Open Your Heart to Montana
BY TAYLOR MULCAHEY
With crystal-blue lakes, snow-capped mountains and diverse wildlife, Montana is the ideal getaway for anyone eager to see some of the best natural wonders the country has to offer. You’ll have plenty to explore, especially in and around Glacier National Park, which is nestled into the state’s northwestern corner.
And you won’t be the only one! Glacier, like many National Parks around the U.S., is experiencing unprecedented levels of visitors. For the first time, the park requires reservations to enter on the main Going-to-the-Sun Road between May 28 and September 6, 2021.
If you’re planning to visit the park itself, plan ahead and, like you would in any place of natural beauty, lead with care. Stay on the paths, follow local guidance and clean up after yourselves. If you can’t get a reservation, don’t fret. There’s plenty to do in the surrounding area.
Where to eat and drink
You might not consider Glacier a foodie paradise, but you’ll be surprised how much the area has to offer. If you want high-end dining, you’ll find it around. But some of the best food in the area is served at these small, local digs.
On the western edge of the park, near the North Fork region, is Polebridge, a tiny, vibrant community with just a few local shops. Come early for bakery items at Polebridge Mercantile, where you can stock up on everything from croissants and savory scones to huckleberry bear claws and a wide array of cookies. The small community is also home to Northern Lights Saloon, a bar and grill with food, drinks and live music.
On the other side of the park near Babb, Montana –– located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation –– you’ll find Two Sisters Café. Owned and operated by sisters Beth and Susan Higgins, and Susan’s partner, John Cunningham, the café offers a drive-through coffee and breakfast stand and in-store dining from June to October. The menu includes classics like soups, barbeque and burgers, as well as falafel plates, bahn mi sandwiches and quesadillas.
Near the western entrance to the park is Apgar, which is home to Eddie’s Café and Mercantile. Family-owned, Eddie’s offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, coffee and camp essentials. You can stop by at any point of the day to grab a bite and explore the area, complete with views of Lake McDonald.
If you’re a hiker, you won’t be disappointed by the many, many trails in Glacier National Park. Although there’s too many to possibly list, here are a few trails to get you started.
Avalanche Lake is a six-mile, moderate hike and is one of the most popular trails in the park. The trailhead is located along the Going-To-The-Sun Road. During the first leg of the hike, you follow the Trail of the Cedars along a boardwalk, before veering off onto a trail. Although the trail is busy, the views are worth it.
Located near Polebridge, Bowman Lake is a beautiful place to visit for a hike. From the parking lot, you’re just a few steps away from your first view of the lake. From here, you can choose to take the Bowman Lake Trail, which travels nearly 13 miles along the lakeshore. Whether you walk half a mile or the whole trail, the views are spectacular.
For those looking for a challenging hike with ever-changing alpine views, you don’t want to miss Highline Trail. There are multiple ways to hike the trail, which can be up to 14.9 miles long, depending how you take it. The trail begins at Logan Pass Visitors Center along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.
Other popular hikes include Hidden Lake, Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake. But there are so many more that you’ll never run out of trails.
For active visitors, there’s much more than just hiking. Rent bikes, stand up paddle boards, kayaks and fishing equipment from Glacier Outfitters, located in Apgar or take group bike rides with Gateway to Glacier Trails. The area is also popular for white water rafting. Sign up for a guided ride from Glacier Guides Montana Raft, Wild River Adventures or Glacier Raft Company.
Although Glacier National Park is one of the main attractions in the area, there is so much to see outside the park.
Start by first exploring Glacier’s northern neighbor, Waterton Lakes National Park, which is located in Canada. In 1932, the park combined with Glacier National Park to form the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, which is recognized as the first of it’s kind and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, crossing the border requires a valid passport, and is limited due to the pandemic.
Instead of heading north, you can head south to Columbia Falls. Depending on where you’re staying, the drive can be anywhere from 35 min to two hours. While there, check out the breweries, coffee shops, restaurants and local stores.
If you’re in town in July, drive down to Flathead Lake to stock up on cherries grown at the various orchards surrounding its shores.
On the eastern border of Glacier National Park is the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, a sovereign nation that spans 1.5 million acres in Glacier and Pondera Counties. Stop by to visit the Museum of the Plains Indian and take the Blackfeet Trail Tour. While there, take time to learn the history of the Blackfeet Tribe and spend your money at Native-owned businesses.
About the journalist:
Taylor Mulcahey is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She loves hiking and camping, and is even happier when she gets to write about it.