Making the Most of a “Forced Vacation” p2: Avalanche Lake Hike, Montana

The mountains are calling and I must go.” It’s all over the region and really resonates with me. I love mountains. I tried to leave my mountains once. Went all the way to Australia and Taiwan and stuff, but ended up back at their feet the second they called to me. It’s like how some people are sea people (my parents for example: the first thing they did after retiring from serving on Coast Guard ships was buy a waterfront property, kayaks and two sailboats; and unlike most boat owners, they’re actually out on the water at every opportunity), me, I’m a mountain person.

I looked up the quote and it is attributed to John Muir, the Scottish-American nature writer/engineer/botanist/ecologist. If the name sounds familiar, it probably is. He was a key influence in preserving the US west coast’s most well known wilderness areas and national parks. There are a lot of places named after him, especially in California.

Back to Glacier National Park, for day 2, upon recommendation from the great front desk staff at our hotel, we committed to the Avalanche Trail Hike.

Given the limited parking around the trail, we opted to leave the car at the Visitor’s Center and take the free shuttle. We didn’t realize until much later that it was the first shuttle day of the season. Because of that, there were some kinks in the scheduling (it was a fairly long wait to get on the shuttle, then on the way back, there were about 30 of us waiting and about 6 empty shuttles going the wrong direction went by before one finally arrived to bring us back down) but the other visitors were excellent, many were very interesting to listen to, so it never felt like wasted time. Besides, we only wanted to do the one hike so there was no hurry.

The shuttle dropped us right in front of (ok, actually, right across the street from) this sign. As you can see, Trail of the Cedars is a prerequisite to reach the Avalanche Lake Trailhead.

If hiking’s not your thing but you still want to enjoy nature, this is a great trail for you. It’s flat (even wheelchair accessible!), it circles a beautiful creek and there are great information panels describing some of the surrounding trees and plants. It’s a busy trail, but didn’t feel crowded.

There were some kids (with an attentive adult) playing in the creek who informed us that the water is very cold. Also, lots of couples hanging out along the way, enjoying the romantic setting.

There are signs everywhere warning about wildlife and lots of visitors are carrying bear bells and bear spray, but this is such a popular trail this time of year and day that I’d be shocked to encounter anything other than deer and squirrels. We did see this lady (or possibly a fellow, the picture didn’t turn out well but from what I remember it was a mom with a little one playing nearby) searching the forest floor and totally ignoring us.

It doesn’t take long, 15 minutes perhaps, to reach this part.

I must have looked at this sign a dozen times before realizing that it shows a picture of the lake at the end of the trail.

It’s a fairly easy trail with a bit of uphill. We’re out of shape (a consequence of my newfound laziness and refusal to leave my house) so we huffed and puffed, yet along the way we came across countless moms sporting babycarriers (with actual babies or toddlers inside) who hadn’t broke a sweat. One was even carrying TWO babies. Consider me impressed.

This rapidly moving water confirms suspicions of an incline.

One of the things I love about mountain hikes are the lovely rivers. There’s this wildness about them that really speaks to me.

There’s some interesting flora.

This plant has big leaves. See Ed’s hand for comparison.

Most of the hike is through the woods, with cliffs and peaks hiding behind the trees.

I didn’t time our hike, but I think it took us about an hour to reach the end of the main trail.

See it looks just like the pictures on the sign!

I caught the lake from a few other angles as well.

Like pretty much everyone else hiking that trail in late morning (and those who had the misfortune of being in my photo), we picked a log to sit on and eat lunch. (We had talked about bringing our chairs, but there was no room. After the hike, we went and bought Ed his own day pack so that our chairs can improve our comfort in future hikes).

I want to take this moment to talk about the quality of visitors here. I’ve lived in and traveled to touristy places for big chunks of my life and I’ve never seen such exemplary park guests. Our local National Park attracts idiots who get up close and personal to bears (for every moron who makes the news, I would guess there are 100+ who go unreported) while leaving their cars in the middle of the road and their children running around in traffic (especially scary given that there is a lot of reckless driving and speeding happening on national park highways). The National Parks in Malaysia were full of disgusting jerks (foreigners by the way) who tossed their trash everywhere and encouraged their children to feed the monkeys. And for the record, the only thing that pisses me off more that people who litter, is people who litter in other people’s countries. I still can’t wrap my head around how many foreigners I cleaned up after while we were Asia. My blood boils just thinking about it.

Back to Glacier, most of the visitors were families, many of them quite large with 5+ children. I counted one family with 9. While we were waiting for the shuttle, there was a dad with 7 (mom was probably getting a few hours break). And these kids were calm, polite and helpful. Like, to an extent that I didn’t know was possible. No one littered, no one ran off trail, no one mutilated the trees. Everyone looked before crossing the road, everyone patiently waited in line for the shuttle. All around, I saw parents gently teaching their (many) kids about how to respectfully enjoy National Parks. I actually felt inadequate about my parenting skills and I don’t even have kids. Incredible. I don’t know where Glacier finds its visitors, but it’s more than welcome to send some of them our way.

After lunch, we wanted to see the end of the secondary trail (if you scroll back up to the trailhead sign, you can see that there is a darker dotted line and a lighter dotted line, I call the lighter part the secondary trail) so we hiked it to the end sign.

Honestly, not really worth it.

It’s pretty, but somewhat of a letdown after the breathtaking lake scenery.

Too celebrate our rare day of physical activity (gotta replace those burned calories!) and partake in a different sort of tourism, we stopped by Burger King to enjoy their featured not-available-in-(our part of)-Canada dish, the Mac n’Cheetos.

I don’t like Cheetos, but I approve. There actually is macaroni in the Cheetos-like sticks.

More to my style, I later enjoyed a creative cocktail at MacKenzie River Pizza (which is a chain, but still a Montana company with headquarters in Whitefish). IMHO, one of the best ways to end a good day.

I should have taken picture of the cocktail description because I don’t remember what is in this. The specials list in the background is facing the wrong way. It is whisky based with cherry wood smoke (that is actual smoke in the bottle) and huckleberries (huckleberries are a big deal in this part of Montana, everything is huckleberry flavoured).

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2 Responses to Making the Most of a “Forced Vacation” p2: Avalanche Lake Hike, Montana

  1. grimmtooth says:

    As a child of the Appalachians, I hear that calling of the mountains. The Rockies and Sierra Nevadas are quite adequate substitutes. Sadly, I am near none of them, so I must live vicariously via your blogging.

    I have never been in THAT part of the Rockies, though. I have to wonder how different they are from the Arizona Rockies. Those were quite pleasant, at least in the Flagstaff area, but I’ve come to understand that the Rockies have a lot of micro-climates along the main N/S axis.

    Regardless, mountains are mountains, and now I’m a little homesick – you done good at bring it all back to me 🙂

  2. Ophelie says:

    I haven’t spent much time in the Southern Rockies so I don’t know how different they are. Pictures from Colorado do look a lot like the mountains here. Supposedly they have more altitude which probably offsets their southern position climate-wise but don’t quote me on that! I’m not sure about the micro climates in the Northern Rockies. As much as I adore the mountains here, I know very little technical information about them. Weather changes very fast like most mountain climates (I once brought 4 different coats- a rain jacket, a windbreaker, a fleece and a ski jacket- for an overnight trip in early July and ended up using all 4!) and summer is delayed by 1-2 months compared to the lower altitudes, but that’s about extend of my knowledge.

    I think the landscape in Arizona isn’t technically the Rockies but rather independent mountain ranges. Wikipedia lists 211 ranges ( which blows my mind since Arizona is not very big!

    I’ve only been to Arizona twice, I think – once with my scout group as a teenager to the Grand Canyon and once as part of USA SW backpacking trip so I didn’t get much freedom to explore either time, but I am completely in love with the desert scenery and it’s bare yellow-orange rock formations. Would love to have a few months there to really appreciate it (would have to be over the winter, though, because Ed hates heat).

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