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Glacier National Park: The Sun Point Nature Trail

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The Sun Point Nature Trail was the last hike we took on our recent trip to Glacier National Park. The day was (finally) sunny and windy as we headed down from Logan Pass toward the east side of the park.

The trail begins just off the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the St. Mary Lake area. You'll see signs for Sun Point and the turn-off will take you to a parking lot. The great thing about this trail is that it converges with several others leading to waterfalls and backcountry lakes and campgrounds. 

We started off the day by heading up to the Sun Point viewing area. The wind was incredibly strong, however, the viewing area offered a fantastic view of western-most portion of St. Mary Lake and the mountains that make up the continental divide. Read: It's worth being shoved around a bit by the elements.

Sun Point // Glacier National Park, Montana

Sun Point // Glacier National Park, Montana

Our plan was to see at least three of the waterfalls accessible via the Sun Point Nature Trail parking lot: Baring Falls, St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. Once you start the trail along the north edge of the lake, you'll want to stop often to take in the view.

Bear Grass // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Bear Grass // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Wildflowers and butterflies along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Wildflowers and butterflies along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Wildflowers along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Wildflowers along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

St. Mary Lake // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

St. Mary Lake // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

St. Mary Lake // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

St. Mary Lake // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

You'll first come to Baring Falls, which is a small water feature compared to the others in Glacier. I didn't get a good picture of Baring Falls, but If you keep going you'll end up at a bridge that offers this view of the much more impressive St. Mary Falls:

St. Mary Falls // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

St. Mary Falls // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Several groups of hikers had stopped on either side of the bridge to take photos and have lunch, so we opted to keep going toward Virginia Falls. The trail quickly became much quieter, so I'm guessing a lot of people turn around and head back after seeing St. Mary Falls.

Just after leaving St. Mary Falls, we spotted a deer grazing on the trail. She heard us coming and headed back down the hill before I could snap a good picture. I would imagine the trail sees plenty of wildlife thanks to its lush plant life, dense tree cover and abundant water sources. 

Plant life along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Plant life along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

More beautiful wildflowers along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

More beautiful wildflowers along the Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

When you reach Virginia Falls, you'll hear it before you see it. There are two viewing spots for this good-sized waterfall. One can be found after crossing a short bridge along the trail that heads around the south end of St. Mary Lake.  

Virginia Falls // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Virginia Falls // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

However, we decided to see the waterfall up close by heading up to the Virginia Falls View Point. The one sunny day during our trip and we found ourselves a place to get sopping wet at the bottom of Virginia Falls.

I loved it. 

Virginia Falls (up close) // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Virginia Falls (up close) // Sun Point Nature Trail  // Glacier National Park, MT

Of course, I didn't take many pictures at this point. There was so much mist coming off the falls! The water rushing down the rock walls combined with the powerful wind and the slippery rocks underfoot made for a fun, but short stay at Virginia Falls. We turned to leave and I realized that I was sporting the biggest grin ever.  

If you only have one day and want to experience some beautiful waterfalls, I highly recommend this trail system. According to our calculations the hike was a little over 6 miles round trip -- from the Sun Point viewing area up to Virginia Falls and back. The hike wasn't difficult, but there were definitely some windy and slippery areas along the way. Also, be sure to follow your map and pay attention to signage as there are several forks in the trail to get to the various waterfalls.

I do have to note that the Sun Point Nature Trail is also a great starting point for a longer hike to Gunsight Lake. From what I can tell on the map, you can even hike this trail system all the way to Lake McDonald on the west side of the park!

Maybe next time. :) 

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Have any of you checked out the waterfalls around St. Mary Lake? I know Sun Point is a really popular area during the summer months. If you've been to Sun Point before, perhaps you can answer me this: is it always so darn windy??

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Glacier National Park: Chasing Waterfalls

I realize that I've just dated myself by referencing TLC in a blog post title, but I don't care. When it comes to our national parks, chasing waterfalls is a must.

Luckily, waterfalls are everywhere in and around Glacier National Park: along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, at the end of beautiful hikes, cascading down a stone wall on the side of the highway. The abundance never gets old, either. You'd think we'd tire of seeing fresh, frigid water streaming from melting snow fields or roaring through massive rock walls.

Nope. 

Staircase Waterfall - Flathead National Forest (southern border of Glacier National Park).

Staircase Waterfall - Flathead National Forest (southern border of Glacier National Park).

Bird Woman Falls from the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Bird Woman Falls from the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Can you spot the water flowing from the snowfield? Just one of the many waterfalls we spotted from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Can you spot the water flowing from the snowfield? Just one of the many waterfalls we spotted from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Stunning.

Stunning.

Haystack Falls is a beauty, but seeing the water rush under the Going-to-the-Sun Road made me appreciate just how amazing the road really is.

Haystack Falls is a beauty, but seeing the water rush under the Going-to-the-Sun Road made me appreciate just how amazing the road really is.

Red Rock Falls (in the Many Glacier area) on a rainy day.

Red Rock Falls (in the Many Glacier area) on a rainy day.

Running Eagle Falls in the Two Medicine area.

Running Eagle Falls in the Two Medicine area.

St. Mary Falls along the Sun Point Nature Trail.

St. Mary Falls along the Sun Point Nature Trail.

Virginia Falls along the Sun Point Nature Trail.

Virginia Falls along the Sun Point Nature Trail.

I'll be sharing more about my favorite waterfall hike of the trip next week. If you're planning a trip to Glacier National Park, my advice is to see as many as possible. It won't get old. I promise. 

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Anyone else have an amazing waterfall experience in Glacier National Park? What about can't miss waterfalls in other national parks? Be sure to share your stories in the comment section. I love reading them!

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Glacier National Park: Polebridge + Bowman Lake

Here's the thing about national parks: there are some very popular places and sights and then there are those places that see a little less traffic.

In Glacier National Park, it seems that the Going-to-the-Sun Road and areas directly surrounding park entrances, visitor centers and lodges see the most traffic. Upon arrival at the Glacier General Store and Cabins, however, Chuck recommended the lesser known trek to Bowman Lake.

You can see why, yes?

Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

The catch, my friends, is that much of the trip takes you down roads that look like this: 

Outside North Fork Road to Polebridge, Montana

Outside North Fork Road to Polebridge, Montana

And this: 

The road to Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

The road to Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Chuck gave us fair warning about the roads leading to Bowman Lake. He mentioned that we would have to exit the park, take the Outside North Fork Road (the inside road was closed) and head through the small town of Polebridge before re-entering the park at the Polebridge Ranger Station (see a map here).

On our first full day in the park, we decided to give it a shot...right after our morning hike to Avalanche Lake and quick lunch. Gravel roads full of potholes on a rainy day? What could go wrong, right?

Lucky for us, nothing went wrong. It was absolutely worth the bumpy ride!

Our first order of business was to stop at Polebridge Mercantile for their famous huckleberry bear claws. They were huge and lived up to their reputation.

Polebridge Mercantile // Best huckleberry bear claws around! // Near Glacier National Park // Montana 

Polebridge Mercantile // Best huckleberry bear claws around! // Near Glacier National Park // Montana 

Then we just followed the signs to the park entrance: 

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When we finally arrived at the parking area for Bowman Lake, we were greeted with a nearly empty campground and beautiful surroundings.

Bowman Lake Campground  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Bowman Lake Campground  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Bowman Lake Campground  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Bowman Lake Campground  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Walking down to the lake, we could easily see why Chuck considers it one of his favorites. 

Bowman Lake // Glacier National Park // Montana

Bowman Lake // Glacier National Park // Montana

Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Wildflowers around Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

Wildflowers around Bowman Lake  // Glacier National Park // Montana

We hiked part of the trail around the lake and couldn't stop marveling at the color of the water... such a wonderful turquoise color. The day was still overcast and rainy, but we were thrilled to spend time in such a beautiful (and almost empty!) area of the park. I wouldn't mind spending a little more time there next time we visit!

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Anyone out there been to Bowman Lake? There were only a few other people there when we visited, so it seems like a great place to get away from the more touristy areas of the park. We'd love to get recommendations on hikes in the area, so feel free to share your stories in the comment section!

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Stay Here: Glacier General Store & Cabins

Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park

Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park

If you're looking for a place to stay near the west entrance to Glacier National Park, look no further than Glacier General Store and Cabins in Coram, Montana.

Now, don't get me wrong: there are plenty of places to stay in the area. However, Chuck, Jori and Buddy Bear (who run the facility...and yes, Buddy Bear is a dog) are incredible and I can honestly say that we wouldn't have wanted to stay anywhere else.

Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park
Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park

The four cabins are nearly identical, are very reasonably priced and come appointed with comfy beds, kitchenettes and full bathrooms. We brought food with us and cooked three out of the five nights we were there, which was not only fun and fairly healthy, but allowed us to save a few bucks as well.

If you choose to stay here, just know that you will want to bring silverware, plates, cooking utensils, etc. as the cabin kitchenettes aren't stocked. We planned meals we could grill and made a big salad when we got there, which suited our post-hike appetites just fine.

Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park

Waking up with tea and coffee on this porch while being serenaded by chirping birds suited us quite nicely as well:  

Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park

The one dry evening we were there (remember: early summer can bring plenty of weather!), Chuck started up the bonfire out by the big teepee. You had better believe that plenty of s'mores were consumed.

Bonfire time at Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park   

Bonfire time at Glacier General Store & Cabins // Near the west entrance of Glacier National Park

 

A few things to note: 

  • Chuck and Jori are both incredibly knowledgable about the park. Just tell them what type of adventures you're looking for and they'll give you the scoop. Chuck is also well-versed in bear behavior and he gave us the run-down on how to safely enjoy our time in grizzly country.
  • The store is full of goodies, many of which are of the huckleberry variety. I dare you not to buy at least a small jar of huckleberry jam. Chuck is also a fantastic wildlife photographer, so don't forget to stop in (even if you're not staying at the cabins) to have a look around.
  • The store and cabins are located just off Highway 2, which is the way most people get to the west entrance of the park. While we could obviously hear and see traffic from our cabin's front porch, it didn't really bother us. Once we closed the cabin door for the night, we could hardly hear traffic at all. Bottom line: if you're bothered by light traffic noises at night, just bring a set of ear plugs. Honestly, we've stayed in hotels with more noise.
  • Wifi is available at the cabins, but there was a little issue while we were there. (Yes, we were on vacation, but sometimes our jobs don't allow us to unplug completely.) Chuck worked to fix it as soon as he could and was great about giving us status updates.
  • Pet Buddy Bear and you'll have a friend for life.

Truth be told, we had a hard time leaving. The cabins are so cozy and Chuck and Jori are some of the kindest souls around. If we're ever in the area (who am I kidding.. when we're in the area), we'll definitely be heading back to Glacier General Store and Cabins.

{Note: I was not paid or perked for this write-up. We just loved our time at the cabins and couldn't resist sharing our great experience with all of you.} 

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Glacier National Park: The Hike to Avalanche Lake

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The hike to Avalanche Lake is great for two reasons:

  1. It's not super long and you get some fantastic views.
  2. You kind of get a two-for-one deal because it branches off of another trail. 

This is the first hike we went on after arriving in Glacier National Park and halfway through is about the time we declared Glacier as the best national park EVER.

The hike begins with the Trail of the Cedars, which is an accessible loop trail consisting of boardwalks and paved surfaces. While it wasn't the most challenging part of the hike that morning, I loved that it was accessible for those in a wheelchair and I instantly thought of my mom's friend Jeri who writes about accessible travel over at Anything is Possible Travel (you'd love it, Jeri!).

As you can see, we started out the hike on a dry morning. That didn't last. 

Trail of the Cedars. Accessible boardwalks through the forest?! Yes, please.

Trail of the Cedars. Accessible boardwalks through the forest?! Yes, please.

Avalanche Creek runs alongside the Trail of the Cedars.

Avalanche Creek runs alongside the Trail of the Cedars.

About half way along the Trail of the Cedars loop, we reached the fork that would take us to Avalanche Lake. What we heard was the roaring Avalanche Creek (apparently they use the term "creek" very differently in Montana. It looked like a river to us!) flowing through a gorge.

After taking the Avalanche Lake trail, the upper portion of the gorge comes into full view. If I'm being completely honest, I probably could have stood there all day watching the water rush through those well-polished rock walls. Stunning, I tell you. 

Upper Avalanche Gorge, looking upstream.

Upper Avalanche Gorge, looking upstream.

Upper Avalanche Gorge, looking downstream.

Upper Avalanche Gorge, looking downstream.

Once we passed the gorge, the creek leveled out a bit and looked more like the creeks we're used to seeing -- you know, the calm, meandering kind?

Avalanche Creek from the Avalanche Lake Trail (upstream from the gorge).  

Avalanche Creek from the Avalanche Lake Trail (upstream from the gorge).  

Overall, the trail to Avalanche Lake is pretty moderate. There were some steep, rocky areas, but there wasn't a huge elevation gain to get to the lake. If you head out on this hike in early summer like we did, be sure to wear waterproof or quick-drying clothing! Rain happens. :) 

A short boardwalk along the trail to Avalanche Lake.

A short boardwalk along the trail to Avalanche Lake.

Beauty along the trail to Avalanche Lake. Looks like it belongs in a movie, no?

Beauty along the trail to Avalanche Lake. Looks like it belongs in a movie, no?

A few miles after taking the Avalanche Lake trail junction we caught glimpses of the lake. While there are several areas to view the lake, one particular area offers a nice beach with places to sit. It would be the perfect spot to have lunch if you get to the lake around mid-day.

Avalanche Lake 

Avalanche Lake 

Avalanche Lake 

Avalanche Lake 

We could have continued along the trail around the lake, but since we were pretty soaked by that point and had plans to check out another part of the park that afternoon, we decided to turn around and head back.

Eventually we reached the junction with the Trail of the Cedars loop and we took the east side of the loop trail, which we hadn't seen that morning. The first thing you come to is a bridge crossing the gorge. 

The bridge crossing Avalanche Gorge.

The bridge crossing Avalanche Gorge.

The perfect spot to view Avalanche Gorge.

The perfect spot to view Avalanche Gorge.

The view upstream from the bridge. Not bad, right?

The view upstream from the bridge. Not bad, right?

After stopping to watch the beautiful turquoise water for a bit, we continued along the very soggy boardwalk back to the parking lot on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.   

Just beautiful.

Just beautiful.

As I mentioned, the hike to Avalanche Lake wasn't super strenuous. I believe it was about 4.5 miles round trip (out and back to the junction with the Trail of the Cedars). The sights along the way are worth the hike and Avalanche Lake is a beauty.

That said, if you're looking for a short nature walk, the Trail of the Cedars is just under a mile long and offers incredible scenery with minimal effort. I highly recommend it.

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I've got many more Glacier National Park posts to come, my friends! Stay tuned. 

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