packs.
10 Be sure to stay hydrated-fill our water bottle at the filling station if available.
11 Wear good boots or shoes to hike or walk (stay away from flip flops or high heels)

12 Don’t be afraid to use a hiking stick; we carry with us collapsible hiking sticks and wouldn’t hike without them.
13 Pack rain gear.
14 Dress in layers, we always peel off what we don’t need in the heat of the day or put back on as the day cools off. We like zip off pants that convert to shorts, non-cotton clothes that wick sweat away, we always carry a sweater and long sleeved shirt, extra socks.
15 Even on cloudy days pack sunglasses and a hat.
16 Carry a camera or cell phone with camera for those great pics!
17 Put on sunscreen before we go and carry some to add later on.
18 Have bug repellent.
19 Last but not least bring an open mind and attitude. Enjoy the adventure!


Taking a walk at Mammouth Hot Springs, Yellowstone. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

© 2016 Jelane A. Kennedy

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