Flathead National Forest: Middle Fork Flathead River

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We spent Day 4 of our Montana trip with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company. In the morning, we had hiked to Avalanche Lake inside the park (read about that here.) In the afternoon, we regrouped at the Glacier guides headquarters in West Glacier where we met up with our guide Ryan for a scenic float trip on the Flathead.

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The Middle Fork Flathead River is a 92 mile river that forms the Southern boundary of Glacier National Park and the Northern boundary of Flathead National Forest. The Flathead is designated a National Wild and Scenic River.

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The waters are pure and a haven for native Bull and Cutthroat Trout. The colorful rocks found here and around Glacier National Park are called Argillite. They range in color from red to green, depending on the heat and pressure they were exposed to during formation.

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We shared a raft with another family from Los Angeles. We floated peacefully downstream, conversing with them and Ryan.

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We put in around West Glacier where the river was wide open. As we traveled downstream, canyon walls rose up dramatically around us.

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We landed about 5 miles south of where we’d started, by the Blankenship Bridge.

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Location: West Glacier, MT

Designation: National Forest, Wild and Scenic River

Date designated or established: 1976

Date of my visit: 6/25/2018

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Top 10 Posts of 2018

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! As 2018 draws to a close, I’d like to do a year-in-review post. It’s been a great inaugural year here on the blog, with 113 posts, over 5000 visitors and over 600 people following along on the journey. I am grateful for and humbled by your support.

Here are the top ten most popular posts from 2018 (you can click on each title to go to the original post):

10: Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Clingman’s Dome (Tennessee/North Carolina)DSC05739

9: Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)IMG_5657

8: Muir Woods National Monument (California)F-_2012_2012-08-11-San-Francisco_DSC02511

7: Crater Lake National Park – Garfield Peak (Oregon)Day7-IMG_6122

6: Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)DSCN0953

5: Flathead National Forest – Whitefish Mountain (Montana)IMG_1677

4: Acadia National Park – Loop Road Highlights (Maine)IMG_1355

3: Acadia National Park – Jordan Pond and the Bubbles (Maine)2007_0527(009)

2: Glacier National Park – Running Eagle Falls (Montana)IMG_1792

And the most popular post of 2018….Capitol Reef National Park – Cathedral Valley (Utah)IMG_8712

Happy New Year everyone and here’s to happy exploring ahead for 2019!

Glacier National Park: Trail of the Cedars & Avalanche Lake

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We spent Day 4 of our Montana trip with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company. In the morning, we met at the company’s West Glacier office and our guides Josh and Brianna made their introductions. We piled into two vans and headed into Glacier National Park through the Western entrance.

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We parked in the Avalanche parking lot and began our hike on Trail of the Cedars. Trail of the Cedars is a short, flat, accessible loop where you can stroll through huge old-growth cedar trees. The NPS, which normally has a ‘let it burn’ policy when it comes to wildfires has said that this is one of the few areas it would fight to save in the event of a fire due to the unique 400-600 year old trees found here.

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The boardwalk side of the loop had been damaged by Spring storms, so we took the wide dirt path on the other side.  Midway through the loop, we reached Avalanche Gorge, a pretty waterfall rushing through moss-covered rocks.

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From there, we picked up the trail to Avalanche Lake. Though this hike is about 5 miles roundtrip with 740 feet in elevation gain, it wasn’t too difficult for the group to keep up a good pace. The ascent isn’t steep. it is more of gradual climb over rolling hills through the forest.

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Once we got to the top, the trail opened out onto a beach with log benches where we rested a bit and took in the awesome sight of Avalanche Lake in its amphitheater.

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Sperry Glacier sits on a shelf above the lake and several waterfalls run down the side of the mountains from the glacier to the lake.

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Our guides then led us to a more secluded rocky beach where our group enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch before heading back down the trail.

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We were back at the Glacier Guides headquarters in plenty of time for our afternoon rafting adventure.

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/25/2018

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Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Falls

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We traveled to the Baring Falls dock on St. Mary Lake via the Glacier Park Boat Company and their vintage wooden boats. Once we disembarked, we had the option to visit nearby Baring Falls and then re-board to return to the Rising Sun dock. Instead, we chose to take the guided hike to St. Mary Falls with Ranger Melissa and return on a later boat.

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The trail to St. Mary Falls is about 1.6 miles from the dock with an elevation gain of 140 feet. Most of the climb is in the beginning as you make your way to a point above the water. At that point, we paused to discuss bear safety (Melissa had a bear run right through an earlier tour of hers, so sheer numbers don’t keep them away…you have to clap and speak loudly continuously as you hike.)

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The path then wound through a woodland area recovering from the Reynolds Creek Fire of 2015. Though that fire had man-made causes, wildfire is a regular occurrence in Glacier National Park and is nature’s way of restoring equilibrium. Melissa said this area was starting to look sick prior to the fire, with the trees choking out the growth on the forest floor.

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Melissa pointed out the prolific Beargrass, a grassy plant native to Montana with white flower clusters atop stalks. While there are some blooms every year, the park has reported mass bloomings only once every 5-10 years. They reminded me of something from the pages of Dr. Seuss.

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The falls were rushing…lots of glacial turquoise water rushing to the Saint Mary River and on into the lake. Scroll to the end for a video clip.

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We hiked back ahead of the group, wanting to see Baring Falls before boarding the boat. This is a less impressive fall, or maybe we were just becoming jaded from having seen so many spectacular waterfalls in the first day of our trip.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Lake

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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St. Mary Lake is on the Eastern side of Glacier National Park. Going to the Sun road runs along its North shore. At 10 miles long and 300 feet deep it is the second largest lake in the park.

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We boarded a ranger guided lake tour at the Rising Sun Dock, around the midpoint of the lake. I’d reserved it in advance with the Glacier Park Boat Company. The tour traveled from Rising Sun to the Baring Falls dock at the head of the lake in about 30 minutes, with Ranger Melissa narrating the whole way down.

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As we traveled towards the Baring Falls dock at the head of the lake, we passed by Wild Goose Island, which we’d previously seen from a different perspective up on Going to the Sun Road.

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As we approached the snow-covered peaks at the head of the lake, Melissa pointed out Sexton Glacier, visible on Mount Matahpi, just beyond Going to the Sun Mountain. Like most of the glaciers in the park, it is shrinking and has lost over 30% of its mass in the last 50 years.

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We learned that the glaciers are the reason for St. Mary’s unique turquoise color. The slow movement of the ice grinds up the rock into a fine dust called glacial flour. The runoff carries the glacier flour into the lake where the particles remain suspended in the water, reflecting back the light.

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Two Medicine and McDonald lakes are beautiful, but not the same vibrant hue as the East side lakes because there are no glaciers feeding into them. The NPS estimates that all the park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030 and then the Eastern lakes will lose their color.

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At the dock, we disembarked and took a guided hike with Ranger Melissa. On the way back we passed another small island called Rainbow Island.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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St Mary Lake on a 3D model of the park at the St. Mary Visitor Center

Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Road

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we began at the East entrance in St. Mary (scroll down to the end for the video clip) and took a Red Bus tour of the Eastern side. We toured the road in our rental car a few more times that week and saw something different each time.

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Going to the Sun Road is partially closed during the colder months and very difficult to plow due to the twists & turns, sheer cliffs and the fact that they get snow drifts of up to 80 feet in the higher elevations. The plow crews started work at the end of April this year and when we got on a plane bound for Kalispell at the end of June, the road still was not completely open. Late on the night of our arrival, the Park Service tweeted out the happy news that Going to the Sun was open for the summer season!

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When the road opened in the 1930s, it was an engineering marvel and was a three-year project that actually took 11 years to build. The design of the road changed over the course of the construction from multiple switchbacks carving up the mountain to Logan Pass to only one long switchback called The Loop, reducing the visual impact, but increasing the cost and time needed for the project.

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The road is named for the mountain it cuts through on the East side of the pass. Legend has it that a Native American god came down from the sun to teach the Blackfeet how to hunt and left his image in the mountain upon his return to the Sun. The source of that legend is in dispute…is it a Blackfeet legend, or did a European settler make the whole thing up?

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On our trips up and down Going to the Sun, we saw tunnels, glaciers, beautiful mountains and valleys and countless waterfalls crossing the road. We were thrilled to have four bighorn sheep cross the road in front of our car one evening, pose for photos and then clamber up the cliff next to us.

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Another time, when all I had handy to take photos was my phone, we saw two black bears (one blonde, one brunette) frolicking by the side of the road. We’d heard a ranger talking about this duo on a hike earlier that day. Apparently the couple had come together to mate and there were multiple visitor sightings of the same bears in the St. Mary area.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park, NHL

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910, Road added to NHL in 1997

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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Bighorn traffic jam at the East Tunnel…can you see him peeking over the hood of the car in front?

Glacier National Park: Logan Pass

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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As we continued down Going to the Sun Road in our Red Bus Eastern Alpine Tour, we could see that Logan Pass was socked in with fog. When we parked in the lot, it was freezing and visibility was almost zero.

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Logan Pass was named after Glacier National Park’s first superintendent. It is the highest point on Going to the Sun Road and is one of the most visited spots in the park.

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When we were there with the red bus tour, there were kids skiing on the snow drifts. We grabbed a quick photo by the Continental Divide sign and the went into the visitor center to see the displays and get a souvenir pin.

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The red bus headed back up Going to the Sun Road, making a stop at the lush Reynolds Creek Valley overlook. There were waterfalls everywhere we looked. The view here more than made up for the fog over Logan Pass.

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We stopped by Logan Pass to see the view later in the week when there was no fog, in the early morning before the lot was crowded.


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This time we were able to see Clements Mountain looming over the visitor center. From the other side of the lot, we could see the sun rising over Going to the Sun Mountain.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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