Glacier Park Hiking in Late Spring and Early Summer

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Glacier Park Hiking in Late Spring and Early Summer
Glacier National Park receives an incredible amount of snow each year, and it takes several months for much of it to melt.  In fact, several popular Glacier Park Hikes such as the Highline Trail and Grinnell Glacier Trail are usually not open until mid July, and often times late July and even into August. With this in mind, the following information will prove to be useful to those of you interested in attempting Glacier Park Hikes in the months of May and June…

Mountain Axe (a.k.a. Ice Axe) Self Arrest Skills Required!
For anyone who is embarking on Glacier Park hiking trails that involve medium to significant vertical elevation gain, each hiker should be adequately skilled in self-arrest techniques using a mountain axe, also known as an “ice axe”.  The snow fields in Glacier National Park that are covering much of the Glacier Park trails during the early season can be extremely dangerous, and one slip could result in serious injury or death.

Simply carrying a mountain axe and using it for stabilization does not make you safe.  Each hiker must know exactly how to “self-arrest” if he/she begins to slide down the snow field.  This requires not only proper training, but also a lot of practice.  If a hiker is not skilled in self-arrest, then he/she can pick up so much speed so quickly that nothing will stop them as the hiker literally flies down the snow field.  Here’s the bottom line:  If you’re not skilled with a mountain axe, especially with self-arrest techniques, you should definitely not attempt any Glacier Park trails that involve snow fields that have medium to steep grades… whether you’re hiking in May, June, July or August.

May Is Too Early For Most Glacier Park Hikes
For most of the Glacier Park Hikes, the month of May is really too early for any enjoyable hiking excursions, especially if the Glacier Park hiking trail involves a mountain pass, such as the Pitamakan Dawson Loop Trail in the Two Medicine Area.  And to be quite honest with you, even those trails not involving mountain passes are more than likely snow-covered, and finding the actual trail at times will be a challenge.

There are a few trails that may be open and safe in May, such as the Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail and Red Rock Falls in the Many Glacier Area, Trail of the Cedars near Lake McDonald Lodge, and the South and North Shore Trails in the Two Medicine Area.  These particular trails are fairly low in elevation and do not involve much elevation gain.

Glacier Park Hiking In June… Still Quite Early
The month of June is still a little early for enjoyable hiking in Glacier Park.  Even though a few more of the lower elevation trails will open up by mid June (in a typical year), such as Iceberg Lake Trail in the Many Glacier Area, any of the Glacier Park Hikes that involve mountain passes are more than likely still snow covered and will require adequate self-arrest skills with a mountain axe.  And keep in mind, the Going To The Sun Road doesn’t open until mid to late June on a typical year, which gives you an indication as to the status of any trail involving mountain passes, such as Siyeh Pass, Piegan Pass, etc.   Also keep in mind that many of the backcountry campsites are not open until mid July, if not later, such as Fifty Mountain, Boulder Pass and Hole-In-The-Wall.

Mid July and Beyond Is Best
A fair amount of Glacier Park hiking trails are open by mid July on a typical snow year, but certainly not all of them.  We have waited until mid August for some trails to open during heavy snow years, especially the backcountry trails in the Northern Wilderness, such as Boulder Pass Trail, Northern Highline Trail, etc.  And again, remember that several of the backcountry campsites do not open up until late July or early August.  And some of the most popular trails, such as Grinnell Glacier Trail, Highline Trail and Swiftcurrent Pass Trail seem to not open until later in July, and during a heavy snow year, as late as mid August.

Ask A Ranger
Before you begin any of the Glacier Park hiking trails during the months of May, June and early July, make sure you ask a ranger (at any visitor center or ranger station) the status of the trail you wish to hike.  These rangers will be aware of current trail conditions, and let you know if that particular trail is safe to hike on.

Quick Tips
For early season Glacier Park Hikes, we recommend that you not only learn proper self-arrest techniques with a mountain axe, but you may also consider these recommendations:

1) Traction Devices
Traction devices for your hiking boots, such as YakTrax or equivalent while hiking across snow fields can really help make the hike safer and more enjoyable.

2) Gators
Consider wearing water-proof / breathable gators that cover your boots and lower legs (to just below the knee).  These will help keep your boots and pants dry.

3) Hiking Poles
Hiking poles really help keep you stabilized and balanced as you are walking through snow.  HOWEVER, before navigating a snow field that has a medium to steep grade, put your poles away and use your mountain axe… and be constantly ready to use it for self arrest purposes.

4) Water-Proof / Breathable Boots
We are firm believers in wearing water-proof / breathable boots while hiking in Glacier National Park no matter what month it is.  Though no boot is completely waterproof if it gets wet enough, GoreTex or equivalent really makes your Glacier Park hikes much more comfortable.

5)  Watch Out For Early Morning Ice!
The most dangerous time of day during the months of May, June, July and even August is early morning. If the air temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit the night before, Glacier Park’s snow fields will be completely iced over and will be EXTREMELY SLIPPERY AND DANGEROUS.  In fact, these snow fields will turn into deadly ice-skating rinks.   Either really know what you’re doing and you are professionally skilled with ice, or do not attempt to cross these snow fields until they begin to soften up as the temperature begins to rise.

With all of this being said, if you are really wanting to enjoy some wonderful Glacier Park hiking experiences, and hiking in Glacier Park is the main focus of your trip, it really is best to plan your Glacier Park vacation no earlier than July… mid July to be more specific.   Glacier National Park receives a TON of snow each year, and it takes a long time for it to melt, especially along the mountain passes.  If you take our advice, you’re Glacier Park hiking experience will be far more enjoyable and memorable.

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Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park: Tips For Enjoying Logan Pass

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Tips For Enjoying Logan Pass on the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park
One of the most popular destinations in Glacier National Park is the world famous Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road.  Not only is Logan Pass the highest point along the Going To The Sun Road, but it is also where the trailheads of two of the most  popular Glacier Park Hikes are located.   These two Glacier Park Hikes– the Hidden Lake Trail and the Highline Trail are amazing, and are definitely among our “Top Ten Things To Do In Glacier Park”.  These Glacier Park hikes are suitable for most Glacier Park visitors who are interested in some incredibly scenic, short and easy hikes.

Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road is also home to a visitor center and gift shop which is also a draw for Glacier Park vacationers.  With all of these features, Logan Pass is understandably an extremely popular “hot spot” for Glacier Park visitors.  And with this popularity also comes a few challenges during the peak travel season, so we’d like to share with you some helpful tips to help you maximize your enjoyment of Logan Pass during your next Glacier National Park vacation…..

Tip #1:  Bring A Lunch
There is no food or beverages for sale at Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park, so it’s really important to bring your own food and beverages.  There is a drinking fountain near the visitor center, but that’s it!

Tip #2:  Get There Early
If you want to find an easy parking spot without delay, it’s best to get to Logan Pass before 10:30 am.  After that, the parking lot really starts to fill up fast.  If your goal is to spend your day at Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park, or at least a good portion of it, the earlier you get to the parking lot, the better.

Tip #3:  If Parking Lot Sign Says “FULL”…
For the past few years, the NPS has been putting up a sign that says “Parking Lot Full- Expect Delays”.  If you see this sign, we recommend that you pull into Logan Pass anyway, and simply drive around until you luck out and grab a parking spot that opens up.  Keep in mind that there are always visitors coming and going from the Going To The Sun Road parking lot.   The trick is to drive around and around, along with the twenty or so other cars looking for a parking spot, with the hopes of someone leaving the parking lot just as you are ready to pull in and take their spot.  STAY CALM and don’t let your blood pressure go through the roof, and have faith that you’ll eventually find a parking spot.  It has been our personal experience that we’ve only had to wait at the most 20 minutes for a spot to open up for us.  Again, be patient and stay calm.

Once in awhile there will actually be a ranger at the turnout to the Logan Pass parking lot, waving cars on.  If this happens, don’t be discouraged.  If you’re heading east, simply drive down to Lunch Creek, which is only about a half of a mile east of Logan Pass on the Going To The Sun Road, and enjoy this area for a short while.  You can have your lunch here or take in the gorgeous scenery.  After a half hour or so, drive back up to Logan Pass with the hopes that the ranger is now allowing cars back in the Logan Pass parking lot.  If you’re heading west and the ranger waves you on, head down to Oberlin Bend, which is just about 300 yards west of Logan Pass and enjoy this area for 30 minutes or so.  If this area has no parking, you can always head down to what is known as “Big Bend”, where there is plenty of jaw-dropping scenery and plenty of parking.  Big Bend is about 3 miles west of Logan Pass.

Tip #4: Bring Hiking Boots / Shoes
Even if you don’t plan on hiking during your Going To The Sun Road adventure, when you get to Logan Pass, something creeps into practically everyone on the pass.  We call it “Glacier Park Magic”, and this magic will overcome you and you’ll find yourself walking along the Hidden Lake Trail boardwalk and ending up at the Hidden Lake Overlook.  This is probably one of the most gorgeous 1.5 mile hikes in North America, and we’ve seen literally every walk of life on this trail and every size and shape.  So you might as well be ready for the “Glacier Park Magic” and bring appropriate footwear, because we can assure you that you will go on a hike while you’re there, whether you were expecting to or not.

The trailhead to the Highline Trail is also located on Logan Pass, and is another world-class hiking experience, and is also one of the most popular Glacier Park Hikes.  The Highline Trail is initially quite level, and you may decide to hike just a few hundred yards or make it a full day hike… it’s completely up to you!  Whichever the case, make sure you bring your hiking shoes or boots.

Logan Pass along the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park is without question one of the most popular destinations for Glacier National Park Visitors, and by following these simple tips that we’ve just shared with you, your Logan Pass experience will be far more pleasant and enjoyable.

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Cooke City Montana – Silver Gate Montana, Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone Park

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Cooke City Montana / Silver Gate Montana: Northeast Entrance To Yellowstone National Park
We just completed a brand new page on Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana. These two charming mountain towns are located just a few miles beyond the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and are wonderful places to visit and explore during your Yellowstone National Park vacation. Founded in 1883, Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana are located only a few miles apart, and just over 100 people live in these fascinating towns.

There are wonderful eating establishments, gift shops, hotels, motels, cabin rentals and much more. And because of their unique location, these Yellowstone National Park entrance towns cater to park visitors all year round. And the two main reasons for this tourist traffic is that Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana are located just up the road from the world famous Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, and are also located at the end (or beginning) of the world famous Scenic Beartooth Highway. In addition, Cooke City and Silver Gate are located at the end of the only road that is open to wheeled vehicles in the entire Yellowstone Park during the winter season.

The landscape around these two charming mountain towns is breathtaking. No matter where you look there are towering mountains. In fact, it’s the more mountainous section of Yellowstone Park. So if you like getting close to tall, sharp, and jagged peaks, then you really need to check out the Cooke City Montana / Silver Gate Montana area.

Lamar Valley
The Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park is famous for its wildlife viewing. Grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, black bear, bighorn sheep, moose, pronghorns, bison, river otters, elk, eagles and much more can be observed from the road running through this amazing valley, and is a favorite place for many visitors to observe and photograph these amazing animals.  The Lamar Valley is world-renowned for its wildlife viewing, and is truly a “must see” while visiting the northeast section of Yellowstone National Park.

And during the Winter in Yellowstone Park, the road from Gardiner Montana to Cooke City Montana, via Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley, is the only road in Yellowstone Park that is plowed and open for wheeled vehicles. And Winter in Yellowstone Park provides excellent opportunities to see and photo animals all along this entire roadway, and Cooke City and Silver Gate marks the end of this plowed road.

Beartooth Highway
The Beartooth Highway (aka Beartooth Scenic Biway) is one the most incredible civil engineering wonders in North America. This incredibly scenic highway starts (or ends) at Red Lodge Montana, and literally climbs up and over the top of the monstrous Beartooth Mountain Range. The highest point along this amazing roadway is just under 11,000 feet above sea level, and the views from up there are absolutely amazing. The Beartooth Highway then continues down the other side of the mountains and ends up at Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana. The Beartooth Highway is an extremely popular attraction for those visiting Yellowstone National Park, and Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana are there to make this drive even more special.

Winter Adventurer’s Paradise
Winter in Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana is a winter adventurer’s dream come true. This area gets a TON of snow, so any sport having to do with snow is happening here…. It’s definitely a hot spot for a Winter in Yellowstone Park.

The Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana area provides world class snowmobiling that is legendary, as well as cross country skiing, ice climbing and snowshoeing. And not only are there seemingly limitless snowmobile trails in the immediate area, but you can also snowmobile over the top of the Beartooth Highway in the winter and end up at Red Lodge Montana! (The highway is closed to wheeled vehicles in the winter.) So during your Yellowstone Winter vacation, you really need to visit this amazing area.

So check out our new page on Cooke City Montana and Silver Gate Montana. You’ll definitely find that these two Yellowstone National Park entrance towns are charming, fun, scenic and absolutely worth the effort to visit during your Yellowstone National Park vacation.

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Yellowstone National Park: Are they Bison or Buffalo?

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In Yellowstone National Park, are the large hairy animals roaming the landscape called bison or buffalo? Well, some people call them buffalo, and others call them bison. Who’s right? Well, everyone’s right. The National Park Service states on their website, “In North America, both “bison” and “buffalo” refer to the American bison. Generally, “buffalo” is used informally; “bison” is preferred for more formal or scientific purposes.” So there you have it. You can call them buffalo or you can call them bison, whichever name you prefer. Most native westerners call them buffalo, and have been ever since the early pioneers first laid eyes on these magnificent animals. They looked similar to buffalo found on other continents, so the early pioneers called them “buffalo”. This name stuck, even though technically they are known as bison in the scientific community.

Vernicular Name
An animal’s “vernicular name” refers to the popular name given to animals that is understood by general society. The vernicular name does not have to be “scientifically correct”, but rather simply understood by the general public as to what animal you are referring to. Therefore, with bison (whose scientific name is actually “Bison bison”), the vernicular name for the bison is BUFFALO. Another example is the Mountain Goat. The mountain goat is actually not a goat, but the vernicular name “mountain goat” is completely understood by the general population as to what animal you are referring to. Other examples include the Lake Trout (which is actually a Char), or Antelope (which actually is a Pronghorn and not a true antelope), or Brook Trout (which is actually a type of Char and not a trout). Therefore, whether you use the animals vernicular name (popular name) or their scientific name, it’s all good and both are correct.

So even though the term “buffalo” is a kind of slang word for bison, it is socially acceptable to call them by that name in North America. This means that the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, the towns of Buffalo Montana, Buffalo Wyoming, Buffalo New York and the 25+ other towns throughout the United States named Buffalo, and the Buffalo Bills professional football team that has a buffalo on their helmet, and the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park, the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park and all the other Buffalo Jump State Parks throughout the west, can all rest easier knowing that calling a bison a “buffalo” is just fine.

And here’s something else that’s quite interesting… Did you know that according to, a group of buffalo can be called a “troop”, a “gang”, a “thunder” an “obstinacy” or a “herd”? We’re going to stick with “herd”, but you’re free to choose whichever name you prefer!

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Winter in Yellowstone Park

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Winter In Yellowstone Park is a magical time and place, and if you’ve never experienced it, we highly recommend that you do. And when you do, there are some things to know that will make your Yellowstone Winter visit more enjoyable and more memorable, and that is what we’ll discuss in this article…. and just in time because the Yellowstone Park Winter Season opens December 15, 2013.

Two Lodges To Choose From, Two Different Worlds
There are basically two different worlds during a Winter in Yellowstone Park. One world is the “Mammoth Hot Springs Winter World” and the other is the “Old Faithful  Winter World”. These worlds are indeed different from one another, and which world you choose depends on what you are most interested in.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Area
Located 5 miles south of the North Entrance at Gardiner Montana, the “Mammoth Hot Springs Winter World” includes Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and area, as well as the road between Gardiner Montana and Cooke City Montana, via Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley. This road is the only road open to wheeled vehicles all year long, including the entire Winter in Yellowstone Park. Only snowmobiles and snow coaches are allowed on all other roads throughout the Yellowstone Park winter season.

Outstanding Wildlife Viewing Opportunities
If you’re most interested in seeing wildlife, then you might want to consider staying at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, because the northern section of Yellowstone National Park receives the least amount of snow, and therefore many animals congregate here. Known as the “northern desert”, this area of Yellowstone National Park is home to a lot of bison, as well as a fair number of wolves, coyotes, fox, elk, eagles, and the occasional moose throughout the winter months. River otters are also found along the Lamar River all winter long. There are also bighorn sheep in the area, as well as pronghorns wintering just beyond the North Entrance at Gardiner Montana. Of course you more than likely won’t see any bears because they’re sleeping in their dens during the Winter in Yellowstone Park.

The world famous Lamar Valley, which is located along the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City at the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone Park, is a great place to view wildlife during a winter in Yellowstone Park, but you will most likely see wildlife all along this incredible drive between Gardiner and Cooke City.

Additional Activities Near Mammoth Hot Springs
In addition to wildlife watching, there are plenty of places to snowshoe and cross country ski along this northern road throughout the Winter in Yellowstone Park. And of course there are the amazing geothermal feature known as the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces right in the town of Mammoth that are open all winter for visitors to enjoy.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Area
The other “world” during a Winter in Yellowstone Park is the Old Faithful Area. The Old Faithful Inn is closed, however the gorgeous Old Faithful Snow Lodge is open for business, as well as a few restaurants and gift shops. The only way to get to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is by snowmobile or snow coach, and the main hub for taking visitors to Old Faithful is West Yellowstone Montana. Other places of entrance is near the East Entrance, which Cody Wyoming is close to, as well as Flagg Ranch near the South Entrance of Yellowstone, which is north of Jackson Hole Wyoming. But West Yellowstone is definitely the most popular place to hop a ride on a snowmobile or snow coach to get to Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

Geysers and Snow
The Old Faithful Area experience is different than the Mammoth Hot Spring experience during a winter in Yellowstone Park because there is a lot more snow. So if you’re looking for an incredible “winter wonderland”, then this area is your best bet. However, because of all the snow, very few animals choose to hang out here in the winter. Bison (a.k.a. buffalo) are the most prominent animal in the Old Faithful Area. But even though there is not a large variety of animals in this heavy snow area, it does provide incredible opportunities to see thousands of geothermal features surrounded by snow. Seeing these super hot geothermal features in subzero temperatures, with snow all around them, is absolutely magical and something everyone should experience at least once.

Additional Activities In Old Faithful Area
Of course there is also snow shoeing and cross country skiing provided at the Old Faithful Area, as well as additional areas of Yellowstone Park in Winter.

Beyond Old Faithful
In addition to these activities, keep in mind that all the main roads throughout Yellowstone Park in winter are groomed on a daily basis, allowing snow mobiles and snow coaches to travel throughout Yellowstone Park on day excursions. You be able to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, as well as Yellowstone Lake and Hayden Valley. The only road that is not open to any type of vehicle is the stretch between Tower Fall and Canyon, which is the Dunraven Pass area.

If You Have Time…
If you have time, and you’d like to experience it all, we recommend that you spend some time on the northern open road between Gardiner Montana and Cooke City Montana, via Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley to enjoy some incredible wildlife watching, and also spend some time at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge so you can enjoy an incredible winter wonderland of really deep snow, as well as seeing many of the major geothermal features of Yellowstone Park in Winter.

If You’re Too Late…
Now, if you’re too late in getting reservations for Old Faithful Snow Lodge or Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, then a great alternative is to stay at the entrance towns of Gardiner, Silver Gate or Cooke City Montana for the northern dessert excursions including the Lamar Valley, and West Yellowstone Montana is ideal for exploring the Old Faithful Area and beyond.

For More Information…
Yellowstone Park is such a magical place during the winter season, and it is impossible to adequately describe just how magical and incredible it actually is. You’ll simply have to find out for yourself… and more than likely, once you experience a winter in Yellowstone Park, you’ll come back again and again.

For More Details on Winter In Yellowstone, Click Here.

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Climbing Mount Merritt in Glacier National Park: 6 Grizzly Bears Guarding The Route

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Climbing Mount Merritt in Glacier National Park: 6 Grizzly Bears Guarding The Route
In mid August of 2013, my wife Shannon and I set off to climb Mount Merritt in Glacier National Park. We were camped at Mokowanis Lake, and it was a perfect day for climbing: clear skies with no weather in the forecast. We completed the bushwack in less than an hour (talking loudly the entire time as to not surprise a grizzly), and had a quick snack at the base of the cirque at 8:45 am. We both felt great and hadn’t even broke a sweat yet.

We then began climbing up the cirque cliffs and at about 10:45 am we looked below us and saw a grizzly sow and cub (cub of the year) walking precisely where we had our morning snack at the base of the cirque. They were about a thousand feet below us, and they were looking up at the cirque. We were a bit concerned that they were planning to climb up into the cirque to “moth”, and if that were the case, coming back down might be a problem. Fortunately, they worked back into the white pines below the cirque after about 15 minutes of staring upward, so we continued to climb. We knew that we had to possibly deal with them during our bushwack off the mountain, but we were willing to put this all to the side for the time being. Periodically we would yell out “hey bear” to make our presence known, and continued to climb.

Everything was going great for about another 20 minutes, but just when we were about to reach the reef below the saddle at about 8,500 feet, Shannon, who was above of me, quietly said “grizzlies”. I thought that the sow and cub had probably re-appeared below us and were coming up. But Shannon was looking above her… not below her. I climbed up next to her to see what she was looking at, and my jaw about dropped to the ground. Only about 75 yards directly above us on the cliffs were not one, not two, not three, but FOUR grizzly bears. They were rolling over rocks and munching on moth larvae, which is known as “mothing”. One of the grizzlies was slightly larger than the other three grizzlies, so this was more than likely a sow with her three “cubs” that were now good sized sub-adults.

It was actually a beautiful sight… the morning sun had just broke over the saddle, and their hair was backlit and glowing. My initial reaction was to pull out the camera from my pack, but after having over a 100 summits under our belts in Glacier Park and having plenty of experiences with grizzlies “mothing” on summits and summit ridges while we were on them, both Shannon and I knew that we needed to get out of sight as quickly as possible before they saw or heard us. The wind was in our favor, so we knew they wouldn’t pick up our scent, therefore we quickly hid behind a cliff, out of sight, and looked at each other and immediately knew what we needed to do…. and that was get the heck out of there as quickly and as quietly as possible. We agreed with this decision with no hesitation… even though what was going to be a perfect day on a great mountain was instantly taken away from us.

We are quite familiar with grizzly sub-adults. They are curious, brave, and a bit cocky, and if one of them had seen us, then we could have had all four grizzlies coming down the cliffs to check us out. That would not have been a good thing…obviously. And keep in mind that these are not “trail bears”. These bears rarely, if ever, see humans. That can work in your favor, but often times it can work against you, and we were in no position to take any chances. Also, because there was a fairly strong wind, our bear spray would not have been as affective as we would have liked. And we were out-numbered 4 to 2.

So instead of potentially getting into some serious trouble on the cliffs of Mount Merritt with four grizzly bears, some twenty miles into the backcountry, we did what we still feel was the right thing to do, and that was to climb back down the cirque cliffs as quickly and as quietly as possible, without the bears seeing, hearing, or smelling us. Fortunately, we made it safely off the cirque without the four bears detecting us. They remained on the cliffs above us “mothing”. (And by the way, this explained what the sow and cub were looking up at earlier… they wanted to come up the cliffs to “moth”, but saw the four other grizzlies up there and decided not to come up.)

We then had to dive into the bushwack exactly where the sow grizzly and young cub that we saw earlier had walked into. We knew they were somewhere in there, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying the “Mount Merritt bushwack”, you know just how thick it is and just how high the potential is of running into a grizzly… especially after you’ve just watched a sow and cub walk into the exact area you are about to bushwack through.

We of course changed our strategy on this stretch of the adventure…. we talked EXTREMELY loud the entire way through the bushwack as to let the sow and cub, and any other bear in the area, know that we were there so they would hopefully move out of the way to avoid us. The last thing we wanted to do was surprise a grizzly in that thick jungle. Fortunately we did not see any more grizzlies, and we got back to our camp at Mokowanis Lake at about 2:00 pm.

Yes we were relieved, but we were also extremely disappointed. Everything was going so good and we were certainly going to summit Merritt that day, and in an instant it was taken away from us. But as we began to understand it all once we settled down, maybe we were extremely lucky that we saw the four grizzlies on the way up instead of on the way down. If we had summitted, and came across the grizzlies on the way down, we would have had less options. And let’s say that again they didn’t see, hear or smell us…. then we’d have to sit them out, and hope they would eventually move out of the way or head back down the cirque… giving us enough time to still get off the mountain before dark. But in the past we’ve watched grizzlies literally stay in one spot all day long and moth. Now that would have been a real problem. The last thing we’d want to do is to spend the night with them on the side of the mountain. So with all things considered, we were quite fortunate the way it all unfolded. Yes, we would have preferred to not have any grizzlies on Mount Merritt in Glacier National Park on the day of our climb, but Mount Merritt will always be there, and we’ll simply climb it next year…. and hope that we are “grizzly free” next time.

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Autumn in Glacier National Park

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Autumn in Glacier National Park
Even though summer is the most popular time for visitors to explore and enjoy Glacier National Park, fall is also a gorgeous time of year to visit this famous destination.  Even though the days are shorter and the nights are colder, the month of September and early October provide a host of reasons for you to consider visiting Glacier National Park during the autumn season.

#1.  The Aspens Turn Color
Most of the east side of Glacier National Park is covered in aspens, and during the last week in September and first week of October, the aspen leaves turn bright gold.  It’s a spectacular sight… especially around Chief Mountain along the Chief Mountain International Peace Parkway.

#2. The Rut
Elk and moose have there mating season, known as “the rut”, in late September and early October. Watching these great animals “do what they do” is absolutely amazing.  You will see bull elk fighting to protect their harems, and you will hear them bugle at each other…. It’s really something special to experience this amazing behavior.  And watching a huge bull moose guard over his cow… it’s really a great time of year.

#3.  Electric Blue Sky
The sky during the fall season in Glacier National Park turns a vivid “electric blue” that is even more striking when the aspen leaves have turned to their bright gold color.  It’s a shade of blue not seen any other time of year…. providing that the regional fires are out by then.

#4.  Easier River and Stream Crossings
There are several Glacier Park hikes that require that the hiker ford across a river or stream, and fall is the best time of year to make these crossings because the water level is much lower than spring or summer.

#5.  Cooler Temperatures
The day time and night time temperatures begin to really cool down in Glacier National Park, especially after mid-September.  These cooler temperatures make hiking very pleasant and really make a campfire feel extra good as the night time temperatures begin to drop dramatically.  This time of year you’ll really enjoy your down sleeping bag as well.

#6.  Fresh Snow on the Mountain Tops
If you’re lucky, you will get to see a fresh “dusting” of snow on the peaks of Glacier National Park. This fresh snow, with the electric blue sky and the golden aspens, are what dreams are made of when taking scenic photographs.

#7.  The Tamaracks (Larch) Turn Yellow
Glacier National Park is home to many Tamarack trees, also known as Larch.  Located mainly on the west side of the continental divide, these amazing trees look like evergreens in the spring and summer, but during late September and early October, the needles turn a vivid yellow before they fall off the tree.  When the tamarack forests are yellow with a dark green background of the neighboring evergreens, the sight is breathtaking.

#8.  Animals Are More Visible
Fall is a great time to see animals in Glacier National Park. They are out more because the days are cooler, and many animals such as pika are busy gathering food for winter, or animals such as bears are trying to really fatten up for their long winter’s nap.  They are so busy looking for food that often times they are out all day and quite visible to visitors. Elk and moose are in their mating seasons, and later in the fall (November) the big horn sheep, mule deer and whitetail deer begin their mating seasons.  So fall is a wonderful time to view wildlife.

Limited Services
Now of course many of the Glacier National Park Lodging Facilities and Glacier Park Campgrounds begin closing up in September, but keep in mind that many of the campgrounds are still open, even though they won’t have running water.  Instead, they turn what is known as “primitive”.  So you can still camp, but you won’t have all the conveniences that are provided during the summer season.  The lodges are closed up usually by the third week of September, and the Going To The Sun Road typically remains open until mid October, depending on the weather.

But if you are OK with the primitive campgrounds and the lodge closures, you will truly enjoy some magical days in Glacier National Park.  Fall is an amazing time of year in Glacier… the colors, the clear skies, the cool nights, the snow capped peaks and the animals all make autumn a very special time, and we highly recommend that you take some time and explore it.

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Autumn in Grand Teton National Park: Simply Gorgeous!

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Autumn in Grand Teton National Park: Simply Gorgeous!
Autumn is a very special time in Grand Teton National Park, and is one of our favorite places to be during the fall season. The fall colors, the animals, the electric blue sky and the cool crisp days and nights all make Grand Teton National Park a wonderful place to visit during the fall season.

Fall Colors
Grand Teton National Park is world famous for its magnificent fall colors, and if you hit it just right, you will understand why. There are a high concentration of aspens throughout the park, and when they turn, they turn a bright yellow. This bright yellow is jaw-dropping, especially when the aspen trees are in direct contrast to the dark green of the evergreen trees. And what’s also a really treat are the aspens that turn a copper color and sometimes even red. These vivid colors reflecting in the Snake River at Oxbow Bend, and the incredible Teton Mountain Range as the towering back drop, makes for a perfect image. That’s probably why Oxbow Bend is one of the most photographed spots in Grand Teton National Park, and probably in the entire country.

What date the colors actually change is slightly different from year to year, but usually the colors start to really turn the third week of September through the first week in October. And of course there are several factors that can affect the outcome of the color change. For example, if there is an early freeze, sometimes the leaves simply die without really showing off a vivid yellow. And other times if there are high winds, the leaves are blown off before visitors really get to enjoy them. And sometimes the colors change all at once which is really amazing to see, and other years it happens in sections. But if you hit it right during the perfect year, you will be absolutely astounded over what you’ll see!

The “Rut”
Fall is also the mating seasons for pronghorns, elk and moose in Grand Teton National Park. This is known as “the rut”, and is a fascinating time to watch these animals in action. The males are trying to “get friendly” with the females, and they have to fight other males for this privilege. Watching these rituals is always fascinating and quite memorable. And during the rut, these animals are out in the open more, so you have a much better chance of seeing them as opposed to mid summer. That is why you’ll see a lot of photographers out in the field during this time of year.

Cool Crisp Days and Nights
An added bonus to fall in Grand Teton National Park is that the days are very pleasant. The temperature is cooler but the sun is warm on your face… kind of like a campfire. It’s hard to describe but it’s wonderful. And when the sun goes down, it gets quite cool, which makes campfires feel even better.

Fresh Snow on the Peaks
Another nice feature of a Grand Teton National Park autumn is the fresh snow that falls on the tall peaks of the Teton Mountain Range. This snow really makes the mountains even more breathtaking, and this along with the fall colors make for a wonderful scene.

Electric Blue Sky
It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it in person, but the sky above Grand Teton National Park (as well as Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park) becomes “electric blue” in color. You won’t see this vivid color any other time of year, and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s due to the polarizing effect from the specific angle of the sun during this time of year, and because the forest fires are finished for the year (usually). There is also less UV haze in the air this time of year which helps create this unique color.

So adding the “electric blue” sky to the white fresh snow on the mountains, and the incredibly vivid yellow aspen leaves…. you’ve got yourself one of the prettiest images your eyes will ever see. Oh, and add a harem of cow elk with a herd bull bugling…. it just doesn’t get better than that! But no matter how hard we attempt to adequately describe it, and no matter how we try to capture it in photos, actually seeing Grand Teton National Park during the peak of the autumn season with your own eyes is the only way to do it justice. You’ll then understand why we get so excited about this special place during this special time of year!

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How To Avoid a Grizzly Bear Attack While Hiking In Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton Park: Four Basic Rules
There are Four Basic Rules that all hikers need to follow if they are hiking in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton National Park to avoid a grizzly bear attack.  These rules are agreed upon by the National Park Service, and if followed, you will reduce the chances of a grizzly bear attack dramatically.

Statistically, a grizzly bear attack is very rare, but it’s not rare if it happens to be YOU who are faced with this terrifying event, so we strongly urge all hikers to follow these four basic rules of hiking in grizzly country.  These rules will not only reduce the chances of injury or death, but will also greatly reduce the chances of even having an encounter with a grizzly bear.

This is the number one rule while hiking in grizzly bear country.  Statistics have proven over and over again that there is “strength in numbers”.  The more people that are hiking together, the less of a chance for a grizzly bear encounter or grizzly bear attack.

Two hikers are FAR better than one, and the National Park Service even recommends that visitors hike in groups of three or more. Studies have shown that a grizzly bear is far less likely to attack a group of hikers compared to a single hiker.  A single hiker is far less intimidating to a grizzly bear, and the bear is more likely to show aggression to this single hiker in certain circumstances, whereas if there are several hikers, the grizzly will behave much differently…and likely far less aggressively.

To avoid a grizzly attack in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton National Park, hikers must constantly be aware of their surroundings.  Hikers tend to look directly at the trail in front of their feet when they hike instead of looking far down the trail or at the areas on each side of the trail.  This is a common behavior of hikers, and it can get them into trouble.  Hikers really need to make sure they are always looking ahead as well as looking to both sides of the trail.  This will obviously help them see a bear (or bears) further ahead of them rather than when the bear is right next to them.  This in turn dramatically reduces the chances of a grizzly bear attack because the hikers can respond before the grizzly sees these hikers as a threat.

The number one reason why a grizzly bear attacks humans is because the bear was surprised by the hiker and responded in a defensive manner.  You see, grizzly bears attack when they feel threatened or if their cubs appear to be threatened.  This is a very basic and automatic “fight or flight” response, and when the bear chooses “fight” rather than “flight”, the hiker(s) are in really big trouble and are in great risk of being attacked by this particular grizzly bear.

To avoid surprising a grizzly bear while hiking in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park and Grand Teton National Park, we highly recommend that you “TALK LOUD” while you hike.  Studies have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the human voice is by far the best tool to let grizzly bears in the area know you are there.  The human voice is better than any other “noise maker” such as bear bells.  In fact, bear bells have been shown to actually provoke a bear’s curiosity because it is such an unnatural and unfamiliar sound.

By talking loud while you hike, this allows bears in the area to know plenty of time in advance that you’re coming down the trail, and therefore allowing the bear (or bears) to avoid you.  By not surprising a grizzly bear while hiking, this greatly reduces your chances of being attacked or even having a confrontation.  Bears in general prefer to avoid humans, and by giving them the “heads up”, this gives them time to get out of the area.  And by not surprising the bear(s), you will not activate their instinctual “fight or flight” response.

If a hiker follows these first three rules of hiking in grizzly country, then that hiker will more than likely not need to use this fourth and final rule, but there are occasions where the hiker(s) do everything right, and still are faced with a grizzly bear attack.  So this final rule while hiking in grizzly bear country is essential, because when things go bad, it will literally save the hiker’s life.

Studies have shown that if a hiker has bear spray and knows how to use it, that hiker…if faced with a grizzly bear attack, will reduce his/her chances of injury or death by over 90%.  That’s a statistic that has been proven over and over again, and therefore reinforces the absolute necessity of ALWAYS CARRYING BEAR SPRAY.

And having the bear spray inside a day pack doesn’t count because a grizzly bear attack can occur in a split second, and the hiker will not have time to pull out the canister of bear spray before the bear is physically on him or her.  Therefore,  each hiker should have the bear spray on their hip or on their chest… which provides quick and easy access in case of a grizzly bear attack.

Also, EACH HIKER needs to have his or her very own bear spray. This is imperative because if one hiker is being attacked by a grizzly bear and he/she can’t get to his or her bear spray, then the other hiker(s) can spray the bear.

And carrying bear spray is not enough.  The hiker must know exactly HOW AND WHEN TO USE THE BEAR SPRAY.  Therefore, the hiker must read the instructions over and over again, and practice removing the safety clip, and visualize in his or her mind spraying a bear, so in the event of an actually grizzly bear attack, the hiker has already “practiced” spraying the bear in his or her mind.  We also recommend that each hiker talk to a ranger about the proper use of their bear spray so they are fully prepared in the rare but unfortunate circumstance of being confronted with a charging grizzly bear in Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park or Grand Teton National Park…. or anywhere else grizzlies roam.

For more details on hiking in grizzly country, take a look at our ebook entitled, “Hiking In Grizzly Country”.

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Tip For Multi-Day Hiking In Glacier Park: “Know When To Fold’em”

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Tip For Multi-Day Hiking In Glacier Park:
“Know When To Fold’em”
Glacier National Park offers some of the best overnight backpacking experiences in all of North America. There are seemingly endless trails with countless passes that provide jaw-dropping views of spectacular mountains and lakes, and once you take one of these overnight classic Glacier Park hikes into the backcountry, you’ll know exactly what we are talking about.

Today’s blog discusses a reality that we’ve witnessed over and over again through the years, and have also personally experienced. It’s not a “happy” topic, but we really feel it’s important to discuss with all of you overnight backpackers who are interested in hiking in Glacier National Park.

Perfect Weather “Cells”
Glacier National Park weather is extremely volatile. One moment it can be sunny and 80 degrees, the next it can be raining or snowing. But one thing about Glacier Park during the summer months is that there are what we call “cells” of perfect weather for 5, 6, even up to 8 days in a row with either 0% or 10% chance of showers in the afternoon. These “cells” are when we head into the backcountry and enjoy a wonderful multi-day Glacier Park hiking adventure. If you hit one of these “cells”, you’ll have postcard-perfect photos the entire trip, and you’ll always have a dry tent and dry gear. It’s really wonderful when you luck out with one of these incredible cells, and they actually occur 4 or 5 times a summer. These cells make overnight backpacking an absolute joy. We live for these incredible “perfect weather windows”.

Bad Weather “Cells”
On the other hand, just as Glacier National Park can have a “clear weather cell”, it can have a “bad weather cell” where the weather forecast calls for 90% to 100% chance of rain for 5 or 6 days in a row, with the average high temperature in the 50’s. These bad weather “cells” can literally be “hell on earth”, where ALL of your gear becomes soaking wet, and since you can’t build a fire, you are always cold. Your tent will get soaked, your clothes with be soaked, your sleeping bag will be soaked, and there is not even 10 minutes of sun to dry your gear out. You will also not have any good views of the mountains that surround you because the cloud cover is so low. Fortunately there are usually only a few of these “bad weather cells” each summer.

Now some of you are saying, “rain and cold doesn’t bother me.” Well, after it rains solid for 5 days in a row, sometimes 3 to 4 inches in a matter of hours, and the lakes raise two feet and the streams are overflowing, and you can’t even eat your freeze dried food because it’s raining too hard, and you basically had a “river” running through your tent the night before, and the temperature gets near 30 degrees at night and a high of 50 during the day, on day 3 or 4 we can almost guarantee you’ll stop having fun, and by day 5 you’ll be tempted to sell your backpack on the trail and hike out to the nearest trailhead as fast as you possibly can.

A Quick Story: An Example Worth Discussing
We’ve seen this happen over and over again. A few years ago we were planning an overnight Glacier Park hiking trip to Stoney Indian Pass and then onto Goat Haunt Montana. There was one of those Glacier National Park’s famous 5 day “bad weather cells” where there was absolutely horrific rain and cold predicted for 5 solid days (and it snowed the night of the fifth day). This was in mid-August during the peak of the overnight backpacking activity in the backcountry of Glacier Park. We saw this cell coming in the weather forecast, and our trip was planned right in the middle of this nightmare. So we moved our trip to the day after the “cell” moved through. The forecast then called for 0% precipitation for the next 6 days. The bad cell moved completely through by noon on the day we were scheduled to start our trip, which was when we headed out on the trail. The sky was crystal clear and sunny, and the temperature was about 75 degrees.

As we were hiking into the backcountry from the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead on our way to our first night at Cosley Lake, an ocean of soaking wet backpackers were heading toward the trailhead. The stories they told of their experiences made us EXTREMELY glad we moved our trip to avoid the nightmare.

One group of three men in their 30’s told us that it rained so hard and so long that Cosley Lake began to spill over into their campsite. They said it didn’t really matter though because all of their gear and clothing were already saturated. They were forced to eat their freeze dried food dry because it was impossible to heat up the food with a stove. These guys were so miserable, they cut their trip short and were hiking out to the nearest trailhead, which happened to be the Chief Mountain Customs Trailhead, and were going to hitch-hike back to their vehicle parked on Logan Pass. They had only been out 3 nights on an 8 night itinerary. We told them that the weather was going to be perfect for the next 7 days, and they said that they were so miserable and so cold and so sick of it that they didn’t care. They wanted to get the heck out of there. And guess what? These three guys were retired Army Rangers!!!!!

Know When to Fold’em
There is no way we can really describe just how bad the weather can be during one of these “bad weather cells”. You’re just going to have to take our word for it. But if you don’t, and you decide to venture into the backcountry of Glacier Park even though the forecast calls for horrible weather, well then you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. We’ve had our share of bad weather while backpacking through the years, and we’ve learned the hard way that IT’S NOT WORTH IT!

So what if your Glacier National Park backpacking trip happens to be scheduled during one of these “bad weather cells”, we suggest that you either somehow move your trip forward to miss the “cell”, or if you can’t, you might want to consider canceling your trip. We know that sounds really “wimpy”, but in the end you’ll thank us…. that is unless you are among those very few who love to be miserable. “The Joy of Misery” is really overrated in our opinion. We feel that there is absolutely no joy in being miserable.

For Our Favorite Glacier Park Overnight Hikes, click here.
For Glacier National Park Weather, click here.

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