Montana is officially known as “The Treasure State,” a nickname chosen to reflect the state’s abundant natural resources, from copper, silver and gold to gemstones such as sapphires and garnets. If I had to call it the treasure state, it would absolutely be because I think it’s a GEM! I love Montana since the day I put a foot in Bozeman in 2019. I had images in my head of the Missouri river crossing amidst peaks bigger than I had ever seen, a miner’s paradise in the old days.
As one of the main entries to Yellowstone National Park, we had booked a motel in Cooke City and explored the south of the state (including Beartooth Highway) and Montana had just struck me as one of the most beautiful places on earth (I know I said that about Colorado and I maintain both are my favorites). So this time around, we crossed the state through I-94 and the less traveled MT-200, exploring areas that were gorgeous and grand. I couldn’t stop taking pictures through the window of the van.. The road took us through the cities of Glendive and Great Falls as well as National Forests such as Lewis and Clark and fields of mustard and sainfoin. How colourful and eye-pleasing was that 7-hour drive.
To rest from that long day of driving, we slept at a rest-area right off I-89. This is how you know you’re in Montana, even rest areas are scenic and offer incredible sunset views…
The following morning we finished our crossing of Montana with more amazing views, typical big skies and horses. From far, we could start to see the peaks that were announcing we were about to reach our final MT destination : the infamous and long-awaited-for GLACIER NATIONAL PARK.
We’ve seen a lot of National Parks throughout our time in the US and on that roadtrip in general. Glacier is by far my favourite. Right on the Canadian border, Glacier not only is home to extended amounts of wildlife (black bear, grizzlis, deer, elk, moose, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wolves and more) but it’s also home to some of the most impressive turquoise glacial lakes. The fact that those lakes are nested into subranges of the Rocky Mountain is almost a detail compared the the unicity of the rocks you can find under water. Maybe you’ve all seen the well-known picture of Lake McDonald with the pink/purple/blue/green rocks at the bottom of the lake. If you haven’t, I made my own that I’ll share a little further along the article.
We spent a couple days ++ in the park on the weekend of July 4th. The park was quite busy and because of COVID, the whole eastern part located on Blackfeet Native reservations had been closed, making the available activities even more restricted. For example, Lake Waterton was closed and so was half of the Road-to-the-sun (the main crossing road of the park) towards East Glacier and St Mary’s lake. Those closures did affect our planning but not our enjoyment! The first day, we visited Two Medicine and the lowest western side of the park that was partially opened. We saw a ton of mountains goats and their babies. A first for me! I absolutely loved seeing them live their life in the park. We got so surprised when we saw one mountain goat mother jump in the fast-running river and go onto the other side of the bank. But we got even more surprised when we saw her young babe follow her ! They know how to swim and they swim really well.
After exploring this area, we entered the park in the afternoon, on the westside and the place was packed… Lake McDonald and further could not be reached (the park closes the roads once they reach capacity). So we decided to wait our turn to go up to Bowman and Kintla Lakes. After a couple hours chilling on the Flathead river, a few cars came down from the parking lot and they let us drive up. I have to say their quotas are small, which makes for very little people going up every day but gives you the opportunity to explore those places without crowds.
When we arrived at Bowman Lake, my eyes fell out of their sockets… It was literally the most amazing lake I had ever witnessed. And to make sure I never forget this moment, a deer was right in front of the lake when we got there, chomping on leaves, making the whole scene a Disney movie. We took a dip in the cold water to celebrate the views!
We stayed a couple hours up there, just walking the trails and taking in the views. And then we set sail towards Kintla lake. Similar to Bowman lake, the road to Kintla was unpaved and very rough for Vanito the van. However, we made it and the same mesmerizing views were waiting for us.
After a great day in the park, we set up camp close to the Flathead river, maybe 5 minutes away from the entrance of the park and enjoyed a pink sunset and the noise of the neighbouring kids playing with small fireworks.
On our second day in Glacier NP, we got up at 4am to avoid the crowds. The road-to-the-sun was definitely open at that time, and we had the happy visit of a black bear and a pretty impressive moonset.
That morning we hiked Avalanche lake.. another slap in the face, really. In the span of 2 days, I had already seen landscapes I had only imagined in my wildest dreams. The hike to Avalanche lake is quite popular because it’s steep but really not too long (2 miles round trip). The rewarding and almost supernatural lake you’ll find up there is a sight for sore eyes. We stayed there for a good 45 minutes in complete silence before we headed back down for some well-deserved breakfast.
On the way back out of the park, we explored Lake McDonalds and its surroundings (waterfalls & rock formations are numerous there).
In the evening, we slept in the same spot as the previous night. On the following morning (July 6th), we booked a tandem kayak to go rafting down the Flathead river. I don’t have much picture of our adventures because rafting is quite violent and I only had my phone with me. Thank god, because we ended up soaked from head to toe, but we really appreciated the adventure. It was fun, scary and pretty all at the same time!
And as we DO like to eat, we finished our adventurous morning with a breakfast burrito at the only foodtruck in West Glacier before we took the road towards Flathead lake and our camp spot for the night : Lookout Pass near St Regis River. This would be our final night in Montana, right at the border of Idaho – in a secluded forest where we saw deer and fell asleep to the sound of the nearby creek.
Next article will quickly describe our time in Idaho and Washington before we crossed the border to Canada… lots to talk about next time!
Coco, Bobby, Nola and Vanito!
COPYRIGHT: All pictures belong to Fanny Cohen Sanchez, @fannychn on Instagram, Three Times Nine 2020.