Three Days in (East) Glacier National Park

Alternate titles I was considering: What to Do in Glacier When the Going-to-the-Sun Road is Closed, What to Do When You Don’t Have a Vehicle Reservation, Glacier Hikes That are Actually Doable, etc. This is simply not an easy national park to visit. You have a very small window in the summer when everything is open, and even that’s a gamble with flooding and forest fires possible at the season bookends. Plus, the required vehicle reservations for the main road fill up super fast.

For us, we were able to get a reservation for June 26th, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road still wasn’t fully open. We knew that might be the case, though, which is why we chose to stay on the east side of the park where there are more entry points. In the east, you have the Two Medicine area, Many Glacier, and St. Mary that’s only partway into the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The other issue with trying to visit Glacier is that this is not a park fit for the casual hiker. Most of the iconic hikes are at least six miles and range from moderate to strenuous. I was traveling with my elderly parents and have a bad knee myself, so we needed to keep it as light as possible. We basically tried to do everything on the Enjoy Your Parks website’s list of best easy hikes, notwithstanding the hikes that were closed. Here’s how it went down:

Day 1: Two Medicine

The Two Medicine area was a good starting point for our trip. It had some of the shorter and easier hikes, and the scenery, while pretty, was not nearly as impressive as the next two days. Our first stop was Trick Falls, also known as Running Eagle Falls:

The Trick Falls waterfall

Afterwards, we hit the South Shore Trail towards Astor Falls. The walk to the falls is very nice, especially as you get into the valley and can see the mountains surrounding you. From the falls, you can continue up to the Astor Park Viewpoint, though be warned that this additional stretch is much steeper. The view isn’t bad, though:

Looking down at Two Medicine from the Astor Park Viewpoint

Unfortunately, many of the trees in Glacier are dead or dying, so viewpoints like this are not going to look as beautiful as pictures you’ve seen before. Alas, it’s just one more way the park is being affected by climate change.

Day 2: Many Glacier

Now this is more what I had in mind. The Many Glacier area was easily our favorite part of the trip and could have been the national park on its own. There are so many great hikes here, but of course we needed to keep it simple. Thus, we chose the Grinnell Lake hike. It’s still seven miles roundtrip, but it’s mostly flat and absolutely beautiful the entire way:

Mountain views on the way to Grinnell Lake

On the hike to Grinnell Lake, you pass by two other lakes: Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. You can walk along the northern or southern shore of each, and can switch sides going back, but we found that the most scenic route was the south side of Swiftcurrent mixed with the north side of Josephine.

To end the day, we did the almost four-mile roundtrip hike to the Red Rock Falls:

The Red Rock waterfalls

It was pretty tough to follow up a seven-mile hike with another four miles, despite the Red Rock Falls trail being just as easy. If you know you’ll have the stamina to do both, I think it would be better to start the day with Red Rock Falls and end with Grinnell Lake. Moose are supposedly very active near Red Rock Falls in the morning.

Day 3: St. Mary

For our final day in Glacier, we drove as far into the Going-to-the-Sun Road as we could. As of June 26th, the stopping point was the Jackson Glacier Overlook. There is still a lot to see on this eastern side of the road, though. The hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls, for instance, was well worth the effort:

There are also some great quick-stop overlooks on the road to take in the lake and surrounding mountains, such as the Sun Point Nature Trail:

Viewing St. Mary Lake from Sun Point

Overall, this was a fun trip and probably puts Glacier in my Top 5 favorite national parks. It just saddens me to know the park is changing for the worse, and the glaciers and even the trees might all be gone soon.

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