Glacier National Park, Part 1: Hidden Lake and St. Mary & Virginia Falls (Sept 2017)


Oct 27, 2013
Glacier National Park

Part 1: Hidden Lake and St. Mary & Virginia Falls
September 7-9, 2017

Glacier National Park had been near the top of my "must visit" list for quite a while, so last year I finally decided to bump it to the top and make it my destination for my yearly vacation. This trip was different from my last several hiking trips in one key way: I wasn't going solo. This year, I managed to talk my husband into living in a tent with me for a week, the first time he'd been camping with me in over 8 years!

The trip almost didn't start; about a week and a half before we were scheduled to fly out of Houston, a little rain storm by the name of Hurricane Harvey decided it liked the city enough to stay a while. Fortunately, my part of town didn't flood, but the airport from which we were supposed to leave had its runways flooded then closed commercial operations for a week. They gradually started a limited schedule of flights out a few days before we were supposed to leave, but our itinerary was not one of them. With bated breath we nervously checked and re-checked our flight status: not cancelled...yet. Morning dawned: our flight was running as scheduled! We were out on the first flight of the morning; our vacation had begun.

We landed in Spokane (much cheaper than flying to Kalispell) in a cloud of dense smoke from the forest fires in the region, stopped by the grocery store for provisions, then started the 5 hr drive to west Glacier.

We arrived at the western park boundary around 6pm, and were greeted by a hint of sun over the river through the smoke from the Sprauge fire. The sun had an eerie look, almost a halo around it.

We had been planning on staying at the Apgar campground the first night, but the smoke was too dense to breathe easily. We scrapped that plan and drove back toward internet reception to work on a plan B. It looked like a motel was in our future, then I managed to find a national forest campground not too far out of our way, but just far enough away from the park that the smoke was manageable.

Morning sun over camp

We spent our first full morning exploring the town of Whitefish. I saw this awesome tshirt, but unfortunately it wasn't available in my size.

By late afternoon, we made our way around the southern end of the park toward the east side, as the middle segment of Going to the Sun Road was closed due to the Sprauge fire. With the pre-Labor Day crowds gone, we easily found a spot in the Rising Sun Campground.

First thing in the morning we headed up the Going to the Sun Road toward the Logan Pass visitor center, enjoying the view (such as it was) over St. Mary Lake.

After waiting a few minutes for the visitor center to open at 9am, I stamped my National Parks Passport as my official proof that I had visited the park, then we embarked upon our first hike of the trip: Hidden Lake. A fair amount of smoke lingered in the air, but the bulk of it was confined to the western side of the Continental Divide.







Ancient mud cracks

He does exist!

Suddenly, we arrived at Hidden Lake. It was....hidden. Smoke obscured the lake from view until we were right on top of it.


We settled on the lake shore for a break to enjoy our lunch. This cheeky little fellow boldly kept trying to steal some snacks, despite my increasingly aggressive efforts to shoo him away. He ended up with none and eventually went away.

Not a bad lunchtime view

On the way back, we detoured on to the "Reynolds Route" access trail. Thanks to @SteveR for suggesting it!



There's a mountain out there somewhere.

Just past this point the wind started picking up. We carefully scuttled up to the saddle on the right, but that was as far as we felt safe going.


View down to the Lake (Hidden Lake?) from the saddle.

Reversing our view from lunch

After a short break, we retraced the trail back to the visitor center. The colors here were amazing, so many shades of reds, greens, and tans.

With plenty of daylight remaining, I wanted to cram in as many hikes as we could reasonably do on the trip; my partner wasn't quite as enthusiastic about additional hiking as I was. Nonetheless, we headed back down the road to explore St. Mary and Virginia Falls.

There's a stark beauty in the previously burned out areas, perhaps partially due to the contrast with the new vegetation.

Hollow trunk still holding on

St. Mary Falls

Virginia Falls. After a full day of hiking, it sure felt further away than the distance claimed on the mileage signs.

We emerged back to the road to discover the sky lit up to the west between the mountains, though we still had a bit of time till official sunset.

Lake St. Mary with the sky clearer than it had been in the morning, thanks to the wind of an incoming weather front blowing some of the smoke away. Quite a contrast already from the morning, it boded well for clear views on our hike the next day.
Very beautiful! That area of the park is always a treat, and yeah from the saddle north of reynolds you see Hidden Lake, surprisingly large lake haha.
Really good. Glad you could make the best of it with the smoke and haze.
Looking forward to the next day...
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