Emily Explores Glacier and the Tetons
From Great Outdoor Store
My travel buddy Clara and I have talked about going west for a few YEARS now. In a ridiculous twist, I’ve never been further west than Custer State Park, but I spent nearly 4 months abroad. It seemed like high time we crossed that ~mystical border~ between South Dakota and Wyoming or Montana. We began with a plan centered around a long weekend in the Black Hills and ended with an incredible week where we hit 4 national parks in about as many days.
Clara and I are good travel partners because our skills compliment each other. For instance, she lets me pack and re-pack the trunk without trying to help. Please, please don’t get involved when I pack the trunk, ok? Leave me be and then follow my system. It’s better. Clara has nerves of steel, and in a stressful accidental storm situation she handled our car hydroplaning every 3-5 minutes without batting an eye. I woke myself up thinking about bears getting into our food days before we left; Clara went for a walk by herself at night in the Tetons without bear spray. So, the first component of a great trip is a great friend to balance you.
We bought some bear spray and new sleeping pads, retreated my tent with DWR, and headed for Missoula, Montana at an obscenely early hour. We drove the whole distance in one day, about 15 hours. I don’t necessarily recommend that, but also at some point a long drive is just going to be a long drive! We rolled into Missoula a little delirious and in need of a good stretch but WE WERE IN THE WILD WEST. The following morning, we spent a full day doing the farmer’s market and craft fairs, downtown shopping, and floating the Snake River. There was a brief hailstorm during said float where I did anticipate drowning. I also misplaced the key for our car ride home, prompting a 30-minute walk to the house in some cheeky swimsuits, carrying giant black rubber tubes and a potato sack full of beer. You do what you can.
Glacier was next on the agenda! An early (and beautiful!) morning drive from Missoula had us in the park before 10am. We bought an Annual National Parks Pass here. At $80, we saved money on entrance fees as we visited four parks total. We drove a good portion of Going to the Sun Road, which is not overhyped. UNREAL. The ground drops away from the side of the road and your stomach turns a little and the pine trees are THICK and the gorges are deep and tiny waterfalls shoot out of the rock walls next to you and there’s WILDFLOWERS and FRESH AIR. I was overjoyed. Even a casual hike in the park (maybe a mile and a half from a visitor center) places you at a glacial lake a shade of blue you didn’t think was real with mountain peaks slamming out of the horizon line, dappled in pine trees and snow. Avalanche Lake is an extremely accessible, mild hike that ends with the view described above. Plan to spend more than a day in Glacier. We spent about 14 hours and could have filled hundreds more!
Next on the agenda was Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We anticipated Yellowstone being busy, so didn’t plan to camp in the park. We watched geysers spew and smelled the sulfur from the pale, bubbling sludgy mixes. Yellowstone has a lot to offer and we only skimmed the surface. We spent more time in the Tetons, which do have a quieter vibe. Established campsites have bear lockers at each site which helped to ease my bear anxieties. The bear lockers are the safest space for food and anything else with a smell! Keep all your food, dishes, and dish washing material and toiletries in the bear lockers and appreciate the fact that you’re in their space. There’s plenty of blog material and resources on national park websites to prepare you to be ‘bear aware’ if you like to have plans and backup plans and backup backup plans, like me. The wildest wildlife we ended up seeing was a herd of bison, bighorn sheep and some mountain goats. But we were prepared!!! We heard a lot about Jenny Lake in the Tetons going into the trip but found it a little too populated for our liking. We hiked to Delta Lake instead, and vastly underestimated the heat and elevation and our own cardiovascular abilities. BUT we made it, and whoa, was it worth it. I was mustering up the energy I had remaining to refuse to move a step further when we finally caught sight of the lake. I have never seen that shade of teal before. It’s a lake filled by glacial melt from mountains, and it was worth the calories (and emotions) we exhausted on the climb. Visit Dornan’s in Moose after a hard hike. There’s ice cream and a store stocked with wine options. Buy a bottle of wine or a couple scoops of frozen delight and partake on the rooftop of the restaurant—you’ll have an unbelievable view of the Tetons and a well-deserved treat.
All in all, we spent a lot of time in the car punctuated by some of the most glorious, beautiful, fresh time outside. I was happy to cross back over into South Dakota when it was all said and done. I could finally stop thinking about bears, mostly. If you’ve got a week or more to spare, take the long car hours and soak up some different scenery. I’m not totally sure what it means, but I always appreciate home more when I take some time and leave it.