I tend to have a Type A personality when it comes to traveling. That’s not to say I haven’t taken handfuls of trips where I have shown up in a new city, planning the day as I go, but for the most part I like to choose what I want to see and where I want to go before I embark on a new adventure. I think it’s important to have a balance between both Type A and Type B, and I do my best to be more relaxed when things don’t go according to plan.
With that said, you can imagine the spike of cortisol I felt when I discovered just days prior to my well planned trip to Glacier National Park, that a new entry system had been put into effect starting this summer. In order to enter the West Gate between regular park hours (0600-1700) I would need a special entry ticket. These tickets are available online one day at a time, 60 days prior to the week of entry, with 25% of tickets available every day for that succeeding week.
Needless to say, I did not have a ticket.
The odds of getting one of the elusive online tickets is much like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket in a chocolate bar – nearly impossible. My copilot and I tried for days to get a pass for the week, failing each time. Thankfully there was another option. Anyone can enter the park before 0600 or after 1700, but having a ticket would have eliminated some of the stress of waking up at 0300.
My days of being a barista came in handy when my alarm went off before the birds began to sing.
We decided to stay in an Airbnb in Kalispell, Montana, putting us about 45-60 minutes away from the West Glacier entrance. Our first day in the park we planned to arrive at the gate by 0400 to ensure we could get in. Despite the fact I knew exactly what the ranger stations looked like after hours, as I had driven in and out of Yellowstone many times during these hours, I was nervous something would go wrong and we would not be allowed in.
Arriving at the gate with no other cars in sight and driving through the unoccupied ranger booth oddly felt like I was committing a crime (I wasn’t, this is totally legal.) I felt like an outlaw entering into foreign, inaccessible territory. I also felt relief, because the hard part was done. We made it inside, and we had no plans to leave until we were satisfied with our hiking endeavors for the day.
Arriving before the sun came up turned out to be the best decision we could have made. By the time we got to the parking area for our first hike, the lot had filled up. One of the trails on my list was Avalanche Lake, a very popular and easy 5 mile out and back hike to a beautiful engulfed mountain lake. The hike up was quiet, and per usual the hike back we saw the rest of the world had come to life.
If there is anything I love about early hikes, it’s beating the crowds (and the heat.)
We made it to the lake by 0530, and we were the only ones there for at least ten minutes. We sat, stared, and savored for about 30 minutes before heading back to the car. I don’t have anything crazy to report about this hike, it was beautiful and is a worthy hike, but it wasn’t anything that knocked my socks off.
With so much day left after this hike, we decided to do another one. Our options were limited because the main road within the park was still closed from the winter season, so we chose one I hadn’t heard of. Here’s an example of how I can be a cool kid, sprinkling my Type B personality all over the place. Hike number two was significantly more difficult, partly because we woke up at 3 am, partly because we had already hiked 5 miles, partly because by the time we started it was already VERY hot outside, and partly because the elevation gain was 1860′.
Apgar Lookout is a 7 mile out and back trail, starting in thick tree brush and opening into an exposed trail with expansive views. I loved this trail, and surprisingly felt great the entire way up. Slow and steady wins the race, especially when the sun gives no mercy to us cloud loving Washingtonians.
This trail was much less traveled, and we didn’t see anyone until we got closer to the top. The most memorable being a mom and her son literally running up the mountain. Running…up. We saw more people when we were coming back down, but far less than the previous hike. This one is a harder trail, meaning less people are inclined to hike it. What sold me on this trail was the lookout at the top. I am a sucker for a good lookout hike.
After reaching the top we sat on the lookout and savored the view with some squirrel friends.
By the time we got back to the car we had clocked over 12 miles for the day, and I was very pleased with our first of two days in the park. We drove as much as we could for a little bit longer before deciding to call it a day around 1400. It was too hot to do much more outside. We managed to see one bear for the day, immediately after we drove into the park around 0400. No bears spotted on the trails though.
I am incredibly thankful my partner in crime was up for two hikes in one day. We didn’t have a lot of time to visit Glacier, and with the 0300 wake up in order to get in I knew we would only get one more day after this one. The extra exploration made me very, very happy.
We spent the next day resting and reevaluating what our second day would look like. Thankfully most of the other entrances did not require an entrance ticket, but they were significantly further away from our Airbnb. Nothing worth having comes easy, right?
Q: Are you a planner, or a go with the flow-er. I do like a plan, but there is certainly beauty in readjusting plans to accommodate for ideas I might not have considered.