The Overgrown Madness of Glacier National Park

When I say that the theme of Glacier was mosquitoes, I’m talking about the lack of privacy from such insidious creatures. Breaks? That’s what you thought! Mosquitoes laugh in their silly little high pitch buzz at the naivety of us humans. It was just constant chaos of  living in your rain gear to avoid being bitten and marked by the tiny beasts.

Mosquito imagery aside, I was enamoured by the beauty that was Glacier national park. Affluent with waterfalls, marmots galore chittering along the trail, the lakes, the thimbleberry, the views, this park was like no other. I found myself religiously checking Guthooks (a guidebook app used by many long distance backpackers) in search for my next water source and always being pleasantly surprised by the surplus amount of water. It was really only necessary to carry a liter at a time, or if you’re bad at drinking water like I am, a 3/4 liter at a time.

My first day of hiking consisted of zooming as fast as possible. We hadn’t even gotten -to trail- until a little after 4pm and had nearly 13 miles to hike. Something I was blissfully unaware of, however, was that the sun sets extremely late in Montana in the summer. I’m talking light skies till 11pm, so running out of daylight was not an issue for this leg of trail.

 

A lake shimmers with the reflection of a pointy mountain peak. There are trees lining the lake and pebbles glistening in the foreground

I knew the PNT was bushwhacky, but within a national park?

While researching the PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail) you’ll see words like rugged, difficult, or bushwhack. Reading this, I imagine areas where trail just… does not exist, but I also imagined that it would be in areas that were incredibly remote or areas that the trail just sorta went through because it had to. I was not prepared for the thimbleberry jungle that engulfed the trails in Glacier. There were days where you could take a picture of the trail in front of you and not be able to see the trail. It was thimbleberries upon thimbleberries, upon thimbleberries. Normally I wouldn’t complain, but we were there just prior to the thimbleberry season. So even with this abundance of fruity shrubbery, there were no actual berries. Complete disappointment. Miles and miles of wrestling with these bushes, and no delectable berries to snack on, a tragedy I tell ya!

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Hiking during the pandemic created such a different environment than what trail life would be like on an average year. With the Canadian border being closed, all normal tourism was halted. This meant that Waterton lake (a lake that is shared and flows in both the US and Canada), was silent, empty, serene. Not a soul in sight. To me, this was a privilege; I was able to experience the alluring beauty of my scenery without the disturbance of others. We spent some time laying on the dock, swimming in the lake, and exploring the nearby hut-type structures before heading off to our campsite for the night.

 

A hand is holding a stuffed broccoli plushie in front of a lake that is lined with mountains

The Waterton fiasco

Now, prior to beginning trail there was some discourse happening via some PNT groups/threads about the bridge that crossed over Waterton River. Apparently, they remove the bridge each winter and put it in storage. By the time that the first PNT hikers of the season were coming through, the bridge had not been put up yet. There was a bit of mayhem happening wondering when the bridge would go up. The groups were getting wildly different answers for when the bridge would go up. Some people were even told that it was up even though it clearly wasn’t. Thankfully, by the time that we were passing through the bridge was up, however, there was also a horse ford that you pass by first that was only about shin deep. Unbeknownst to us, the horse ford was actually way faster route to our campsite for the night. This was also the absolute worst area for bugs. By the time that you finish running your hands down your arms to clear the mosquitoes, there would be another five of them already setting up to feast.

It was miserable

 

Flower the hiker is facing the camera in the midst of laughing, holding their trekking poles. Their shoes are tethered to their chest strap as they are walking barefoot in front of a stream.

 

The night came to a close with a boisterous thunderstorm. It began with some thunder in the distance, but quickly and exponentially came full force over us. Reagan, my hiking partner, attempted to cover a nearby tent that had been left unattended, but unfortunately the fly was not in sight. Apologies random hiker in Glacier, we tried! If you have ever been to the tropics, you’ll know that the rain comes all at once, almost as if the clouds have released every moist particle they’re comprised of all at the same time. This storm felt like that. Buckets of water being splashed upon my tarp, thunder booming and reverberating, lightning flashing in the distance, this lasted for about an hour. Eventually the storm lost some stamina, and we were left with some rain, but oh boy was I relatively worried about the pitch of my tarp. Would water pool under me? Would I be able to maintain my dryness throughout the night?

 

The sky is cloudy, there's pine trees everywhere and shrubbery in the foreground. A tarp is draped on some bushes in a pocket of sun.

An end to Glacier

As beautiful and magical as Glacier was, we decided to push extra miles that third day to help set us up for a future resupply box, and also so that we could get into Polebridge earlier in the day. We had flubbed on the dates for our resupply and were currently set to arrive at the post office in Northport on the weekend. So we needed to push some extra miles in order to catch the post office on a weekday. Northport was states away, but you can never be too prepared. Our last full day in the park started with another thunderstorm. Personally, I LOVE thunderstorms, but on trail, waking up to rain removes all motivation to get up and go. Once rain subsided we were able to get moving, our goal for the day was 22.3 miles.

Coming down Boulder Pass I ran into a black bear trotting across the trail. I froze. Carefully stepping backwards to wait for Reagan to catch up to me. One of the big concerns about the PNT, like the CDT  is that you’re in grizzly country. For many, this creates a new terrifying challenge to backpacking. It also means carrying extra weight for bear protection. Reagan was the carrier of bear spray, and we each carried our own Ursack (a lightweight bear bag option for protecting your food). For now this would work, but in the Olympics you are required to carry a bear canister. Needless to say, I was very much not looking forward to that.

 

Flower the hiker has their legs stretched out and crocs on. They are seated on the shore of a lake with mountains in the background

Lakes are for swimming, but also for naps

They’re superb spots for a good break because water is life. Cool down with a nice dip, mix up a few beverages with some fresh water, cold soak a tasty lunch, absorb the serenity of your surroundings. All good things. We spent some time attempting to relax by Bowman lake, but the flies had another agenda. It’s wild how bothersome it can be to have a fly land on you. Or rather… 15 flies consistently landing on you. No matter how many you smoosh and kill, the flies were endless.

Originally we had planned to camp at the head of Bowman lake, which was absolutely beautiful, but we continued on so that we could get to Polebridge in the morning. We ended the day at Bowman lake campground, which is a frontcountry campground for car camping. I managed to take a quick dip in the lake before the sun fully set and laid out awaiting Reagan’s arrival. Another hiker, N, showed up and we chatted for a bit. This was his 2nd day on trail and he had done over 30 miles for the day. Wow. I couldn’t even fathom hiking 30 miles in a day at this point, let alone my second day of trail. The most miles I’ve ever done in a day was 23. I was in awe

The long and dusty descent into Polebridge

The hike into Polebridge the next morning was this twisty little dirt road that winds its way down to the ranger station and into Polebridge. It’s also very exposed, and in the heat of this particular summer, brutal. Something silly that I do, but highly enjoy is snagging stamps from visitor centers or various places I travel. So I made a quick pit stop at the ranger station, got my stamp, and continued into town. Polebridge is this super neat little town that is completely off-grid (no powerlines, no service, no nothing). It’s got a quaint little community with some cabins, the North Fork Hostel, and the famous Polebridge Mercantile. They are known for huckleberry bear claws, and are a tourist hotspot for people visiting Glacier. We spent about 4 hours in town, snacking, picking up our resupply, mooching a quick shower off the hostel, and chatting with J, another hiker. All in all, a quaint little town trip before heading out for more miles.

 

A picture of the North Fork Hostel. It has ana-frame porch with a green metal roof and moose antlers attached to the roof of the porch.

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Comments 33

  • Jamie : Oct 9th

    The mosquitoes and the “jungle” is the beauty of the national park. It’s nature. You are out of your world and in mother nature’s territory. That is the whole point. You don’t have phone service, unplug from social media and ungodly standards and take a deep breath of actual fresh mountain air and admire the absolute beauty of this world. It’s good for the soul!!

    Reply
  • Katie Houston : Oct 10th

    Flower this story, your writing, the photos, are INCREDIBLE! Love your tone and storytelling. Can’t wait to hear more from the trail, happy hiking!

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 10th

      Thanks Katie! I appreciate these kinds words and am glad to hear you enjoy my writing style. Happy trails!

      Reply
    • Izzy : Oct 14th

      Word

      Reply
  • Kevin Lukinbill : Oct 10th

    Great hike I have done it Many times. Toughen up

    Reply
  • NativeMT : Oct 10th

    Wow. What an awful article.
    Go home. Go back to Cali or wherever you came from. MT is great without your negative look at me attitude.

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 10th

      Thanks for your feedback! I wasn’t meaning to bring any bad light to Montana, in fact I actually quite enjoyed my time in Montana. My goal is to write about the full spectrum of emotion while hiking and sometimes that includes the lows. Glacier was absolutely beautiful, and definitely one of my favourite parts of trail, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be hard parts too.

      Reply
      • Rob : Oct 14th

        Grew up in Montana. I don’t share the anger of the commenter above but I encourage you to do this…. Go sentence for sentence in the article… Count negative and count positive sentences. It is very negative biased (including the title of the article). Glacier is outside,. You have to deal with outside things. They shouldn’t be the focus of the article.

        Reply
    • Ann Hagen : Oct 10th

      I didn’t find this article negative, though your response sure was. Lighten up.

      Reply
    • Kathleen Shaw : Oct 10th

      What àn I’ll tempered snot.

      Reply
    • Matt Culpepper : Oct 15th

      Native MT, huh? Which tribe? Last time I checked, the Land of the Free was open to all; especially OUR National Parks and public lands. I suggest you take YOUR negative attitude to a place that deserves you. I suggest maybe Alabama.

      Reply
  • TK : Oct 10th

    It was miserable or were u unprepared lol u sound like a noob

    Reply
  • Luke : Oct 10th

    I have no idea how someone could be offended by your telling of you adventures on this backpacking trip. Ignore the defensive, machismo attitudes of some of the commenters. Big congratulations on the accomplishment. Speaking from one mosquito magnet to another, your telling of that aspect of the trip resonates well with me and it’s insightful for consideration when deciding whether to go here and what to bring. Nature is wonderful, but that doesn’t mean it’s always enjoyable 100% of the time. Just ask a gazelle being chased by a lion.

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 10th

      Hey Luke, thanks for these words! I accept that criticism happens, but it’s comments like this that really warm my heart. Backpacking is objectively hard and comes with challenges, and to bring people down for talking about their lows just feels pointless. It’s actually the hardships that kind of make it fun sometimes haha. Anyways, thank you!

      Reply
      • Jay : Oct 11th

        I enjoyed the article and am amused at the critics. I cant imagine making a 30 mi hike in a day. The most i have made is 14 mi. If there were no hardships in telling a story it would not be half as much fun as just describing the beauty of nature.

        Reply
  • Sandy : Oct 10th

    What is PNT? First rule of good, intelligent writing is to identify acronyms and abbreviations the first time you mention them to spare your audience the bother of trying to find it elsewhere in the article. Or do like you did: never explain at all.

    Reply
    • Natalie McBroom : Oct 17th

      He very clearly explained it at the beginning of the use of the term; here’s the quote, “ While researching the PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail) you’ll see words like rugged, difficult, or bushwhack. Reading this, I imagine areas where trail just… does not exist, but I also imagined that it would be in areas that were incredibly remote or areas that the trail just sorta went through because it had to.”

      Reply
  • Jill : Oct 10th

    WOW,JUST WOW..as someone who was born 12 miles from waterton and worked there several summers..still work my aunt’s lodge when I can,I thoroughly enjoyed your article and hike, the good and the bad days! Brought back vivid memories, it is definately one of the most beautiful places to hike and camp..so thank you for a walk in time!! I also want to say that NOWHERE in your excerpt did I find negativity or feeling you were doing anything but describing beauty and scenery as it is..I was very surprised by troll comments and would take them with a grain of salt. Looking forward to new articles!!

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 19th

      So glad that I was able to bring back such vivid memories for you <3 Thanks for this kindness Jill!

      Reply
  • Diana Helmuth : Oct 10th

    Thanks for this lovely read. Felt like I was there with you.

    No idea what the negative comments are about. You weren’t complaining at all. And even if you were, so what, that’s backpacking: Amazing highs and amazing lows.

    I hope to read more of your journeys!

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 19th

      Love to hear that you felt like you were there with me! That’s definitely my goal as a writer, so I’m glad to have been able to achieve that. Thanks for your words Diana!

      Reply
  • Mary : Oct 11th

    Love your comments snd information. It’s inspiring, giving details on what to expect. I can only imagine backpacking like that thru your notes. I’m not quite there yet and probably will never be able to hike like that snd enjoy reading about your trip. I’ve only done small hikes wishing to allow myself to go off the grid like that. Still afraid of bears snd not quite the camper like uou. I could only dream thru your story. Thank you …inspiring and fun. I’ll stick to what I’m capable of which is day trip hikes of 5 mile maximum. I love national parks and being on the trail and as I’m turning 58 and somewhat physically challenged by my body I can only now enjoy that kind of hike thru pictures snd notes. Thanks

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 19th

      Smiles over miles Mary! Don’t let anyone ever invalidate your capabilities. I hope that you’re able to get out and enjoy nature regardless of how many miles you hike. You deserve to explore.

      Reply
  • Liz : Oct 11th

    Great write Flower!
    Loved your story. Felt like we were there with you. Now that’s a good story teller!
    Thanks, cant wait for your next post😊

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 19th

      Thanks so much Liz 🙂 I appreciate this feedback!

      Reply
  • Jela : Oct 11th

    Keep on hiking, keep writing. Thanks for your honest words, and painting a picture. Write for yourself and don’t worry about approval from others. Some people use the internet only for snarky comments. Onward :).

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 19th

      Heck yeah! I’m not upset if people don’t enjoy my words or tales. If everything was easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun. If people can’t understand that, it’s on them! Thanks Jela 🙂

      Reply
  • Barb : Oct 11th

    Your article makes me so glad that my visit was at the end of September. Yes the bearclaws are great, the Merchantile is great. The road to Bowman was considerably worst, by design, then a fire road. Glad the mosquitoes and flies were nonexistant at end of Sept. Experienced rain going to Avalanche lake. Super views. Glad you enjoyed your visit, I certainly loved mine. Gorgeous area

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 19th

      Oh my gosh I am so glad you didn’t have to experience the mosquitoes. They made it very hard to relax. I have been to Glacier multiple times, but this was definitely the roughest! I think September may be that sweet spot.

      Reply
  • Jennie : Oct 17th

    Your article was featured on my Google homepage and I’m glad. It was nice reading about this Park. What is PNT?

    Reply
    • Natalie McBroom : Oct 17th

      He very clearly explained it at the beginning of the use of the term; here’s the quote, “ While researching the PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail) you’ll see words like rugged, difficult, or bushwhack. Reading this, I imagine areas where trail just… does not exist, but I also imagined that it would be in areas that were incredibly remote or areas that the trail just sorta went through because it had to.”

      Reply
  • Mary Stephens : Oct 19th

    Hey! I hate flies and skeeters! We also have no seeums here in the mtns of western North Carolina. Skeeters leave welts on me as I’m allergic to them and stingers. My late husband and I mostly did day trips. The most we ever did was 25 miles. Anyway, since his death I’ve not hiked but once. I so enjoyed your description of your backpack adventures! I felt like I was right there! Things ht people differently. I savored every word. I’m lucky enough to have found the last love of my life. I plan to teach him about the wonders of nature soon. Thanks again dear man! Keep up your journaling and trekking in the backcountry!

    Reply
    • Flower : Oct 19th

      25 days is a big trek for a day hike! Especially if your body isn’t used to doing those miles often. That’s awesome that you were able to do that. Sending all my love to your future nature explorations with your current love 🙂

      Reply

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