Wyoming had treated us well for several days, and I was sad to move on, but Montana was next on the list. We drove to the top of Yellowstone on our way out and into the area called Mammoth, which we had not yet explored. It was a lot more remote than the other parts of the park… which is probably how we ended up seeing a grizzly on the side of the road! We pulled up behind 2 or 3 other cars that were stopped, figuring that there was some wildlife to see. As we inched forwards we were able to see the brown grizzly making his way through the brush on the side of the road. So awesome!!!! Bears are really cute from the protection of your car, and I was happy that we saw them in Yellowstone where they are pretty popular. We did a quick walk through the last visitor center in the area which is home to Fort Yellowstone before crossing the state line. One sign we saw on the way out noted that we were at the 45th latitude/half way point between the equator and the North Pole, right in the middle of the world.
We drove into Bozeman, Montana, home of Montana State University. A quick walk through the main parts of campus proved to be dead on a Sunday of the 4th of July weekend, but it was good to see the campus nonetheless. We then grabbed lunch at what ended up being one of our favorite spots on the trip, a little place called Naked Noodle. I bought myself some local coffee on the way out as I took the wheel towards Helena. We arrived to Montana’s state capitol on a dreary afternoon. The town seemed pretty gloomy and desolate to me, but MJ apparently liked it a lot and was able to check another capitol off the list. We took in views of the St. Helena Cathedral and Main Street as well before continuing the drive to our stopping point of the evening in Great Falls. We had a low key night in Great Falls; an average dinner and had to go grocery shopping for our next bout of camping. But we did notice that the streets were lined with little casinos in the midst of gas stations, fast food restaurants and other chain stores. We decided to stop in one just to see, and it was probably one of the most depressing places I’ve ever seen. I lost a dollar in a slot machine and we called it a night.
The next morning I drove us further north and into Canada, where we would be stopping at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. The drive was quiet and peaceful, with the huge sky overhead and flat lands on my sides with mountains along the edges. The road took us through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation before the signs began popping up pointing in the direction of Waterton and Glacier. I soon learned that the two national parks are basically one large one, only separated by the US/Canadian border; it is considered an international peace park between the two nations. A few miles before we reached the border we came across another grizzly on the road! This time, we were the only ones around to see him, and he took his time crossing the street and disappearing into the woods. Once entering the park, we stopped at a few overlooks that provided great views of the valley and lakes below, where we would be descending.
We first drove up upon the Prince of Wales Hotel, a stunning old mansion atop a hill overlooking the lakes. It seemed that each park had a hotel like this, historic and right in the midst of the park action, and I think that this one was my favorite. We took a few pictures and then moved onto our sightseeing for the day. We started on the Akamina Parkway, which is a scenic road no longer than 20 miles, with a turn around at the end. At the end is Cameron Lake (shoutout to Cam) where we decided to go kayaking! It was a little windy, and definitely not the hottest day we had over the trip, but MJ had really wanted to do a boating adventure and this seemed like the perfect chance to do it. We spent an hour out on the lake, enjoying the views from a new perspective on the water. After leaving Cameron Lake we drove back to the center of the park and turned down the Red Rock Parkway, which is a similar short scenic drive with a turnaround at the end. We had our picnic lunch at the end of the road, and decided to take the short trailhead to Blakiston Falls. It was a pretty, quick hike with a nice waterfall at the end. Upon returning to the parking lot area we found a spot among a creek and put our feet in the cold water for a little while, it was really relaxing. Tired from sightseeing, we returned to the Price of Wales Hotel and walked the trails along its beach before changing for dinner. Waterton Lakes has a super cute little downtown village consisting of two streets with small shops and restaurants. We scouted out our options before choosing a place with a patio overlooking the street and the edge of the lake beyond. After dinner we had some ice cream, skipped some rocks, played some cards (had deer run through our campsite) and called it a night. The night turned out to be really windy, so we struggled through that one hoping that Tiny had the strength to stay standing.
The next day we headed south back into the US and onto Glacier NP. We had reached out most northern point of the trip! It was only south and east after that. The drive wasn’t too long as we simply crossed the border and were basically in the park. We soon learned that Glacier really only has one road that crosses it horizontally, and we had plans to drive it the following day. So that left the present day with an opening to do a nice long hike. We drove into an area called Many Glacier, which had its own notable historic hotel. From there we found the trailhead for Grinnell Lake Trail, which would be our 8 mile challenge that day. It was a nice, flat hike around several lakes, over bridges and through wild flowers that came out at the lake with the glacier looming in the background. It was a cloudy day, but the views were still phenomenal. On the way back we took a quick detour to a view of Little Hidden Falls and enjoyed that for a few minutes as well. We stumbled upon two moose and quickly moved on from them and triumphantly returned to where we started a few hours later. The hike was tiring and the day was gloomy, so we didn’t do much that afternoon other than drive around, set up our campsite and relax. We had pizza and wings for dinner at a local Montana pub right outside of the park entrance and went to sleep pretty early. Side note– the one thing I had wanted to do while camping was stay up late enough/wake up to see the stars. Since we had such early mornings and long days it was really hard to do, especially when the campsite was under the cover of trees and required getting up and moving to an open area. But on this night in Glacier our campsite happened to be out in the open in prime star gazing range. Luckily, I miraculously woke up around 2am and was able to poke my head out of Tiny to get my view. Woooooooooooowwwwww. Words can’t do it justice and I won’t bore you, but I have definitely never seen such a view of a dark sky filled with thousands of bright stars. Mission accomplished.
The next day we were on track to conquer Going To The Sun Road, that main road that cuts through the center of the park. We had a beautiful, clear day and hit the ground running. Until construction on the road required us to sit line for about 30 minutes before moving forward. But eventually we were back at full speed and drove the winding road until we reached the popular Logan Pass Visitor Center. The views here were stunning; we were surrounded by towering snow capped mountains, alongside deep valleys and amidst the vast fields of flowers and wildlife. We hiked the 3 mile Hidden Lake Trail, which was uphill most of the first way. But the views were worth it, and we were able to see big horned sheep, goats and marmots along the way. We made it back to the crowded parking lot (luckily we had arrived early enough to beat the crowds) and watched two women battle over our spot on the way out. We simply drove the rest of the road with minimal stops; it was winding and steep and not ideal for abrupt pull overs, but it was definitely my favorite scenic drive of the trip.
We emerged from the park and back onto the interstate starving for an early lunch. A Perkins caught my eye and it was game over. I would’ve liked to think that we would always eat at super local places and try new stuff all the time, but when we got hungry there was no debate and Perkins it was. We then continued on to Missoula, our stopping point for the night. We walked the campus of the University of Montana, Go Griz!, and hiked the “M”, a 1.5 mile hike straight up a mountain to the white brick M that is built into the side of it. Dinner this night was fantastic. We went to a local brewery called Tamarack and ate and drank to our hearts’ content. We walked around the town a little bit, it was a really nice summer night, before heading back to our hotel.
Montana was so good to us! But Idaho was calling next…