I really want to visit Many Glacier c
ampground during the second half of my week-long vacation in Glacier National Park. It is considered to be the “heart” of Glacier, and also the only way for an RV of my size (over 21 ft long, 8 ft wide) to be able to camp in the interior of the park, as the Winnie is not allowed on the only road that crosses the interior, the Going to the Sun Road. Having come from Washington, I am on the west side the park. That means I must drive all the way around the bottom perimeter via Highway 2. According to the Ranger at Apgar Visitor’s Center, due to some construction, I will need to allow three hours.
Many Glacier Campground is also the most popular campground in the park. With only 99 sites, and not all of those suited for RVs, it fills up every single day during the summer. It’s first come, first served, and there are tales of people circling the park, watching for campers packing up to swoop in and claim the space before it’s even vacated.
The National Park Service has a great website tracker that shows the exact time of day that the campground fills, both for this year, as well as historical years. This information is also posted on an information board at every Visitor’s Center. I have been watching this source of information for a couple of weeks now, and consistently, Many Glacier is the first to fill, and usually by 9:00am. That would mean a departure of 5:00am from Apgar, a good two hours before sunrise here on the far western reaches of the Mountain Daylight Timezone. I don’t want to drive this scenic, curvy road supposedly fraught with wildlife just waiting to leap into my oncoming headlight beams in the dark.
So I consult my Allstays App, and see the Glacier Peaks Casino in Browning offers overnight parking. I can move into the Visitor’s Center parking lot for my hike to Hidden Lake, saving twenty bucks, then drive on to the casino after the hike, and be over halfway to Many Glacier for an early run on a campsite by sunrise the next morning.
I share this plan with the Going to the Sun Shuttle Driver on my way back from Hidden Lake. He warns, “Watch yourself in Browning. Don’t go out after dark. It’s pretty rough there.” I explain, “I only plan on parking in the Casino parking lot, and don’t plan to get out of my rig. Is there still a danger?” “No, you should be okay. Just don’t go out drinking at night. That’s Blackfeet Country. Blackfeet were the most feared Indian Nation in the Northwest, and some of these guys never left the reservation, if you know what I mean. Just stay inside, you should be safe.”
That night in the Casino parking lot, I endured the most violent winds yet in my 18 months of full timing. Turning the rig into the wind didn’t help. Water was shaking in the toilet bowl. At 4:00am, I was starting to consider leaving the rig to seek shelter. I once again pondered the irony of the question, “What is safe?” Safe from WHAT?
After a fitful night, I leave the Casino at morning’s first light, and make the remaining drive toward Many Glacier. The Ranger has recommended that I take the straight-shot Hwy 464 into Babb, rather than the curvy Hwy 89, as it will be faster and easier while towing. It is just a gorgeous morning with the sun rising over the golden grasses of Blackfeet Nation, reflecting on the distant dark mountains. Everywhere I look in Montana looks like a magnificent painting.
Many Glacier is up a long, pot-holed, bumpy 12 mile dead-end road, some of which is gravel due to current construction. The road runs along SwiftCurrent Creek, the Lake Sherberne Dam and Reservoir, and finally, Swiftcurrent Lake itself.
On the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake sits Many Glacier Lodge, built in 1915 as part of the Great Northern Railway’s eastern gateway to Glacier National Park. It is built in the style of a Swiss Chalet, and still preserves that old chalet charm, with exposed beams and a roaring fire, right down to excluding TVs in the guest rooms. The lodge exudes that feeling of understated opulence. The Great Northern Railway exibit in the lobby makes it easy to imagine one has just stepped off a historic cross-country railway journey.
Another less comforting exhibit in the Many Glacier Lodge is the “Losing a Legacy” exhibit in the hallways. NOROCK (Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center) scientists have paired early 1900’s photographs to those same angles from 2008 of 13 glaciers to show dynamic changes as the glaciers retreat. A very sobering picture story. When the park first opened, there were 150 named glaciers. Now, there are 25. They expect by 2030, Many Glacier will be in name only, information which I will share more about in a later post.
I make it to the campground a little after 8:00am. I slowly circle the loop, and spot two young girls already packing up. One just bought a Tracker, the other drives a Honda CRV, both cars which I own, so we chat for a while about cars and car camping. I ask how they liked their campsite. “It was perfect. Sunny but private. And the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is just down the path. Their flush toilets are actually closer and a whole lot warmer than those in the campground.” It is a nice long pull-through, no visibility to neighbors, with lots of shade yet a perfect opening overhead to keep my solar panels happy. It is so serene, I think I could stay here until first snowfall. Serendipity is my travel companion once again…
Wildlife sightings bigger than a breadbox = 0, Total = 1 Goat