66.8 Miles; 3,565 Feet of Gain; Glacier Park International Airport to Glacier Meadows RV Park
Three days prior to the start of this trip, I casually turned on the news to check the conditions of Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. I was shocked to find that in late June a blizzard had descended only days before to dump nearly 2 feet of snow that were proceeded by subsequent avalanches burying our route under snow so deep that the road wouldn't open until late July. With a string of camping reservations carefully made months prior across the Canadian Parks system (there are no hiker/biker sites in Canada), we had a strict schedule to keep to meet our nightly camp spots. With Going to the Sun Road submerged under Arctic conditions, I jumped immediately onto Gaia GPS and began scouting out a southerly route that still passed through Glacier National Park but guaranteed to meet our original route on the other side of the great range. Not only that, I learned that our original Border Crossing site was now closed indefinitely. I spent hours determining a route that would take us through Glacier, north to an open Border Patrol Station, and then spit us westward towards Waterton Lakes National Park.
And we left to drive northward. Three days would take us to Kalispell, MT, nestled in that neat valley of early summer green with the walls of glacier montane sucking into valley views. As night faded into morning-of, a glaze of deep set fog and settled dew smeared the land scenery. We drove the car to Glacier Park International Airport; we've found that long term parking at small regional airports is always safe and convenient while we do our long-distance riding. Barreling out onto the highway, we rode clips through side-neighborhoods and little-used dirt roads that wound us round family farms and green fields parallel to the ranges we aimed for.
We quickly booked it to the local banks up reaching Columbia Falls. The aim was to exchange USD for CAD; no opportunity ensued as none of the three banks would only do the reverse currency transaction. We shrugged and headed north. The route wound us onto dirt roads that ran through the surrounding Flathead National Forest land. Heavy late-season precipitation leading up to our arrival meant the land lay saturated with deep moisture. This, in turn, precipitated insane greenery and flower emergence. I kept stopping along the road to take photo after photo of beargrass blooms rising in super nova puffs, scattered in trees, pale and brilliant. We crossed several swollen streams heady with snow runoff and lapping at the bellies of the bridges spanning them.
Dirt roads merged with the paved trails as we swung into West Glacier. Here, we deviated from the official route (Going to the Sun Road was closed) and swung southeast along the minuscule shoulder along the Highway 2. The highway quickly plunged into the mountains we had been only looking at and set a thread parallel to the swollen Flathead River. It passed grey, mottled, wide, and powerful next to us. Waterfalls thrust from narrow chutes along the mountain walls of the road. Blue skies with bent light caught the green evergreens on escarpment sides and made them truly pop with color. The further we biked into the southern mountains of Glacier National Park, the more distant craggy, snow-packed peaks began to loom on every pass we rode up. The cars for the most part were smooth in our direction as it seemed drivers were coming back from East Glacier in the opposing lane after a day out on that end of the park; we relished not having too many vehicles coming up behind us.
The Great Bear Wilderness came flush with the highway on our rights. Large bear crossing signs dotted the road, but no roads were seen. After crossing the highway bridge near a grassy slope, a car from the other direction quickly slowed and rolled down the window to let us know some mountain goats were grazing nearby. We crossed the bridge, parked our bikes, and walked down a small trail that dropped below the highway bridge. Several mountain goats lay in the shade right in front of us, nonchalantly chewing the grass and obviously comfortable in what must be a commonly-used spot. After seeing them, we jumped back on our bikes and sped off down the highway.
The Middle Fork Flathead River curved away from us as Highway 2 jutted eastward. Smaller Bear Creek rose up and sauntered downhill parallel to our direction of travel. We stopped at Bear Creek Trailhead where a notable, massive waterfall cascaded down the mountain. Snacks were pulled from our bags and a good rest was taken in the late afternoon sun. We were far north enough now that the Sun cutting the sky at 6 pm looked like it could be 2 pm anywhere else. In fact, we would come to rely on the sun not setting until nearly 11 pm to help push several days worth of future big days. For now though, we had plenty of hours left.
Post-eating, we heading down the highway once more before arriving at a Glacier Meadows RV Park. It turns out the park had only just opened for the season given the early-summer snows. The RV Park was one of the best we had ever camped at. It was a sprawling verdant glade ringed by aspen and fir woods, nestled in a valley with Glacier National Park's mountains rising to the North and the ranges of the Great Bear Wilderness rising to our south. There were free hot showers, a massive pavilion with electrical outlets and walls to block the wind, and the owners kindly let us store all of our scented items in a locked room to keep the bears out. We got in early enough that I spent part of the end of day reworking all the slipknots on the Seek Outside Eolus - our shelter.