A word to the wise: when planning a trip to GNP, wait until the Going to the Sun Road is officially open. When I decided to visit in June, I thought I was being smart. I waited until after May (still too cold), but didn’t wait until July (too many tourists) – I thought June was my Goldilocks of National Park vacation hacks.
This would have been true had I been able to access the Going to the Sun Road.
This road connects the west entrance to the east, and is said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the park. I knew there was a chance this road would still be closed for the winter, but what I did not know was that this road is the main way to access two of the three hikes I wanted to do within the park (unless I wanted to walk MILES, or somehow a bike appeared in my possession.)
I mentioned in my previous post I tend to have a Type A planning personality, and unless there is an obvious plan B I get easily overwhelmed with last minute planning. This isn’t always the case – when I am adventuring alone I have a much easier time readjusting, but when I am adventuring with others I struggle to make a last minute decision because I’m too caught up in how I can accommodate everyone else.
When trying to find a hike for our second day in the park (after discovering we could not easily access the ones I had originally chosen), I had a brief moment of defeat. Neither of us wanted to hike in a ton of snow (mostly me), and a lot of the trail reports still had snow at the higher elevations. I spent a long time sprawled on the floor with a map and my phone trying to find a decent trail report, but after the overwhelm from lack of options set it I was thankful I had someone else to take the reins.
What came from an evening of moderate stress was the most unexpected and amazing hike. Duncan, my darling companion, found a hike both of us were immediately sold on.
We chose Scenic Point, an 8 mile out and back trail on the east side of the park at the Two Medicine entrance. This entrance was a further drive, but did not require an entry ticket. We still planned to arrive early, but didn’t have to wake up at 0300 to get in. In fact, we didn’t wake up until around 0630 because the alarm was incorrectly set, but this turned out to be a blessing because we beat the rain (and got some much needed extra sleep.)
We arrived at the trail head around 0800 with only a few other cars in the lot. This area of the park doesn’t have many trails, and the main attraction is the lake offering ferries to other parts of the park. This meant we didn’t have to fight for a parking spot. It was surprisingly COLD when we started this hike, but once the blood started flowing I was happy for an overcast day.
I don’t quite know how to describe the wonder of this trail. There was a bit of everything from forests with large trees wrapping around the path – to open, rugged terrain with endless views of the surrounding mountains. The higher we got the more the landscape changed. I absolutely love hikes with constantly changing scenery.
About 1/3 of the way up the trail, we encountered some big horn sheep.
We stopped and waited for them to pass (partly because I didn’t want to disrupt them, and partly because I wasn’t sure if they were aggressive or not), but eventually made a break for it. Spoiler: they were unfazed by us. Shortly after our encounter with the sheep, we reached a view point of Two Medicine Lake. The views the entire way up were amazing, but this was the first real show stopper on the trail.
Don’t ask me how many photos I took of this lake…(20, I took 20 nearly identical photos.)
I could have stared at this view for hours. After about 3.3 miles we came to a spot we thought was the end of the trail, but it was hard to tell because a thick fog had rolled in that completely engulfed our surrounding views. It was cold, starting to rain, and we were both extremely hungry. We decided to stop and eat, and while we were enjoying our food the fog started to lift, the rain stopped, and the 360 degree views were indescribable.
We saw what we assumed to be the end of the trail about another 0.7 miles, strapped our packs onto our backs, and mushed on. We encountered a very small amount of remaining snow hanging on for dear life from the winter season, but otherwise the trail was completely snow free. The terrain changed once again closer to the scenic point (now I see where they chose the name) and I suddenly felt like I was in the Italian Alps.
The trail leveled out the final stretch as we walked on a very wide ridgeline just over 7000′. This was the first time I had hiked at this elevation in a long time, and out of no where a wave of sillies hit me like a flapping fish tail. It didn’t last long, but I couldn’t stop laughing and the feeling was fleetingly comparable to that moment when exhaustion kicks in yet somehow delivers a wave of hyperactivity.
This trail continues all the way to the town of East Glacier Park onto the Mt. Henry Trail, but our hike ended at the tip top of Scenic Point. The view at the point provided a different angle of Two Medicine Lake (on the left) and Lower Two Medicine Lake (on the right) as well as stunning views of the entire Two Medicine Valley.
After soaking up the views for about 20 minutes we made our way back towards the car. By this time more hikers had begun their trek, and I was thankful to have made it to our summit in time to experience the scenery without anyone else around. The hike down was mostly uneventful, the sun started to come out in waves providing different lighting on the same peaks.
We had a run in with another sheep, but this time we were sheep professionals and traversed around him a bit.
Our hike finished shortly after 1330, and on our way out of the park we decided to make a pit stop at Running Eagle Falls. This location was a night and day difference with regard to how many people we saw. This is a half mile trail that leads to a waterfall, and is easily accessible by most. Hence why we saw so many other people. This one was a take it or leave it view for me, but I’m glad we stopped to see it.
And just like that, our very quick trip to GNP had come to an end. Scenic Point really sealed the deal for me with this trip, which is funny because this was not a hike I had even considered before we arrived. It’s moments like these that continue to remind me to be more flexible. I chalked this visit up to be more of a learning experience, and now I know what to do differently for my next visit.
Montana blew my mind, and I now have a desire to spend some of my life living there. Whether it be for 6 months or 6 years, there is something captivating about this beautiful state. Next up: adventures in the Sawtooth Wilderness, a place that also blew my mind. I miss Europe like crazy, but exploring my home country sure is fun too.
Q: What’s your favorite National Park? I have now been to nine (United States) National Parks, and Yellowstone will forever hold my heart.