Photo of the Month: Gold in the Smokies

Photo of the Month: Gold in the Smokies

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Glacier Day One: Lessons Learned, Going to the Sun Road, and Howe Lake Trail


After long days of driving, we finally were ready to explore Glacier National Park. However, we had some lessons still to learn before we could experience everything that Glacier has to offer. We got up reasonably early on our first morning in Glacier. We had stayed at Fish Creek Campground and had a very restful night of sleeping among the pines. It is always tricky reserving a campsite sight unseen, but this was a nice campground and we would definitely stay there again. Since we had one more night at Fish Creek, we were able to get up, enjoy breakfast, and hit the road without worrying about taking down our camping gear. 

Of course, the first thing we wanted to experience was the Going to the Sun Road. There are very few roads in the United States that can rival this one for sheer beauty and scenic views. However, we would soon start running into trouble. Our plan was to hike some every day. However, as we began up the Going to the Sun Road, each trailhead was jam packed full of people. Cars were continuously circling like vultures, waiting for a parking space. After a couple of laps at the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot, we quickly decided to keep going on the main road and look for other options. Each parking area in turn had a similar problem, at least it did if it was anywhere close to a trailhead. With a list full of hikes we wanted to try, we realized that we would have to be a lot more proactive in starting hikes early. 

Going into this trip, I had several good friends that advised me about conditions and hikes in Glacier. There were several common threads such as get a very early start to obtain parking and spend a lot of time at Many Glacier. With the east side of the Park shutdown due to COVID-19, that part of our itinerary was out so we had to start making adjustments. On this first day, with parking at a premium and not wanting to spend the whole day driving in search of parking, we vowed to not get caught searching for parking again. Instead of stressing about missing the hikes we wanted to do that first day, we decided to try something different.


Before going elsewhere, we did find a few pullouts with room for us to park and enjoyed taking our first daytime pictures of Glacier National Park. The rugged beauty was awe inspiring and we couldn't wait to trek through these beautiful mountains, but first things first. It was time to explore. 

A small gravel road took off behind our campground. The Inside North Fork Road actually didn't connect all the way through to the Pole Bridge Entrance. While maps show this as a possibility, current park maps showed part of the road closed. I'm not sure if this is an ongoing thing or if it will be reopened soon. Based on the road we drove, I'm guessing part of the road is washed out or otherwise impassable. 

We started down the dusty gravel road hoping to find wildlife or something else to enjoy. By the time we reached the end, we had seen a few birds, but nothing more. The bright sunny weather probably had the animals moving more nocturnally. We still had a lot of the day to spare and decided to take a hike we hadn't planned on doing. It turned out to be a great decision. 

The Howe Lake Trail begins from a small parking area on the Inside North Fork Road a few miles north of Fish Creek Campground. The hike to the lake is just a couple of miles which made for a good warmup for what we hoped would be a big week of hiking. Little did we know how much hiking we would actually accomplish!


Wildfire affected forest near Howe Lake in Glacier National Park


The hike to Howe Lake is through areas that have been affected by wildfire. This lack of an overhead canopy can make this a hot hike since it isn't as high of elevation as other portions of Glacier. However, the tradeoff happens to make this a worthwhile hike. The wildflowers here are a riot of color, at least they were when we enjoyed this hike in late July. Plenty of sun means plenty of wildflowers. While not the same wildflowers we would later enjoy at higher elevations with more moisture around, this was a very worthwhile hike.


Indian paintbrush along the Howe Lake trail in Glacier National Park

Wildflowers in Glacier along the Howe Lake trail


Howe Lake is really two lakes connected by a swampy channel. It looks like perfect moose habitat and we were really hoping to see one. It was not meant to be, but we did enjoy seeing a trumpeter swan and some ducks afar off. The wildflowers were beautiful on the ridges surrounding the lake while lily pads were producing a few beautiful blossoms on the lake itself. 


Scenic reflections at Howe Lake in Glacier National Park

Lilypads and reflections on Howe Lake


Arguably the best thing about the Howe Lake trail was the solitude. On most of our future hikes in Glacier National Park, we would encounter an endless stream of other hikers and tourists. However, on this trail, we only encountered a couple of other groups of hikers. A word of caution should be mentioned here. Because this is a less travelled trail and you are in grizzly country, I would suggest a bit more care should be taken than usual. While grizzly precautions should be taken on all hikes in Glacier, the busier trails almost guarantee you won't be the first to surprise a bear. On this trail, it is a distinct possibility so plan accordingly. Carry your bear spray, be very familiar with how to use it, and most of all, make plenty of noise.

We found just enough mosquitos on this hike to make us glad that we weren't planning on spending the night. Little did we know how much worse the bugs would be on some of our other hikes. The mosquitos soon encouraged us to leave these tranquil lakes and we were quickly back at the car with a little over four miles of hiking accomplished on our first day in Glacier National Park.

One last look at Howe Lake

 

That evening, after supper, we decided to head out the Camas Road to look for wildlife. We didn't accomplish our main goal, but the evening light on the mountains of Glacier was incredible. The moon setting over skeleton trees was eerily beautiful as well. We stayed busy with our cameras for a bit, but soon decided that we better get to bed. The next day was going to be a busy one as we had to move camp and also wanted to accomplish some hiking. That meant a very early start...

Sunset in Glacier National Park near Howe Lake



4 comments:

  1. David
    Absolute gorgeous images, wishing you guys a Merry Christmas11

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    1. Thank you my friend and Merry Christmas to you as well!

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