I’m not sure that we can wax poetic enough about Montana. It’s a special place, one of those states that has a mythical aura to it. It’s the West, but it’s also the North- and as such has a rugged, outdoorsy appeal that smacks of pine trees, horses and rolling mountains.
In some ways we can thank Montana (and Glacier National Park) for this trip. Carl hatched this harebrained scheme on his way home from a backpacking trip in Glacier two summers ago. When talking to a photographer last year, he listed Glacier as his number one place that he tells people to visit- for one, because of its epic beauty- but also because its namesake glaciers are rapidly disappearing due to climate change, to the tune of ‘might-be-gone-in-30-years’. As disheartening as that news is, it is a forceful impetus to get out and see this majestic place. Glacier is on the list of many an outdoor lover. Visiting it feels like a rite of passage.
We had a tough time researching backpacking itineraries. If planning ahead, you must apply months in advance for a limited number of campsites with a non-refundable fee and no guarantees. We decided to wing it and bank on walk-up permits, since many areas that are considered closed in early July can be open by grace of good weather. This turned out to be a great option for us. We spent a day in the park doing smaller hikes, and went into the permit office at 7 AM the next morning in hopes of getting a decent itinerary. Despite some computer malfunctions and minor chaos, we got our first choices (yay hooray!) and headed out on our mini backpacking trip.
Our trip into the backcountry was pretty short- just 3 days, 2 nights. July is an ideal time to visit the park, because the wildflowers are in full force. Our route was pretty idyllic- it had very little topographical change, endless expanses of fields and mountains, waterfalls, bridges and so, SO many wildflowers!
We came away obsessed with Beargrass. This has to be one of the weirdest and most variable wildflowers- the little white petal clusters create all kinds of weird shapes. Case in point, the whimsical wizard hat and perfect set of boobs pictured below.
Our first campground (Elizabeth Lake Foot) was heavily forested and nestled alongside the gorgeous Elizabeth Lake. After hiking the ten miles in, we collapsed at the fire grate and boiled water for dinner. We soon met the other campers since the campgrounds have communal eating spaces. We were surprised to see a man running down the path near sunset- with plans to continue onto Elizabeth Lake Foot (3 more miles ahead). We shared some filtered water with him and learned that he was also a traveler- but with some pretty ambitious ideas (he was planning to hike out 20 miles the next day and immediately drive 15 hours to Las Vegas.) Truth be told he had a kind of manic energy and we totally believed him. We bid him adieu and were like “OMG GOOD LUCK WITH THAT INSANE PLAN, SIR!!”
Our campground for the second night was located back toward our entry point. Another couple staying there had a BABY with them. A baby! In grizzly bear country! They were techies from Seattle and seemed resolute to continue on their quest, baby or no. We shouted a few extra “hey bears!” for good measure (and to protect the babe.) Several other campers were locals from Kalispell, MT. How glorious it would be to live close enough to the park that you could do quick trips!
*Disclaimer- we know that Missoula is supposed to be cool! Somehow, we made it through the town of Missoula with only a visit to Domino’s, a laundromat, and a Walmart Parking lot. Err, oops. We’ll just go back someday, right?! We really missed out on that one.
On our way down to Wyoming we made one last stop in Bozeman for the afternoon, which turned out to be an adorable college town. We ate brunch at the Nova Cafe and somehow managed to find a flea market/craft fair, complete with earthy ceramics, vintage goods and a very sweet band called Yurt. It was all housed in an old-school with converted art studios (much like the buildings in the Art District in Northeast Minneapolis!)
Leaving Montana was a little bittersweet, but hardly- the mother of all National Parks lay ahead in Wyoming!