Mainers in Montana
10.05.2017 - 11.05.2017
Ryan and I hit the road to Montana on Wednesday, May 10. It was a fantastic drive with a multitude of scenery, from the rolling hills of wheat fields in eastern Washington to the breathtaking lakes and mountains of Montana. We passed by a cattle drive in Washington and the mining regions of Idaho. The Oregon Trail audio book continued to keep us company during the long commute and made the time pass quickly.
When it comes to camping, we have been flying by the seat of our pants. Ryan takes over driving while I peruse the internet on my iPhone for potential tent sites. Because it is considered the “off-season” before Memorial Day, we haven’t had any issues finding a space. Our only requirements are easy access to our route, a picnic table, and fire pit. Complementary Wi-Fi and clean bathrooms are a plus. The KOA app is my first go-to, followed by Good Sam Camping and ParkAdvisor. This time I found a top-rated place called Campground Saint Regis courtesy of the Good Sam Camping app. The website claimed this Montana facility has “extremely clean restrooms” (which it does), plus it boasted that all sites have electricity, picnic tables, and a fire pit. The $24 rate for a tent site was reasonable and on par with what we have been paying. Sold!
The good news was that Campground Saint Regis was right off interstate 90. The bad news was that Campground Saint Regis was right off interstate 90. The loud traffic noise woke both Ryan and I up at least a dozen times, leading to our worst night’s sleep for the entire trip. We were not well rested when we departed for Glacier National Park on Thursday, May 11. At least it was only a scenic and “short” 3-hour drive to the park from where we were staying.
After my chilly Crater Lake experience, I decided I was going to be prepared with my attire this time. I bundled up in my warmest leggings, two shirt layers, wool socks, and winter boots I borrowed from Shira since I didn’t pack any warm shoes. Tourist fail! Just because it is called Glacier doesn’t mean it is going to be icy cold. The weather was sunny and in the 70s. I was sweating as soon as I stepped out of the car! I can’t complain though because it was truly a beautiful day with some of the most remarkable views I have ever seen.
Only a small portion of western Glacier National Park is open in May. According to the visitor guide, the first of April marks the target date for the start of plowing. There are over 70 avalanche paths along the roads, so avalanche spotters are needed to monitor the slopes and radio any signs of moving snow to the brave plow operators. Some sections of road are 60-70 feet deep in snow! Ryan and I were able to take the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, which can take two months or more to plow. We were restricted to approximately 10 miles of access up until Avalanche Creek since the entire road doesn’t generally open to traffic until late June. That being said, the views along Lake McDonald were phenomenal. I can only imagine the other park offerings when it is fully open. Ryan and I had a nice picnic at Sprague Creek consisting of our usual grilled cheese and soup. We investigated the hiking trail options but realized there were only a couple available, including one that was 16-miles long with a substantial elevation gain. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
After seeing all that we could at Glacier, Ryan and I figured we would get a head start to our next destination in Bozeman, Montana. We drove for a few hours before coming across Lolo National Forest which advertised signs for camping. Low and behold, camping in national forests is free of cost before Memorial Day! Thank you, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Big Larch Campground was located next to the pretty Seeley Lake. Ryan and I pulled into a site right on the water, which I immediately dismissed as unacceptable due to the large amount of creepy flying ants swarming around the parked vehicle. We found a site further inland that was more fitting for this bug hater. Now the only thing we had to worry about was bears! Since Montana is home to both grizzly and black bears, campers must use special precautions, especially regarding food, when lodging in the great outdoors. I say “must” because there are notifications posted everywhere stating “when you leave camp or retire for the night, YOU ARE REQUIRED as per 36 CFR 261.58 to store trash and food (pet food and beverages included).” In case you are wondering, they both look very similar but can be differentiated by their hump, claws/tracks, ears, and facial profile. The grizzly bear has a pronounced shoulder hump, a concave face, small, rounded ears, and large, long claws. Conversely, the black bear has no hump, a flat face, larger ears, and smaller claws which create a dissimilar track. When I tried to figure out what one should do in case of an encounter, the common answer is “it depends on the situation.” Most information recommends alerting the bears of your presence by making loud noises and always hiking with another person. A lot of sources also encourage “preparation”, carrying bear pepper spray for example. Although I was hoping for something akin to the active shooter response training (evacuate, hide out, take action), there appears to be no set directions. We saw plenty of wildlife, such as deer, foxes, eagles, turkeys, gophers, and geese, but thankfully we did not bump into any bears and the road trip carried on.