Today we met some friends to do a couple of short, popular hikes in Glacier National Park. We had fantastic mountain views, wildlife, and waterfalls. So far, after two days in Glacier, it's rapidly moving up our favorite National Parks list.
We were staying outside of Glacier National Park in the town of St. Mary on the eastern edge of the park.
We drove the 18 miles in on the Going-To-The-Sun Road, and met our friends, John & Bridget, who drove in from the west side of the park. The plan was to do the very popular, three-mile-round-trip, Hidden Lake Overlook hike that starts behind the Visitors Center at Logan Pass where we met up.
We had some clouds moving in, but we headed out anyway. The 8760 foot Clements Mountain is the focal point of the first part of the hike which starts out paved and then transitions into a boardwalk.
Not far onto the boardwalk, a Long-tailed Weasel casually trotted by holding a rodent at least half its size.
That was the first time we had seen one of these voracious little critters up close. Little did we know they would be common on this hike.
This trail has about a 500 foot elevation gain and, as we climbed, we spotted two groups of Bighorn Sheep.
A couple of rams were on the move.
I thought that there was going to be only a small patch of snow on this hike, but there was a whole snow field that we had to cross, and the clouds were getting darker.
Another weasel popped its head up through a hole in the snow.
Linda helped Bridget get the hang of her new hiking poles, but the slick snow made walking tougher on all of us.
And the weather didn't look good. Actually, I decided that we should turn around, and we headed back toward the Visitors Center. I think Linda was shocked. She couldn't recall any other time I called off a hike for any reason.
However, after we walked about 50 yards, the short sprinkle ended, the clouds broke up, and we could see blue skies in the direction of Hidden Lake. So we turned around and resumed the hike.
Not long after getting through the snow, the dark clouds were gone and the rest of the hike was wonderful.
Then we stopped to view Mountain Goats up on the side of the mountain.
We watched through binoculars, but soon that wasn't necessary. The Mountain Goats on this hike aren't shy, and one of them came down the hill right toward us.
It grazed a little right next to the trail, and gave several of us a really good look.
Linda took about a minute's worth of video of "Casper the Friendly Goat".
Another one came down from the high slope, and they both crossed the trail to graze next to a pond.
There were still five or six more up in the rocks and, upon closer inspection, we could see one of them was a baby.
Moving on, there were a variety of ground squirrels including the Columbian Ground Squirrel which can be seen everywhere in the park.
Looking back up the slope, this Mountain Goat was walking down the snow line against the blue sky. I just thought it was a cool shot.
That one also made a turn and came toward us, kicking up snow and acting a little frisky on its way down.
Linda got some video of that one, too.
Soon, we reached the overlook and the gorgeous view of Hidden Lake and the mountains beyond including Bearhat Mountain, the most prominent peak just on the other side of the lake.
I heard the folks already at the overlook say "It's back". In the far right corner of the lake in a stream outlet, we could see a huge Grizzly fishing. We were a mile or so away and could only see it with binoculars, but everyone agreed it was a really big bear. In fact, the trail that continued down to the lake was closed due to bear activity.
With all the wildlife and the stunning view, it was easy to see why this was one of the most popular hikes in the park.
We sat down on the rocks to have a snack and enjoy the view.
Linda went to find a secluded bathroom spot, and then Bridget took the opportunity to go as well. However, Bridget was startled by movement. Another Mountain Goat appeared out of nowhere.
The goats weren't bothered by the crowd of people at all.
And the ground squirrels believe in "the more the merrier". This Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel was quite bold.
Eventually, the Grizzly in the distance disappeared and didn't come back. Also, the crowd continued to grow, so we made our departure.
One the way back, we saw more ground squirrels, more weasels (video below), ....
more goats, and lots of Hoary Marmots. Can't believe I didn't get any pictures of those large, amusing rodents.
We were glad to reach a section of boardwalk and more great views.
But we weren't looking forward to following the trail of "ants" through the snow field. :)
We managed to slip-slide our way down to the next section of boardwalk without falling - a decent accomplishment.
As we got closer to the Visitors Center, the trail we are taking tomorrow - the Highline Trail - came into view on the slope across the way.
Well, we made it and Bridget's first hike, while shaky with the snow, was successful.
The Hidden Lake Overlook hike is one of those "must do" hikes in Glacier. However, don't expect solitude, and even here in mid-July there was quite a bit of snow to navigate.
I had a second hike planned for the day, but we left it up to our friends to see if they wanted to take it on. It was another three mile round-trip, but it could be shortened if necessary. After a brief discussion, John & Bridget were up for it.
So we drove about six miles toward the east entrance to the park, and found a parking spot at the St. Mary Falls trailhead. St. Mary Falls was less than a mile, and it was a pretty easy downhill hike from the parking lot.
After starting out in the open, the trail soon became shaded all the way to the falls. St. Mary Falls is a small (in height), two-tiered, powerful and pretty waterfall.
The beautiful blue water rushes out of the quarry-like rocks, flows under a bridge, and spreads out into the St. Mary River.
Linda took more video.
After sitting by the falls and enjoying some snacks and a rest, we continued on. The trail started a gentle climb, and we came to an unnamed, yet lovely waterfall ....
with multiple cascades and clear-water pools.
We continued our uphill trek.
A little farther there was another small waterfall ....
and then there was a second multi-tiered unnamed waterfall ....
with more colored rocks and clear water pools.
Again, Linda captured the sights and sounds on video.
Eventually, we made our last climb up the trail and reached Virginia Falls, a higher waterfall that can be seen from the road.
The water here also flows down a couple of tiers and deposits in clear pools.
Linda got her last video of the day in the mist and thunder of the falls.
We sat down below the main waterfall next to the cool rushing water. John & Bridget removed their hiking shoes and soaked their feet for as long as they could stand the tingle of the ice-cold water.
After another relaxing, refreshing rest, .....
we headed out. Just past St. Mary Falls, a couple of really large birds caught our attention. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers paused just long enough for a couple of photos.
By the time we completed the final uphill climb to the parking lot, we were all a bit tired. But this is another worthwhile and very popular hike in Glacier. However, just like the Hidden Lake Overlook trail, don't expect solitude.
John & Bridget did great. It was a six-mile day and quite an accomplishment for them considering it was their first extended hiking experience. Cool.
When we reached the parking lot, a storm was coming in and it started to rain. Some folks were just heading out on the trail.
John & Bridget dropped us off at our Jeep at Logan Pass on their way to the west side and we said our "see ya laters". As we drove back down the mountain, we passed three ranger vehicles with lights flashing. We later learned that three people were struck by lightning .... on the St. Mary Falls trail that we had just finished. Fortunately, all three survived. However, it was another reminder not to take mountain weather lightly.
So, we've visited two areas of Glacier National Park in our first two days, and they were both spectacular.