62 Parks Traveler started with one simple goal: to visit every US national park. Avid backpacker and nerd Emily Pennington saved up, built a tiny van to travel and live in, and drove off. The parks as we know them are changing fast and she wanted to see them before it was too late.
Pennington is committed to following CDC guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep themselves and others safe. She visits new parks and adheres closely to best safety practices.
There is a practice of non-attachment in Buddhism called Nekkhamma. It has never been as important in my life as it was on my trip to the glacier.
I was expecting six days full of classics: towering sediment peaks, grizzly sightings, cascading veils of rushing waterfalls, and more than 700 miles of trails to explore. But of course nature had other plans for me.
My first heartache was simple and easy to correct. The campsite I reserved a few months in advance that I set a 6am alarm for and crawled out of my warm Los Angeles bed to book that was perhaps the hardest to book became for this whole year-long Park project canceled due to the pandemic one month before my arrival. No matter how many masks I wore or how many times I washed my hands for exactly 20 seconds, Many Glacier didn’t seem to be on the menu. The east entrance was closed for the year. I’ve been looking for other options.
The next heartbreak really disappointed me. Due to a snowy year, the park’s most famous attraction, historic Going-to-the-Sun Road, wouldn’t be plowed until my friend Brian and I arrived in late June. In fact, it wouldn’t even be open to the loop – its remarkable switchback. I took a deep breath and researched other options.
(Photo: Emily Pennington)
Perhaps the most egregious offense was the weather. I had planned to stay in Glacier for five nights and six days and expected some rain (as any well-prepared nerd is used to to do). It rained five of those days with temperatures in the forties and fifties. Mind you, that was June. Biting my lip and faking a smile, I put on my heavy jacket and re-strategized all week.
On our unique sunny day, my partner and I went on a 14-mile hike to the Sperry Chalet, one of the park’s two remaining 100-year-old mountain lodges, and the 7,050-foot Lincoln Pass. Our hearts were happy in the afternoon heat and our legs wobbled from nearly 4,000 feet of elevation. We avoided marmots and took about a thousand pictures.
For the rest of the trip we got creative. I took us on a scenic drive along the Flathead River, stopping at the Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery, which dates back to 1914. It was a gas. A random selection of outdoor enthusiasts gathered to indulge in the place’s famous baked goods, particularly the blueberry bear claws. I discovered a quieter, often forgotten corner of Glacier National Park that has been overlooked in favor of Instagram selfies of towering peaks.
It almost didn’t matter that at the height of our visit, a one night stay at the fabled Granite Park Chalet, it was freezing, rainy and completely without a view. The park reminded me that no matter how much my overcrowded Type A brain wanted to protest, nature was the boss.
I became a master of non-attachment, and I had a creeping suspicion that my new, Zen-like state was going to flow into everyday life too, so that I could soar over any possible future disappointments and keep a smile on my face like in a glacier .
(Photo: Emily Pennington)
62 Parks Traveler Glacier Info
Size: 1,012,837 acres
Place: Northwest Montana
Created in: 1910 (national park)
Best for: Hiking, backpacking, scenic drives, car camping, boating, hut trips, indigenous history
When to go: The summer months of July and August have the warmest temperatures (44 to 84 degrees) and the largest crowd. Autumn (21 to 60 degrees) is quieter and ideal for serious hikers, during spring and winter are freezing cold and have little access due to the many closed parking streets. (The indicated temperatures were measured in the west glacier.)
Where to sleep: Right outside the west entrance of the park, The Mooseshroom (from $ 69) offers a sublime glamping experience with hot showers and weekly S’Mores specialties. Choose between car campsites and convenience-rich yurt rentals.
Where should we eat: A local at my campsite called the blueberry hogweed in Polebridge Mercantile the best to eat in Montana. You did not disappoint.
Mini adventure: Ride the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, take in the views of Heavens Peak, and gaze at the vast cascade of Bird Woman Falls on this marvel, built in 1932. Stop at Logan Pass and hike the Highline Trail for phenomenal summer wildflowers.
Mega adventure: Spend one night in a chalet. Glacier is one of the few parks in the country with fully functional mountain cabins dating back to 1913. Sperry Chalet (from $ 237 per night) has a fully stocked restaurant with hot meals for those brave enough to pack, while the Granite Park (from USD 115 per night) is more rustic, with a DIY kitchen.
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Main photo: Emily Pennington