Wild creatures and smoke-shrouded scenery at Glacier National Park Leave a comment

August 31, 2023

We arrived at Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana in mid-May. It was our northernmost destination on our 5-week RV road trip across the West. As we drove north from Yellowstone, the sky grew bleary with haze and then gray with smoke from Canadian wildfires. Road signs flashed warnings about unhealthy air quality. It was not the Glacier experience we wished for, but we forged on.

Glacier is famous for its mountain-and-lake vistas, but these were veiled during our stay by thick smoke. It’s also famous for its namesake glaciers. But because the climate is rapidly warming, the glaciers are melting. Many have already disappeared. According to the National Park Service:

“At the end of the Little Ice Age around 1850, there were about 80 glaciers in what would eventually become Glacier National Park. Based on aerial imagery from 2015 there were 26 named glaciers that met the size criteria of 0.1 km², nine fewer than in 1966. Of the 26 remaining in 2015, some may now already be too small to be considered glaciers.”

This information is sad to contemplate, but it is the park’s reality. Still, there’s much to enjoy in Glacier, not least its abundant wildlife, as we would soon see.

Glacier is grizzly country, and we were excited to see a young bear in a stand of aspens along the roadside. At least I think it’s a grizzly. It’s hard to tell if the distinctive hump is there. Either way, what a thrill to see another bear!

I exclaimed over masses of yellow avalanche lilies too.

So beautiful

Running Eagle Falls

One day we made a short hike to see Running Eagle Falls, which flowed in a gushing torrent thanks to springtime snowmelt.

Several crested Steller’s jays kept us company, chattering all the while.


As we crossed a bridge one day, we spotted a moose in the river below. We parked at an overlook and stood on the embankment to watch it.

It moseyed up into the trees…

…ambling on stilt-like legs to browse on new leaves.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Glacier’s famously scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road isn’t fully open in mid-May, when we were there. Depending on snowfall, its alpine Logan Pass doesn’t reliably open until early July. But we were able to drive the lower-elevation portions and marveled at the gorgeous scenery, even though smoke still hazed the views.

At the Sunrift Gorge pullout, we did a short hike downhill, and then came back up the Baring Creek trail. I spotted a Compton tortoiseshell butterfly on a handrail, just chilling.

Or perhaps warming itself in the sunshine

Baring Creek spilling through a gorge where the Reynold’s Creek fire swept through in 2015.

The trees burned down, but now I can see the mountains. (Hat tip to Mizuta Masahide and to Loree Bohl, who recently reminded me of his quote.)

Sunrift Gorge

Around a bend, I came suddenly to this stunning sight: Sunrift Gorge, carved by glacier runoff.

Turbulent water behind the slot pushes through, continuing to chip away at the black rock.

Somehow finding purchase on the cliff faces, grasses and ferns make a hanging garden above the creek.

Spring wildflowers were brightening the undergrowth along the trail.

Wild strawberries, I think

Bighorn sheep

Along the road, we were stopped by several majestic bighorn rams, who posed amid a confetti of wildflowers…

…and then strolled down the middle of the road, passing our truck with total nonchalance.

Noshing along the roadside

It was so cool to be able to observe them closely from our truck, without disturbing them.

Somewhere along the way we spotted an osprey hunkered down on a platform nest.

And another bear, this one with a mouthful of grass.

And another smoke-shrouded lake and mountain vista

Mountain goats

I kept hoping to see mountain goats in Glacier, and one day I got my wish. We whipped into Goat Lick Overlook when I spotted the sign after a long day of driving. We walked down to the overlook, gazed across the Middle Fork of the Flathead River at a sheer cliff of gray and tan rock…

…and saw a goat looking right back at us!

It was improbably perched on a narrow shelf in the middle of the cliff wall.

Exposed minerals on the cliff attract the goats, which bounce balletically up and down the sheer rock to lick at the wall.

It’s amazing to witness their sure-footedness on such treacherous terrain.

Contemplating a trip down to the salt lick

No worries about slipping

The one below effortlessly charged up the cliff via a vertical game trail.

And it’s just that easy.

Serviceberry flowering at our campsite

Trail of the Cedars

Another day we hiked the popular Trail of the Cedars, right off the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The turquoise, glacier-fed waters of Avalanche Creek carve through pink rock softened with moss.

Along the boardwalk trail, we enjoyed signs with haikus and watercolors. The haikus inspired us to make a few of our own about our family adventures.

Towering eastern hemlocks and red cedars find a home in this moist woodland.

The roots of a fallen giant

Beautiful light filtering through the trees and ferns

Polebridge Mercantile

Being in Glacier, you’re already in a pretty remote location. But Polebridge, Montana, is more remote still, accessed by a 27-mile drive from West Glacier along a rugged dirt road. Just a couple dozen miles shy of the Canadian border, you land at off-the-grid Polebridge Mercantile, a friendly general store with a bakery, sandwiches, and to-go food. We picked up a couple of huckleberry bear claws and hot-pocket sandwiches and took them outside for a picnic table lunch.


A few cabins, the Northern Lights Saloon, and a food truck called the Sasquatch Grill round out the place. We posed with our doppelgangers, a family of metal sasquatches, for our own family selfie.

And that wraps up my recap of our national parks road trip from Texas to Montana! For a look back at our exploration of Grand Teton National Park, click here. You’ll find links to the other parks we visited at the end of each post in the series. Also, check out my National Parks page for my photos and stories from other parks I’ve visited. Happy adventuring, y’all!

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