A classic shot of Glacier Park in all her glory!
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I have on a couple of occasions in the past ten years had some really memorable vacations. Back in 2006, I took my wife, Jan, and oldest grandson, Colin, to Yellowstone Park and it was a monumental trip we will never forget. This year was similar in that we got to visit a National Park we had both dreamed of seeing some day. This is one of those times I refer to as "smelling the roses." This wasn't a fishing trip though we did take a day and my buddy, Randy Wiyninger, fly fished on a couple of famous rivers in the area. I will get to that a little later on.
We had attempted this vacation last year but, being scheduled in Sept, we ran out of good weather and part of the park was closed due to early snow. We took it to heart this year and planned on going up in July just to make sure we could get in. Good thing we did.......they were plowing snow on the "Going to the Sun" road from both ends just a couple of weeks before we got there. They had a huge winter with lots of snow and near record rains in May. It was literally just opening right before we got up there.
We decided to see some of the beautiful country on the way up and I detoured around Lake Pend Oreille and came into Montana slightly higher north than MapQuest suggested for the shortest route. It turned out to be a little longer but the scenery from the lake to Libby was gorgeous and worth the extra time. On the way to Libby, we stopped and hiked to Kootenai Falls and walked out on the swaying foot bridge over the river for a different perspective. It is a little like being on a rocking boat in high waves......you have to get your "sea legs."
We met our dear friends, Randy and Connie Wiyninger, at the DQ in Kalispell on the evening we arrived. I was really impressed with the scenery we had seen that day on our way into town. I was really excited to see the park and surrounding attractions a little later in the week.
Glacier National Park was opened around the turn of the last century. It is truly one of the most beautiful places in the United States! Our goal was to tour the the middle section of the park one day and see the bottom of the park on another. We traveled from west to east both days. We didn't have passports and will leave the upper section along the Canadian border for another trip. The area around Waterton sits right on the border. That will be a good reason for us to return someday.
The weather was turning a little cool as a front over us up in Canada was sending impulses through the northwestern part of Montana the days we had scheduled to see the park. We went from the 80's to the 50's in one day but it felt good to me. The first day we stopped at McDonald Lake near the western entrance and had a cup of coffee to warm up. As you can see in the photo, they use original old buses called "red jammers" to shuttle tourists around the park on a daily basis. The cost is around $100/day but you don't have any driving to do and get the commentary of all the park features. Randy and Connie had done it last year with his folks so we decided to wing it on our own for this excursion. You ascend from around 3,000 feet at the west entrance to up over 6,000 at the summit and then descend back down to around 4,000 feet on the east side.
We were fortunate to see a big horn sheep that just happened to come down to check us out while we pulled over to stretch our legs. He came right through a snowfield and down to the edge of the road to our delight. They are fairly common sights within the park. A little later we pulled over to a lot of commotion in a turn out. The crowd was observing what we hoped was a grizzly but actually turned out to be a big black bear along the shoreline of St. Mary Lake. Still, fun to see that kind of wildlife anywhere you go. We ended the first day trip at Many Glaciers over on the east side of the park before our return trip home that first night.
The next day we headed east along the southern border of the park toward Two Medicine and the lakes in that region. Along the way we stopped at an area of cliffs to view mountain sheep that inhabit the steep cliffs. They claim there are salty minerals only found in that area of cliffs that goats use as a giant saltlick. They were across a valley along the other side and resting along the top of the cliff and too far for our digital cameras to get decent shots. Some tourists were kind enough to share their high powered viewing scope to allow us to see them. The highlight of the trip for me was seeing the Lodge over at the East Glacier. It is framed on the interior with giant 40 foot Douglas Fir timbers that are 4 feet across and estimated at over 15 tons. The giant trees extend up into the upper third floor of the building. They used 60 of them to support the main framing of the building. The story of how it was built is really amazing. Some tribes of Indians camped out in the area during construction to see the massive buildings rise. All in all, it took 75 men a year and a half to complete the two buildings.
One of our other objectives was driving around Flathead Lake located about 20 miles south of Kalispell. At over 20 miles long, it has the special distinction of being the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. It is a gorgeous lake and we spent the good part of a day seeing the attractions and having lunch in Bigfork on the eastern shore. The Lake is known for its tremendous lake trout fishery and it produces some really big lakers exceeding 30 LB. It also holds a good population of big bull trout that run up the Flathead River the end of summer for the fall spawning migration. They are protected in the lake so are not targeted. Some specimens can get to over 25 Lb. Along the eastern shore, I was surprised at all the cherry orchards that line both sides of the road. They were late this year but were just ripening and were to be harvested the following week.
On our day of fishing, Randy and I headed back over to the Libby area to fish the Kootenai River where it dumps out of Koocanusa Lake. It produced a gerrard rainbow over 33 LB. that is the current State Rainbow Record from several years ago. The water was running about 1/3 higher than normal due to all the runoff this year so it was a little hard to fish. I pitched some spoons and plugs but mostly had fun watching my buddy do his thing with a fly rod. He did stick a couple of small rainbows from The Kootenai and also the Fisher River before we headed back to Kalispell. We drove up to see Koocanusa Lake for lunch at the marina. This 70 mile long lake holds gerrard rainbows into the teens and some big bulls along with a good population of kokanee. They hold a spring derby for big rainbows in May each year. This is a lake I would like to fish some day.
As usual, these trips always end too soon and it still amazes me how fast a week goes by. As I stated earlier, I hope to return someday to see the Canadian part of the park. Glacier Park is a beautiful area and well worth your time to explore its attractions......put it on you "bucket list."