Swiftcurrent Trail and the trip home–Glacier National Park

Alright ya’ll, this is my final Glacier post.  Hope your interest in them hasn’t waned.  It was an awesome trip and a great experience and we barely scratched the surface of the adventures available.  We’re already making a list of the new things we want to try on our next visit (that’s the problem when we go on vacation, we don’t cross places off our list, we just find more stuff we want to do!)  I’d encourage everyone to make it a priority to visit the park if you’ve never been there.  It’s incredibly beautiful, and no one knows how greatly it may be changed in the next few decades.

The Swiftcurrent Trailhead is found off the parking lot for the Swiftcurrent Lodge near Many Glacier, on the east side of the park north of St. Mary’s.  It’s an interesting trail and it varies in difficulty depending on how you choose to navigate it.  It traverses as far as the Granite Park Chalet, which is a 7 mile hike to the top of Swiftcurrent Pass.  There it meets up with the Highline Trail coming from Logan Pass to the south and The Loop trail coming from Going to the Sun Road to the East.  When shuttles are running you can include these trails in your hike as well.

This is a beautiful trail that starts as a relatively flat, easy Nature Trail but progresses into a strenuous hike on a narrow trail with sweeping dropoffs if you choose to go that far.  I wasn’t feeling well that day so we chose not to attempt the entire trail this time, choosing only to go as far as Red Rock Falls.  The section of the trail we hiked was well-maintained, smooth and not too overgrown; it’s also shaded in many parts, depending on the time of day.  This was actually my favorite trail of all the ones we did throughout the week, even though it was the least challenging.  Both Red Rock Lake and Red Rock Falls are stunning.  After about 1 1/2 miles down the trail you reach your first view of the lake.  It expands outward toward the west with Mt. Grinnell and its surrounding range as a backdrop.  Then you skirt the lake for about another half a mile and will reach an unmarked side trail breaking off to the left towards the lake/waterfall.  You can’t really see the waterfall at this point but you will hear it.  Follow the unmarked trail a short distance and you’ll arrive at the base of the falls!

Similar to other trails at this park, always be watchful for bear (can you guess if we saw any?)  We did have a close encounter with a bull moose!  They are frequent visitors to this area as there are several lakes and numerous streams and they like the willows growing nearby.  We were made aware of the moose further up the trail by other hikers so we had fair warning–a fellow hiker almost had a head on collision with the ungulate though as neither he nor the moose were paying close attention!  As we came over a rise we saw a small cluster of people and then spotted the full grown bull moose just a few steps off the trail.  He appeared completely oblivious to the attention he was drawing as he calmly munched on nearby scrub.  When he grew tired of the attention he sauntered down the trail and off into the woods.  Fortunately, he was mild mannered as several hikers inadvertently had closer encounters than would be recommended.   Moose are not predators but they are very large and can be very dangerous if they feel threatened (especially during the fall rut or if they’re protecting young).  As with any wild animals always admire them from afar and remember the general rule of thumb, if the animal is reacting to you, you’re too close.

On our return trip from Glacier we spent several days driving across the Montana plains on 2-lane state roads.  I strongly encourage people to engage in this type of excursion.  It can sometimes be a shortcut and it’s almost always a welcome scenic change from the drudgery of the highway.  Search for alternate routes to mix the journey up a bit so you aren’t crossing the same areas on the return trip as you traversed outbound.  Make the drive to get where you’re going part of the vacation.  This eases boredom but it also helps you to better appreciate the local culture and people in the areas you visit and you’ll be surprised what you might learn–just pay attention to your fuel gauge and the availability of gas when venturing onto backroads.  Also be aware, cell signal may be weak to nonexistent in many of these areas so be prepared to go old-school when searching for travel info.  You may need to resurrect long-forgotten methods of acquiring information: travel books, hard copies of maps and even phone books can be good resources in these areas.  We saw several missile sites leftover from the Cold War and learned about a sapphire mine from a Local (apparently these types of sapphires are only found in this area).  I also had no idea Central and Eastern Montana had so many mountains!  This was a pleasant surprise as I thought it was all rolling prairie.

The last few days we knocked other points off our Vacation Bucket List by enjoying Beartooth Pass and the Chief Joseph Highway; two connecting Scenic Byways in southern Montana and northern Wyoming .  Be warned, much of this area is tundra with few trees.  There’s little shelter so if a thunderstorm blows up (which one did while we were there–complete with small hail) exercise extreme caution as lightning strikes are an especially dangerous risk in these highly exposed areas.  I also highly recommend a visit to the town of Red Lodge.  It was absolutely adorable with it’s friendly, small town charm.  It caters to summer and winter outdoor sports and is located off of US 212 about an hour south of Billings at the base of the Rockies.  The area is perfectly situated to be used as a “base camp” for whatever adventures you are seeking.

Some final pics from our trip, thanks again to Mr. Trekker for these lovely shots!

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Our friend, the moose
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He was CLOSE to the trail
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Red Rock Lake
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Red Rock Falls
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Beartooth Pass
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Beartooth Pass

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