Tag Archive | mule deer

Glacier National Park

Montana

view at Logan Pass

I have an unhealthy fear of bears. The grizzly bear attack in the book/movie “The Revenant” still haunts me to this day. With that being said, why in the world did I choose Glacier National Park as a vacation destination? This is the one park where your chances of running into a grizzly bear or black bear on a trail, on the road, or in a parking lot are well above zero. Bear spray is a necessity at all times. Just great. What had I gotten myself in to?

I planned an itinerary, booked a cabin and rental car, got our park passes, purchased our vehicle registration, reserved our park road permits, booked flights to Kalispell, and my husband and I were off to great adventures. Montana, here we come. A canister of bear spray would become my newest and most valuable accessory.

West Glacier entrance

Why did we choose to visit Glacier National Park in spite of the bear population? Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful of the US national parks and is nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent.” The park encompasses over one-million acres of glacier-carved peaks and valleys, two mountain ranges, pristine turquoise lakes and streams, meadows full of wildflowers, numerous waterfalls and ancient evergreen forests. It was established as a national park in 1910 after the Blackfeet tribe ceded the area to the government. Glacier National Park is the 10th most visited park (3.1 million annual visitors) making it not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most popular national parks to visit in the United States.

Grinnell Lake in Many Glacier

More park visitors over the last couple of years caused restrictions to be put in place that prevent overcrowding within the park, hence purchasing vehicle passes/registrations was necessary prior to our trip. We appreciated that the crowds were very manageable throughout our visit and we never had long lines or traffic problems.

tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road

There is one main highway that cuts through the center of the park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTTSR). The scenic GTTSR connects the west entrance to the park with the east entrance (50 miles/2 hours drive time). We drove it easily and without any access issues due to the pre-purchased passes that were required for each vehicle driving within the park boundaries.

our cozy little cabin

I found us a great little Vrbo rental in Essex, Montana that bordered the southern edge of the park, perfectly located about halfway between the west and east entrances to the park. The cabin was clean, cozy, comfortable and well-stocked. We cooked breakfast each morning, packed up our picnic lunch, went on our daily adventure, and returned each evening to cook/grill our dinner. A large mule deer welcomed us on our very first morning and a mink and chipmunks scampered around near our firepit each day. We had found a great little “home away from home.”

behind Lake McDonald Lodge
the beautiful lobby at Lake McDonald Lodge

Day #1 – We drove through the West Glacier entrance that morning and headed to Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park. We explored the historic Lake McDonald Lodge (built in 1914) and grounds before taking a boat ride on the beautiful lake. After a picnic lunch, we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road and stopped at several turn-outs to view McDonald Creek and the amazing scenery along the way. Mid-afternoon, we parked and hiked The Trail of the Cedars. This was one of our favorite hikes! The trail was a raised boardwalk or gravel trail that winds its way through a thick forest of towering cedar trees. The highlight for us was the view of Avalanche Gorge from the trail with its turquoise water tumbling down colorful moss-covered rocks. The damp weather made it feel like we were exploring a rainforest. Even though it was a drizzly afternoon, nothing could take away from the beauty of this trail. We loved it!

Avalanche Gorge as seen from the Trail of the Cedars
hiking the Trail of the Cedars

Walking back to our parked car after our hike, we heard our names being yelled from the parked car at the crosswalk. Really?! The people in the car were actually close friends from our hometown in Texas. One million acres of national park, 1749.5 miles away from home, and we happened to be at the exact same place at the exact same time. It was just plain weird! All you math geniuses can figure out those odds – it hurts my head just to think about it.

Mick & Lisa Tune, our friends from Rockwall, Texas
McDonald Creek along the GTTSR

Day #2 – We got an early start and drove east to the park’s St. Mary’s entrance. We had a morning boat ride scheduled on beautiful St. Mary’s Lake that included a hike to a waterfall. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed our morning adventures. David and I found a little restaurant nearby in the park and had a great lunch (huckleberry pulled pork stuffed baked potatoes!) and continued our drive on The Going-to-the Sun Road with a few scenic stops along the way. We found ourselves at Logan Pass that afternoon, the highest point of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (6646 feet) and located along the Continental Divide. The road in this area had only opened 4 days prior to our visit due to the difficulty of snowplowing such late, heavy snows. The scenery at this high elevation was amazing! We parked and hiked the Hidden Lake Trail as far as we could but it was quite difficult with the packed, icy snow underfoot. Seeing all the snow, the jagged mountains, fields of wildflowers, waterfalls, marmots, ground squirrels, and big horn sheep made for a very memorable afternoon and gave us some great photo ops!

ready for our St. Mary’s Lake boat ride
selfie at Logan Pass
Bighorn sheep at Logan Pass

Day #3 – David and I ventured to Two Medicine, a less-popular part of the park that we entered not far from East Glacier that feels off-the-beaten-path. This day actually turned out to be one of our favorites. The drive in had beautiful views and the crowds were sparse. We hiked to Running Eagle Falls, a sacred Native American burial site that celebrates an infamous female warrior and tribal leader. It was easy to feel the spirituality of this place. The double falls were very unusual and we spent quite a bit of time here. We hiked for a bit on a nature trail and soon decided it was lunch time. We drove a short distance to Two Medicine Lake and found a table at the General Store overlooking the picturesque lake with Sinopah Mountain towering in the background. Good food, great views.

Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine
Two Medicine Lake and Mount Sinopah

After our picnic lunch and a cold huckleberry soda, we were ready for our next hike. We parked at a trailhead and headed up to Apikuni Falls. This was a tough hike for me due to the incline and it was very hot and humid. There were very few people on this trail and we were on a constant lookout for bears. Luckily, we made it to the falls and back without getting eaten. By late afternoon, we headed back out of Two Medicine admiring the scenery and the colorful wildflowers that lined the road and meadows in this scenic valley that is adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation.

hiking at Two Medicine

We stopped for huckleberry bear claws near East Glacier when we saw our first bear! It appeared to be a younger bear and we spotted it running through a pasture near some horses. The horses seemed a little nervous at first but soon went back to grazing. The bear found a pizza box in the pasture that fully captured his/her attention for quite a while. This is exactly how I wanted to see a bear – from a distance and from the safety of my car!

bear near East Glacier

Day #4 – This was the day we ventured to Many Glacier, located on the farthest side of Glacier National Park from our cabin. Many Glacier is on the northeast side of the park and was the most difficult to get to. With that being said, I felt it was the most scenic part of the park. We arrived at Many Glacier early in the morning to secure a parking place, which worked in our favor. We spent the morning exploring the historic hotel and grounds and enjoyed a coffee while waiting for our scheduled boat tour.

Many Glacier Hotel from Swiftcurrent Lake

The Many Glacier boat tour was a “two-parter.” The tour began on the shores of beautiful Swiftcurrent Lake. We cruised across the lake, docked, disembarked and then walked 0.2 mile (over a steep hill) to the shores of Lake Josephine. We then boarded another small boat and cruised to the head of Lake Josephine. We disembarked there to do a self-guided hike to Grinnell Lake. This was a beautiful trail that led us through wooded areas, over streams, along narrow hillsides and over a swinging bridge before we arrived on the shoreline. Grinnell Lake had beautiful turquoise waters and was surrounded on three sides by towering mountains and snowy glaciers. It was breathtaking! David and I sat and ate a picnic lunch on a fallen log and took in all the beauty around us. We were even lucky enough to spot a grizzly bear loping through snowfields on the opposite side of the lake before it disappeared into a valley on the far side of the lake. Bear sighting number two….check! We also saw a huge bull moose standing waist-deep in Lake Josephine on our return boat trip. Wildlife abounds!

selfie at Lake Josephine
Lake Josephine with Salamander Glacier and Grinnell Glacier in background

We returned to the Many Glacier Hotel later that afternoon after an amazing day. We located the bar and treated ourselves to a Huckleberry Margarita, a snack, and a short rest before the long ride back to our cabin. Another unforgettable day was in the books.

hiking to Grinnell Lake from Josephine Lake

Day #5 – We woke to another cloudy, drizzly day but decided not to let it stop our exploring. We headed back to West Glacier and spent the day at Apgar Village on the shores of Lake McDonald. We walked the shoreline, snapped a few iconic “colored rock” photos, hiked a wooded trail, shopped in the gift stores, and enjoyed coffee/lunch/huckleberry ice cream during the hours we spent there. It was a very relaxing day. On the way back to our cabin, we stopped at the Goat Lick overlook to see a herd of mountain goats that hang out on some rocky cliffs. We saw several of them!

the iconic “rock photo” at Lake McDonald
baby mountain goat

We then returned to the cabin, cleaned up, and drove back to West Glacier where we had dinner reservations. David and I wanted a nice meal on our final night and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Belton Chalet Restaurant. It was delicious and made for a great ending to a great trip. We returned our unused bear spray, packed up, and left for home the following morning.

We made memories that will last a lifetime. GNP, thanks for an unforgettable trip!

See you on the trails!

cloudy morning on Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald selfie
near the entrance to St. Mary’s
on the Trail of the Cedars
McDonald Creek from the GTTSR

West Glacier entry

Yosemite Valley

California

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In early April this year, my husband and I visited California and explored three national parks – Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Yosemite National Park. My previous blog detailed our trip to the first two parks and our journey along the Majestic Mountain Loop. Now we venture on to Yosemite.

After spending a busy couple of days exploring the previous two parks, we drove to Oakhurst, California and spent the night in this lovely little town located fourteen miles south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park. We felt like we needed some rest, a good meal (had some great Italian food!), and some time spent outside of the rental car. It turned out to be a smart choice for us.

We awoke that next morning, had a great breakfast, and began our short drive to the park. It was only a twenty minute drive until we crossed the border into the park but little did I know that Yosemite Valley and our hotel were at least 90 minutes ahead. The slow speed limit, road construction, winding roads, morning traffic, and park entry lines took a little longer than expected. Luckily, the drive was entertaining. We spotted mule deer by the roadside. I enjoyed seeing the snow that was still packed on the shaded sides of the road from the heavy winter snowfall. We passed through acres and acres of total devastation from last summer’s horrendous forest fires (this caused the traffic delays with crews removing trees and debris from the main road). Overall, it was an enjoyable and very scenic drive. About an hour into the park, following the curvy mountain roads – we entered Wawona Tunnel.

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All I can say here is WOW!

You exit the tunnel and you are at Tunnel View, the first of many astonishing sights. This view places you at one end of the valley looking straight out at Half Dome, El Capitan, granite walls, waterfalls, rivers, and vast evergreen forests. I understood immediately why this valley is referred to as “one of the most beautiful places on earth.” The Yosemite Valley is only seven miles long and two miles wide and this lookout point pretty much presents it to you in all its glory.  We parked in one of the large parking lots and joined dozens of others taking photos from this gorgeous, panoramic spot.

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After this photo-op stop, we  drove down into the valley and followed the circular one-way road that leads you past all of the major Yosemite landmarks. Sights that I had only seen in books, photos, and on screens appeared before me in real life: Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks, Arches Rock, and the Merced River. Everything was larger, higher, brighter, and more spectacular than I had ever imagined. I stood in the footsteps of John Muir and Ansel Adams and soaked it all in – another one of life’s “pinch me” moments.

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David and I were lucky enough to stay at the historic Majestic Yosemite Lodge (awesome place!) located within the park. The parking, rooms, restaurants, amenities, and location couldn’t have been any better. We could easily walk to several of the park sights or catch a shuttle at the hotel to venture farther. The free park shuttles run every 20-30 minutes and allow you to “hop on / hop off” at any stop within the valley – they were very convenient and saved us a lot of time.

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We hiked up to the rock-strewn base of the three-tiered Yosemite Falls. We hiked to the base of Bridalveil Falls and got drenched with the ice-cold spray. We walked the trails through Ahwahnee Meadow and stood still as a herd of deer fearlessly walked by us. We stood and gazed up at the gigantic El Capitan. We enjoyed the visitor’s center and  the film that covered the history of the park. We browsed through the Ansel Adam’s Gallery and saw photographs from this area that brought him fame and fortune. We walked along the Merced River and relaxed a bit on the beautiful, sandy Cathedral Beach. We sat out on the hotel lawn one evening after a fantastic dinner and watched the stars in the night sky. We took a two-hour guided bus tour of the valley and learned a lot about Yosemite’s history, geography, geology, wildlife, and sights we saw along the way that are not in the guide books. When all was said and done, we crammed as much into two days as we possibly could and enjoyed every second!

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There was no way we could see as much as we wanted to in such a short amount of time, but we gave it our best effort. Yosemite National Park actually covers 1200 square miles and over 95% is wilderness, with the valley being a very small part of the whole park. Luckily, April turned out to be a perfect month to visit. The temperatures ranged from the fifties at night to the seventies in the day – and we experienced warm days, blue skies, spring flowers, and fewer tourists than other months of the year.

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The hotel, the weather, and the sights of Yosemite Valley were all better than we could have ever anticipated. Everything seemed to work in our favor. My one and only wish that was not fulfilled was a bear sighting! Maybe next time…

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, CO

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Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to head to one of Mother Nature’s brightest stars – Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only is this one of my favorite places on earth, National Geographic agrees and named it “one of the best trip destinations in the world.”

The park entrances are located 75 miles west of Denver and on the edge of the scenic town of Estes Park, Colorado. The drive to Estes Park has some stunning views and once inside the park, the scenery is even more breathtakingly beautiful. This vast mountain wilderness is a natural masterpiece with views of jagged peaks, high mountain lakes, waterfalls, wooded forests, grassy tundras, and 130-million-year-old glaciers. The Continental Divide runs right through the center of the park and the headwaters of the Colorado River begin here. It is a very impressive place, to say the least.

Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 and covers 415 square miles. It is one of those places that can be enjoyed by all ages and activity levels. You may choose to see the entire park while riding in the comfort of your vehicle. Drive along the Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved highway in North America, to the Alpine Visitor Center (elevation 11,800 ft.) and you will feel like you are on top of the world! If you are a more active person, you can take advantage of all the hiking, rock climbing, camping, fishing and winter skiing that the park allows. There are almost 400 miles of maintained hiking trails throughout the park that go through the grassy valleys, aspen and pine forests, and around mountain lakes. Some of the more challenging trails run along rock slides, waterfalls and on up to several mountain peaks. How about a hike up to the 14,260 ft. summit of Long’s Peak? Yep, me neither!

I have had the opportunity to visit this park in spring, summer and fall and I must admit that each season was very unique in its own way. Early spring had many of the park roads closed due to snow and ice – but it was wonderful hiking around frozen lakes in the snow and watching locals suit up for cross county skiing and snowshoeing. It was truly a winter wonderland with pristine snow, bright blue skies and few people. Summer brought out the green grasses, new forest growth, and fields of beautiful wildflowers. The temperature was great and the streams and lakes were crystal clear and very cold from the icy snow melt. Fall was a burst of colors. The trees turned every shade of yellow, orange and red and stood out from all the green pines, spruces, and firs. Animals were more visible as they were “chowing down” and storing fat before the winter came. Each season brings something new and different to the park and I was lucky to witness the various stages.

I have many favorite memories from my visits here. I loved hiking at a couple of the lakes with my husband last April. We trudged through deep powdery snow and followed trails through the forest along the water’s edge. The weather was mild and the sky was bright blue. John Denver’s music played in my head, “the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake” could not have been more appropriate. We sat and drank it all in. On another visit the following year, we hiked over a field of granite boulders and enjoyed a picnic at the Alluvial Fan. The waterfall here was amazing! One of the best experiences I had at Rocky Mountain National Park was a late summer morning when my friend Britten Echols and I arrived early to spend the day there exploring. Our first stop was at Sprague Lake. We were immediately shocked at the sight of a nearby momma moose, a baby moose (hidden in the grass close to us) and a young male moose  – both calmly standing in the lake eating moss. It was a “pinch me” moment and certainly not something we were used to seeing everyday in Texas! We walked around this entire lake and had a great picnic lunch before heading off for an afternoon hike around Bear Lake. By the end of this magical day, we had encountered several chipmunks, mule deer, a huge rutting elk, and a whole herd of bighorn sheep. It was an unbelievable day.

If you enjoy wildlife, adventure and nature – add Rocky Mountain National Park to the top of your bucket list! This whole park encompasses a breathtaking collection of mountains (most with elevations over 12,000 ft.), high tundras, gorgeous vistas, dense forests, 7 glaciers, 2 waterfalls, 147 lakes, and a treasure trove of animals. You can camp, rent a cabin, book a hotel in nearby Estes Park, or drive from the Denver area for a day trip. The park is open 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Cost can range from $20-$70 per day, depending on the season, and I can promise the trip will be priceless!

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Me too, John….me too.

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