A lovely wedding in Bozeman, Montana. The obligation of driving the newlywed’s car back to Boston on a short timeline. A shit ton of time with your significant other (read about the 10 Commandments of traveling with your partner). What do you do with your time in order to make the roadtrip worthwhile (besides stop at the giant buffalo to stare at its anatomically correct balls?) You, of course, make an unnecessarily long detour through Glacier National Park.
Glaciers, not so much
“Looking at them from a viewpoint, it’s difficult to tell which patch of ice constitutes a glacier, if any…”
Glacier National Park was established in 1910, 1,583 square miles of brilliant wilderness straddling the Continental Divide as well as bits of Canada. It ain’t the easiest park to reach, being about 300 miles from our time in Bozeman or a much more convenient— albeit pricey— plane or Amtrak ride.
The park gets its name from the once 150 glaciers that existed in the park, dating back 7,000 years. However, Glacier National Park will lose its title soon enough. The 37 remaining glaciers— surprise, surprise— are melting at a depressing rate and will most likely be gone by 2030. Looking at them from a viewpoint, it’s difficult to tell which patch of ice constitutes a glacier, if any. Tragic.
Regardless, the park still shocks and awes with its jagged peaks, jaw-dropping cliffs, and occasional bear. Visitors with time on their hands can hike for days (check out this list of hikes by Local Adventurer). To glaciers. And crystal clear lakes. To their own little havens where no one can hear you scream.
But we ain’t got time for that.
With our timeline and summer spending, a day trip was all we could afford. No camping. No 10-mile hike to famous Grinnell Glacier. Just a drive along the renowned Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile drive of dreams, taking passengers up 6,646 feet. That, and a few mile hikes to take in more of Merica’s beauty.
A 1-day itinerary
“They came out of the woodwork… insectual tourists armed with the greatest deterrent to Glacier National Park: their cars…”
$30 later, we set off within Glacier National Park. At 8 a.m., few cars were mingling around the St. Mary entrance so we immediately decided to tackle Sun Point. It is here that you are offered a spectacular panorama of Saint Mary Lake and surrounding mountains. From there, you can hike on a few miles to one of the most popular points: St. Mary Falls. We were content finding a spot closer for this second mini hike, and for a brief time, we enjoyed the solitude. And the fragments of trees destroyed by forest fires. And the cool morning breeze.
It was enroute back to our car that the landscape changed. And by landscape, I mean tourist ratio. They came out of the woodwork. Perhaps from the other side of the park. Or from their riverside hammocks. Or from below ground… insectual tourists armed with the greatest deterrent to Glacier National Park: their cars. Despite there being a free hop on, hop off shuttle, most visitors opt for their own transportation (guilty as charged). Luckily, we seemed to be going in the wrong direction, towards East Glacier Park Village. But the traffic jams— with or without bears on hand— were plentiful.
And no wonder! In 2016, the park received a record high in visitation— close to 3 million (up from 2 million last year). It also had the highest number of overnighters, in both camp and RV categories. For being a park in the middle of a distant Indian reservation, that’s a shit ton of people.
So at this point, we sort of gave up. It was our own fault really— Glacier National Park isn’t meant to be done in one day. But that’s all we had, and we had no interest in sharing it with crowds of fat Americans in flip-flops. So we finished the Going-to-the-Sun road circuit, stopped once or twice for a picture, and hightailed it to East Glacier Park Village.
It’s all about the berry
“I’ve noticed that western Montana has a serious hard-on for huckleberries…”
And that’s where we discovered Glacier National Park’s key attraction: a legendary slice of huckleberry pie, topped with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream… melting at the same rate as the park’s glaciers. It can be found at Two Medicine Grill, a no-frills diner tucked in next to a souvenir shop. Their pie is all-butter-double-crusted madness, brought to you by a lady who happens to be legendary in these parts.
This isn’t the first time I’ve overdosed on huckleberries. Since Bozeman, I’ve noticed— through menus, supermarkets, and roadside attractions— that western Montana has a serious hard-on for huckleberries. And fair enough. The tart fruit only grows at a certain altitude, and in a state lacking in culinary treasure otherwise, huckleberries gives it a leg up. Plus, who doesn’t love it when there’s themed food? I’m a sucker and managed to eat the following in the time we were in Montana: huckleberry coffee, cider, smoothie, beer, mojito, cream soda, and bear claw. I also slathered huckleberry all over my body in a private corner of a shop. I’ve spent the day getting high on my arm.
Hell, you can even pick your own in Glacier National Park. One quart is permitted. Just don’t get attacked by a bear whilst picking.