While we have had our home in Montana since 2007, we never found the time to head north and explore Glacier National Park, as well as the surrounding areas around Flathead Lake. One silver lining of living through the Pandemic- we have plenty of time! We decided to take a road trip and finally explore a place that many seem to think is the most majestic spot in the USA.
One benefit to traveling by car (and our camper) is that we can be prepared for absolutely any eventuality. We loaded the Suburban to capacity (mind you, this was a three night excursion).
Happy Trails was all shined up and ready to go, we even got a new personalized license plate.
It took us about 7 hours to get up to Glacier. We had reserved a spot at a HipCamp site in Hungry Horse . HipCamp is an alternative to Harvest Hosts, with a slightly different model. There is no membership, rather you pay a nightly fee. It may just be that we are not quite hip enough, but we took one look at the site in Hungry Horse, and drove right past. Luckily, we were able to find a spot at the West Glacier RV Park, just inside the entrance to the park.
This RV park was about half full, and exceedingly well maintained. We had never stayed in an “official RV park” before, so this was new to us. It didn’t have the atmosphere of the Harvest Hosts locales, but it was convenient, to be sure. We ended up staying for two nights at a cost of $75 per night including electricity.
Because we were in such close proximity to the Park, we were able to set out on the Going to the Sun Road at about 8 am. The roads were empty, and we caught the best light for picture taking. The GTSR runs throughout the Park, and is 50 miles in length. It is only open when weather permits, generally late June – mid October. Due to Covid, you are unable to use the East exit/entrance because access to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation is restricted. The road itself is an engineering marvel, similar to the Beartooth Highway I wrote about here.
There is no shortage of breathtaking photo-ops. Many refer to Glacier as the Crown of the Continent, and that is not an exaggeration. Luckily there are many pull-outs to take advantage of in order to admire the views.
The vistas can speak for themselves. I am guessing that exploring Glacier in the early Fall is the way to go, as I have heard horror stories of bumper to bumper traffic in the peak of the summer. Early in the morning we felt as though we had the Park to ourselves.
Every turn in the road brings a new surprise.
There are many hikes you could choose to do off the GTSR, some long, some shorter.
We both felt that being in Glacier was similar in feel to driving through the Alps. While dogs are not allowed in the park, we did steal a moment for a tiny photo shoot. Mungo was as impressed as we were.
There is a Visitor Center at the top of Logan Pass, which is the highest elevation reachable by car within the Park (6646 feet). While the Visitor Center is currently closed due to Covid, we were able to enjoy a fabulous short hike (about three miles) which is accessible from there. It is well worth the effort.
One can easily spend a week exploring Glacier, so we looked at this trip as a little teaser. We will most certainly return next Autumn to explore in more depth. We set out the next day for Whitefish, which was the quintessential Mountain town. Even though it was officially “off-season”, it was pretty bustling. Again, it is saved as a destination to return to.
We are still a bit wary of dining inside a restaurant, so we decided to order take-out from The Jalisco Cantina which we had heard great things about. It is fairly new to town, but is an off-shoot of the Jalisco Cantina in Oceanside California. The staff couldn’t have been nicer, and explained they opened at the start of Covid which has been a challenge for them.
The Veggie Tacos were a winner (excellent homemade chips and guac as well).
We also shared an Elotes Salad. The servings are generous!
Although we seem to have missed the Flathead Cherry season, there are many outlets touting both the cherries as well as Huckleberries. My advice- skip them unless you are visiting during the actual season. They are depressing and filled with tourist trash.
Flathead Lake is massive, truly a sight to behold. We passed through picturesque Big Fork on the way to our destination in Ronan, where we would spend the night.
Following a good deal of driving, we stopped in Polson at the southernmost point of Flathead Lake. Polson is a town you can bypass, unless you are starving and in need of a BBQ fix, which we found at Cherries. In all honesty, I would say you can skip Cherries too, though the Huckleberry Lemonade and homemade Fries were not too bad.
Our last night of this adventure was set to be spent at the Silver Knot Ranch in Ronan, MT. Silver Knot is a beautiful spot that had primarily been a wedding venue before Covid hit, but has had such success as a Harvest Host site that they are expanding their overnight RV capacity. For now, it is still quite small. Ronan happens to be famous for an annual festival called the Trail of Bales where Bales of Hay are decorated and dotted along the roadsides. This is pure Americana.
Ronan is also home to a small but tasty Farmers market on Thursday nights. We bought an Apple Huckleberry pie that was gone in a flash.
Silver Knot itself is meticulously maintained, and run by Tracy and Kurt Johnson, who are nice as can be.
The property dog Archie made fast friends with Mungo, so that was a major plus.
Harvest Host properties are unique in that while the stay is free (at Silver Knot you could pay a supplement to hook -up to power) you are expected to purchase something in their shop. Traci said they have been so busy that the wares were almost picked clean, but I managed to find a handmade cutting board and some homemade salsa. The other visitors couldn’t have been friendlier, with everyone gathering (socially distanced of course) for an hour long sunset chat. I would wholeheartedly recommend this HH location.
When the morning came we were ready to head for home. We will certainly be returning to this part of Montana next year!