I’ve been wanting to get up to Glacier National Park for a while now so when work took me to the northwest I decided that was close enough to drive over. I read a few blogs (’cause I love reading blogs) to help me plan. Since we were leaving in February, I wanted to make sure that we could 1) get there 2) the park would be open and 3) we’d have a good time.
The thing I have to remember about blogs is, it is the experience of ONE person/family and may or may not end up being like your experience. First off, we are poor. That means we generally don’t stay at fancy resorts (okay we have stayed at Turtle Bay on the north shore on Oahu, the Trump in Waikiki, and Sirenis near Akumal, Mexico) and we’re always looking for good value for our travel dollar. That being said, we bought all of our snow gear from thrift stores along our drive (shoutout to the Goodwill in Bend, OR) and stayed at a Econo Lodge in Kalispell (about 36 miles from the park entrance) instead of staying a bit closer. We had a fabulous time.
The drive over from Spokane was pretty easy. On the way out, we were even able to take photos at Riverftont Park. I was surprised to see a HUGE Red Ryder Flier wagon! I had to get a photo. Little did I know, the whole park is full of sculptures. We didn’t have time to visit them all but I’d like to.
The drive is mostly highway with a bit at end on a two-lane road that goes by farm land. I was so paranoid that we were gonna be in some small podunk town that I pulled over at a grocery store I saw on the road to get groceries “just in case”. Lol Kalispell is amazing!
It’s a decent sized town of about 80,000 with a Target, an Applebee’s, lots of other big box stores, tons of fast food, and lots of restaurants including Chinese, Mexican, and Thai. Color me surprised. Lol
The older gentleman that checked us in was super helpful. He even had a map of Glacier National Park and highlighted a few hikes that might be good for kids since Going-to-the-Sun road is closed in winter. Yeppers, I said the main road that takes you around the park is closed in winter. Every winter. All winter.
We knew that before we chose to drive up but that just means we’ll have to return in spring or summer to get a different perspective on the park. Since we have a year pass, my guess is we’ll be back again and again. Anyhoo …
We woke up in the morning bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to drive through the snow to get to Glacier National Park. The wind was blowing snow across the road and though folks were working to keep the roads plowed, we drove through a few patches of ice. Mostly, we tried to stay in the lanes created by previous cars.
Upon reaching the left turn that would take us into the park, we were surprised to see a cool bridge with the name of the park on a sign. What a cool entrance way.
We drove down main street looking for the street that would take us 12 miles around Going-t-the-Sun road. It was desolate. We didn’t see any cars. We did see a person moving snow with a bobcat-looking machine though. We followed the main road and found out that Going-to-the-Sun road was open … with about a foot on snow covering it. We saw a sign for a detour and followed that instead. We found a little pull-out area close to McDonald Lake and across from some bathrooms … with a park ranger SUV parked out front. I don’t know if there was an actual ranger nearby but it made me feel safer to think that one was nearby.
We got the kids out of the car, pulled on their sweaters (they already had on their snow pants), hats, gloves, and coats. They really enjoyed running around and touching the snow. Our youngest enjoyed running around in circles and just being out there. My oldest really enjoyed climbing the snow packs. We brought him snowshoes but he wouldn’t put them on. Sometimes he was hip deep in the snow but he was happy as a lark.
We brought the sleds out but our oldest didn’t care and our youngest couldn’t get the hang of it. I took a few turns though. Hey, everyone loves snow play. Lol
After about 30 or 40 minutes we noticed the kid’s faces getting visibly cold so we caught them (I had to literally chase our oldest through snow pack and haul him out of the snow. Lol) took off the outer layers and headed to the gift shop. It may have been the only thing open in the park. It was staffed by two very nice ladies that told me about taking “The Swan” to drive down to Helena. I bought some cookies and Huckleberry gummi bears using my credit card, and went on about our way.
We also stopped at a really large gift shop off of the main road and purchased magnets and tried Huckleberry ice cream (some young men were really adamant that I try it. Lol). They took credit cards.
We headed off to The Swan because the drive was shorter than the highway by almost an hour. The drive is BEAUTIFUL! There was a huge, frozen lake that we drove next two almost the whole time (about 2 hours). We saw a few deer and a bird eating a carcass … anyway …
The drive was pretty easy but there were two parts that scared me to death. There was a LOT of snow on the ground and visibility was really low. There were some parts where I had to drive in the middle of the street because I was worried that I’d fall off of the road. Lol Thankfully, there weren’t many other cars out so I didn’t worry about wrecking. The worst that I figured would happen is I would fall off the road into a snow packed ravine (probably a foot lower than the road. Not very dramatic) and we’d end up calling AAA to pull us out. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and we arrived in Helena around 5pm (it took us exactly 5 hours from the west gate at Glacier National Park to entering the town of Helena) hungry and ready to get out of the car.
This time we chose a Comfort Suites across the street from a shopping plaza. The Econo Lodge wasn’t bad but the Comfort Suites (with a separate sitting area for the kids to run wild in … think Hyatt Place) was a bit more comfortable.
Today, we’re heading down to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. There is a 3 hour drive. Wish us easy-driving-in-snow luck!