Visit Montana and you find yourself on the set of the 1990’s movie A River Runs Through It, minus, of course, the fly fishing rods and Brad Pitt. What the movie doesn’t show however, is the massive crowds who also want to grab a slice of one of the most beautiful states in the US, during its brief spell of summer.
For the most part you can get away from the crowds by hiking on the lesser-known trails, visiting more remote places, and staying away from the big ticket places. But every now and again you must join the masses and fight it out. Yellowstone is crowded, but not to the same level at Glacier National Park, where it’s almost impossible to park, the trails were like the London Underground during rush hour and the chance of getting a backcountry permit are slim. I mean damn, you even have to pre-book a ticket to drive on the main road through the park.
We spent the first week in Montana doing the former – driving along the endless National Forest roads, seeking out some beautiful dispersed camping spots, and an infinite number of lakes, ranging from silty bottomed, dark-watered lakes that bring to mind scenes from the movie Lake Placid, to crystal clear lakes so transparent that the bottom is clearly visible even when the water is too deep to dive to the bottom.
Leaving the solitude of the National Forests we headed for Glacier National Park. The ‘Going to the Sun’ Road is a major feat of engineering, hugging the side of the mountains so precariously that drivers on the exposed side find themselves hugging the centre line in the road, stealing glances down the vertigo inducing drops, while drivers on the mountain side find themselves hugging the centre line trying to avoid scratching their car on the protruding rocky faces. For anyone who hasn’t driven in the Middle East, the concept of 2 drivers in the middle of the same road can be a little disconcerting.
Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get a backcountry permit, but we did manage a few walks including the Highline trail with its narrow traverse along the middle of a cliff, and view stretching all the way down the glacial valley. We swam in the wonderfully warm water of Lake McDonald, and the freezing cold waters of the St Mary river. We also met a great couple, George and Irene, and their lovely 9 month old daughter Uma. It was great to be able to sit with like-minded Europeans to compare notes and swap stories.
Crowds aside, Glacier NP certainly deserves its place as one of the USA’s flagship National Parks.