We recently returned from our action-packed Great Montana Adventure, and have lots of stories to share! Upon leaving, we both had felt a tinge of discontentment because there are still so many lakes, rivers and trails yet to explore there. Yes, we can always return to Montana in future, but on the other hand, there are still so many other places we aspire to travel to as well. As I (Stella) have mentioned many times previously, retirement cannot come soon enough for us.
On this trip, our plan had been to jot down notes at the end of each day to prevent us from forgetting anything when it came time to write this post. And, I had also planned for us to complete a short bike ride each evening, but that also did not happen. Our days were so full and long (and hot) that by the time we got back to our lodging, we showered and went to bed, with the exception of an evening bike ride once.
The sun did not set there until around 10:00 pm, so we took advantage of the extra daylight by maximizing the time spent doing our activities. The weather was in the mid-to-high 90’s most days, with surprisingly high humidity. We had an itinerary planned for each day as well, but the weather did not always cooperate, so we adjusted accordingly.
Each morning (except for Day 2) we awoke to a unique, delicious, thoughtfully prepared breakfast. We then packed our gear and headed out for the day. We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast in Somers, just outside of Kalispell on Flathead Lake, called Outlook Inn. It is about a 40-minute drive to the west entrance of Glacier National Park. To learn more about this wonderful place, scroll down to the bottom of this post.
Continue reading to learn about our Great Montana Adventure!
Great Montana Adventure ~ Day 1: The Base Camp @ Grand Lake Chevrolet Tahoe rolled into Somers on Saturday around 4:00pm. We had just checked into the Bed & Breakfast and were eager to get into our kayak (a.k.a. “The Big Mango”) and do a warmup paddle on Flathead Lake. Flathead Lake is the largest lake, by surface area, west of the source of the Missouri River. At approximately 30 miles long and 16 miles wide, the glacially carved lake is fed from the Flathead River to the north. It is surrounded by the Mission Mountains to the east and the Salish Mountains to the west. Unfortunately, the smoke from the western wildfires had obscured the clarity of the mountains, in all directions, everywhere on this trip.
We launched “The Big Mango” at the Somers Flathead Lake Boat Ramp on the northwest side of the lake. We started out paddling east toward the North Flathead Yacht Club marina, hosting a large fleet of sailboats, and had also encountered an abandoned building, which appeared to have once been a marina or yacht club. There were also several small, private islands on this side of the lake, many of which had a house or cottage of some sort nestled upon them.
Flathead Lake is a much larger body of water than what we are accustomed to kayaking on in recent years. It was concerning for us to see people kayaking and stand up paddleboarding out in the open water (far away from the shoreline) without either wearing a life vest and/or having one within close reach. The further we ventured out onto the lake, the more it had felt like the water continued indefinitely, as you cannot see the southern side of the lake.
We kayaked for about 5 miles and then headed back to the Bed & Breakfast to shower and get ready for dinner. It had been a great prelude for the next five upcoming days.
Great Montana Adventure ~ Day 2: We were out the door at 6:30am to head into Glacier National Park for the day (starting at the west entrance). Because we were up so early, we had to forego the delicious breakfast offered that morning; I still wonder about what entrée had been served. Larry planned for us to drive over Logan Pass to hike the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which is on the east side of the park. And, I had two short waterfall hikes picked out, which required us to get an early start.
“Going-to-the-Sun Road” is a steep, narrow, winding road that traverses over Logan Pass. The road bisects Glacier National Park and is roughly a two hour drive to get to the other side from either Saint Mary (east Glacier) or the West Glacier entrance. Please note that the parking lot at the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center, located at the top of Logan Pass, fills up very quickly right away in the morning.
When we had arrived at the Grinnell Glacier trailhead parking lot, there was a park ranger in the middle of the road blocking traffic and yelling and clapping. To the right of the road was a small black bear poking its head through the trees. The park ranger was attempting to prevent the bear from crossing the road because the trailhead parking lot is on the other side. Naturally, the situation had drawn a large crowd of spectators. Additionally, there had also been a family of four bicyclists strolling past who had no idea what was going on. All I could think was how it had been a good thing that they didn’t have a chain of sausage links trailing behind their bikes… I stopped them to inform them about the bear that they had just ridden past; they were very grateful for that information.
When we were geared up and ready to start our adventure on the trail, we learned that part of the Grinnell Glacier Trail had been recently closed due to grizzly bear activity in the area. We had already known that this trail was in a highly active grizzly bear area, so we each had a can of bear spray in hand plus an extra in our pack. Additionally, a different park ranger informed us, in a very stern manner, that anyone caught going past the closure point would be fined. Her brash demeanor seemed a bit displaced and had taken us by surprise. Perhaps she thought we looked like the type of people who would go beyond the boundaries…or maybe she was just having a bad morning.
Regardless, that news was perfectly fine with me because that also meant that it would cut off a total of 4 miles from the hike. It was already hotter than Tartarus outside, so I could not wait to be done with it. Me, wandering around in the blistering heat, stumbling over rocks all while being watched by a hungry grizzly bear… How is that fun?
On a side note, some of you may be wondering what is wrong me, because everyone loves hiking in the summer! Right? Well, I do not. I would rather snowshoe and cross-country ski in below zero weather, breaking trail through snow up to my knees, than hike around in the summer heat. But since the vacation was for both of us, and Larry does enjoy summer hiking, I attempted to put on as enthusiastic of a façade as I could, for Larry’s sake, as we embarked onto the trail.
The Grinnell Glacier Trail is an out and back trek, roughly 11 miles in length. The trailhead is in the Many Glaciers area of the park. You start the hike heading south toward Swiftcurrent Creek and continue onto the southwestern end of Swiftcurrent Lake. The trail continues southwesterly along the northside of Lake Josephine. The hike, to that point, is relatively flat providing great views of both lakes and glimpses of what lies ahead. At the west end of Lake Josephine, you begin a steady climb as Grinnell Lake and the Salamander Glacier come into view. From there you are looking down at Grinnell Lake as you continue the ascent. Grinnell Falls then come into view, along with glimpses of the Grinnell Glacier.
Because it was so hot, and a moderately steep trail with lots of rocks/boulders to navigate, it seemed to take forever to get to the end point where we could go no further, without getting fined. At that spot, there were about two dozen or more people taking a break, all of whom seemed to share that same sentiment. Interestingly, when we had arrived, we also noticed that everyone’s eyes were intensely fixated on something.
In the distance, there were two people on the far, sloped side of the trail where a grizzly bear was hiding in the nearby bushes (we did not see it, but other onlookers who had arrived prior to us saw the bear walking around and dive into the bushes). The two rule-breakers did not know that a grizzly bear was nearby, and they were much too far away to have been able to hear any of us yelling to warn them. It was an unsettling experience while everyone helplessly watched those two people, hoping that they would not have a fatal encounter. A day later, we learned that the trail had been closed at the end of Lake Josephine due to the grizzly bear activity.
A short time later, we slowly headed back down the trail. About halfway down, two park rangers quickly flew past us, who we assumed were heading to the closed section of the trail where we had seen the two rule-breakers. Supposedly, there were others who had also ventured past the closed section of the trail. That was concerning, as there was a recent fatal grizzly bear attack in Ovando, Montana just a few days prior.
On the trek down, we were glad to have brought our trekking poles because the downside was a slip-n-slide of loose gravel and various sized shards of flat shale or slate stone, which acted like flying saucers under our hiking shoes. I slipped and fell once, and then rolled my bad ankle a short time later. Larry believes that was related to case of “lazy foot” due to exhaustion, which was a likely explanation. The heat had taken a huge toll on me, and I did not possess my usual stamina that day.
Many parts of the lower trail were extremely narrow and dense, lined with either service or huckleberry bushes that brush up against your body. Those areas were a bit nerve wracking to walk through (to me) because a bear could easily hide in them without anyone knowing. Naturally, I jumped each time I heard a loud rustling sound coming from them, only to learn it had been Larry’s trekking poles brushing up against them. 🙂
By the time we made it back to the Tahoe, we had completed 7 miles, and I was overjoyed to be done with that hike. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete the two waterfall hikes or kayak on Swiftcurrent Lake afterward as we had hoped, because a storm had moved in on that side of the park. But perhaps it was just not meant to be, because after my shower and dinner, I slept soundly for 12 hours.
Great Montana Adventure ~ Day 3: The next morning, we both awoke refreshed and eager for our planned activity. The goal was to paddle around Lake McDonald, located on the west side of Glacier National Park. Lake McDonald is a glacially carved lake, and the largest lake located inside the park. Around the lake, located near the north end, is Lake McDonald Lodge, boat launch, a couple of campgrounds, and picnic area. Please note that the parking lots for the boat launch and picnic area fill up quickly.
After “The Big Mango” received the stamp of approval at the water inspection station, we began preparing for our day on the lake. We launched at the Apgar picnic area and paddled west. On the western edge of the lake, all the mature trees had previously burned from the Howe Ridge Fire in 2018. But there was an enormous amount of regrowth amongst the burned trees, which gave us hope for our beloved Rocky Mountain National Park, which experienced a massive wildfire in 2020. Also on that side of the lake were some private cottages/houses, which is uncommon to see within national park boundaries nowadays.
Another interesting piece of information about Lake McDonald is that motorized boats must be quarantined for a period of 30 days prior to entering the lake. This is significant because it yields a positive impact for people kayaking, canoeing, standup paddleboarding, etc. That day, we had seen less than a half dozen motorboats, which meant less wakes to contend with.
Prior to our trip, Larry had read that the wind can be quite significant around Lake McDonald, but we had lucked out that day! There was not even the slightest of breeze, which made paddling very simple. But on the flip side, it also made it extremely hot. I had brought sunscreen with us so that we could reapply it to our faces throughout the day, but it would have been futile since our faces dripped with sweat all day long – the humidity was terrible.
After about 8.5 miles, we crossed over the lake and paddled along the eastern shore. The “Going-to-the-Sun Road” parallels the lake on the east side. And it was more scenic than the other side because all the trees were full and lush green. But for me, the most appealing aspect of Lake McDonald were the stones within the shoreline of the lake; they fascinated me to no end. They were composed of all different colors, shapes, patterns, and textures, complimented by the water, giving them a glossy appearance.
For most of the paddling trek, my eyes had been glued to the water around/under the kayak, as we were almost always able to see the lake floor everywhere, with the exception of crossing over, as the water was deep in the middle. On the left side of the kayak, the water was always crystal clear, while the water on the right side was always a shade of light blue. My eyes constantly surveyed anything and everything under the water. At one point in time, Larry had asked me what I was looking for. Absentmindedly, I replied, “I’m looking for something to look at.”
We took our time paddling, as we had paddled a little slower than our typical pace due to the new surroundings for us to explore. We finished our kayaking adventure that evening at 7:00pm, completing 17.5 miles. By the time we finished dinner and returned to the B&B it was about 11:00pm. We both showered and went to bed. What a day!
Great Montana Adventure ~ Day 4: Part one of our plan involved a 30-mile bike ride in the morning on the Great Northern Historical Trail. However, as we were getting ready, it began to rain. Instead, we took off to the town of Big Fork to look around. When we had returned to Kalispell, the rain had stopped but it was then far too hot to bike. Part two of our plan for the day was to stand up paddleboard on Flathead Lake.
That was, by far, the perfect activity for the hot weather. Feeling the water rush over our boards and touch our feet was nice, even though the lake water was also very warm. It seems like I sat on my board that day more than I had stood because feeling the water all over my legs brought even more of a respite from the heat – to some small degree, which was better than nothing!
We launched our boards at Somers Park, a picnic/beach area just east of the boat launch. We paddled in the opposite direction that we had with the kayak the two days prior. This side of the lake hosts beautiful lakefront homes that most of us can only fantasize about. We did not encounter many boats and there was zero breeze. We had been fortunate, yet again, with a simple paddling day.
We finished our paddling adventure a little after 5:00pm, completing 6.5 miles. On that night, I think we showered prior to dinner, and by the time we returned to the B&B it was about 9:00pm. We both went to bed. Another great day!
Great Montana Adventure ~ Day 5: Our plan for the day had been to kayak on Bowman Lake, accessed via the north entrance of Glacier National Park at the Polebridge Ranger Station. To get there, you travel roughly 52 miles to the town of Polebridge (the Ranger Station is another few miles up the road and the lake another 6 miles from there). Polebridge is a tiny, remote town that is truly off the grid. There is no electrical service to the town and it is a stone’s throw from the Canadian border.
NOTE: After a short trek up the North Fork Road, the pavement ends, and the road becomes extremely rough. We highly recommend not traveling on this road if you do not have a four or all-wheel drive vehicle with a good set of tires. We also suggest that you know how to change a tire, as this is a very remote area where you will not have any cellular signal. And there are very few homes in this area so your chances of finding someone to provide assistance are very slim.
Polebridge Mercantile, a historical landmark built in 1914, is famous for its huckleberry bear claw pastries as well as its bakery, in general. A few weeks prior to our trip, we ran across a guy in Grand Lake who had urged us to make the drive there. However, we did not make the trek to simply indulge in the pastries as so many other visitors seem to have done. Conversely, we were there to kayak and bask in the beauty of the area.
A guest at the B&B told us that we needed to arrive early in the morning to obtain a parking spot at Bowman Lake. By early, he meant before 8:00am. Well, because I had refused to miss another breakfast, we were unable to obtain a parking spot; I fully accept the blame for that. The park ranger was not allowing vehicles to continue toward the lake since it was/is a “one in, one out” scenario. Larry was a bit more disappointed than I had been simply because we will continue to explore many other beautiful lakes around the country in the years to come. I was not going to let that minor situation dampen my enthusiasm for the rest of our trip.
Our plan transitioned to kayaking at Flathead Lake again, only this time we headed back to Big Fork, Wayfarers/Flathead Lake State Park. There, we launched “The Big Mango” from the boat launch and paddled south. Similarly to the west side of the lake in which we had paddleboarded and kayaked on previously, the east side of the lake is also lined with magnificent lakefront homes. However, unlike the days prior, there were far more motorized boats to contend with.
We paddled south towards Woods Bay Point and navigated around the point into Woods Bay. After a quick look, we turned around and retraced our tracks. We finished our paddling adventure shortly after 6:00pm, completing 10.5 miles. It was still early, so we then headed back to Somers to bike on the Great Northern Historical Trail, located in the heart of Flathead Valley.
It starts in the town of Somers and follows along a portion of the of Great Northern Railway. It is fully paved from end-to-end with views of Swan, Whitefish, Salish, and Mission mountains. The path runs along part of the road heading into Kalispell, and then crosses over into farmland and passes by a campground. It was a fun trail to bike on, with gorgeous scenery.
There is a supper club directly across the street from the trailhead that was hosting bingo that night. When we parked, I figured all those people were also biking on the trail. However, when we got out of the Tahoe and heard the outdoor Bingo taking place, we realized that was not the case, fortunately. Bingo night must be a big deal there because the place was packed, and more and more people continued to show up!
This is the bike path that we had planned to bike 30 miles on the morning prior. That night, however, we had only biked about 14-15 miles and decided to call it a day. By the time we finished dinner and returned to the B&B it was about 10:00pm. We both showered and went to bed. Another great day!
Great Montana Adventure ~ Day 6: The first part of our plan for the day was to stand up paddleboard on Lake McDonald. Since we had such great success kayaking on it a few days prior, we were eager to enjoy the lake on our boards. We launched again from the Apgar picnic area and started out in the same direction. But shortly after we got going, the winds had picked up. We then had decided to turn around and head around the lake in the other direction. Well, as it turned out, it really hadn’t mattered which direction we went.
The winds were way too strong to be out on stand up paddleboards to be able to enjoy it much, yet even with as windy as it had been, it did not impede upon the heat. It was still hot! By the time we had turned around to head back to our launching point, the winds had picked up even more and it was a battle of wills the whole way back: the water versus us.
I had sat on my board for much of the journey back because I have more control over my board in a sitting position during windy/wavy conditions since I am lighter. Larry, however, stood the majority of the time during his battle with the elements. I was so proud of him! We finished our paddling adventure around 5:00pm, completing 7.5 miles. Our shoulder muscles were completely drained from our fight with the wind.
The second part of our plan for the day was to hike the Avalanche Lake Trail, a moderately steep 5-mile out and back trail. However, as we began the hike, Larry noticed that I was dragging behind and was even a tad wobbly on my feet. I reluctantly told him that I was much too exhausted to complete the hike safely, and he then admitted that he also was tired. After viewing the Avalanche Falls from above, we completed the Trail of the Cedars, which starts at the same point as the Avalanche Lake trail.
Trail of the Cedars is a flat 1-mile looped trail with a boardwalk that weaves through massive gnarled ancient western red cedar trees, intertwined with western hemlock, resembling something out of a storybook. The trail encompasses a portion of the park that almost acts as its own microclimate, something that you typically see in the Pacific northwest. It was really awesome!
By the time we finished dinner and returned to the B&B it was about 10:00pm. We both showered and went to bed. Another great day!
Great Montana Adventure ~ Day 7: Our plan for the day was to kayak around Whitefish Lake, launching inside Whitefish Lake State Park. The lake is about 16 miles around, which we figured we would easily be able to do. On the state park’s website, it specifically states that the lake is rarely windy. But after our day’s adventure, I felt like contacting them to have that comment removed from the website because it is misleading.
We headed northwest, paddling along the western shoreline, which was speckled with a few houses. The lake reminded me of Bear Lake, Utah because of the different shades of blue; it was mesmerizing. We had also encountered a few coves sheltering masses of beautiful lilly pads, which we took our time admiring. Kayaking in that direction, we did not have any breeze whatsoever, so we were dripping with sweat and praying for a breeze. Little did we know that our prayers would soon be answered, but in a very different way…
At the north end of the lake, the wind had started to pick-up as we moved onto the eastern shore. It was there that the wind kicked in with an unexpected ferocity, mixed with the wakes from the numerous boats. We still had 7.5 miles to complete the entire paddle around the lake. And even if we had just crossed over the lake to get back to our starting point, that was still about 3 miles. And there was no way that we were going to cross over the open water in those conditions, especially with boats flying all around.
Larry and I have kayaked in some extremely windy/wavy conditions. And we might have considered battling the elements for the remaining 7.5 miles had our shoulders not have been exhausted from all the prior paddling that we had already done on this trip; we just did not have the strength to fight that day. For the first time in our paddling years, we were forced to stop along the shoreline. Safety first.
We beached “The Big Mango” on the shoreline in between two lakefront homes and sat there for an hour, hoping the weather/water would calm down. After an hour, the conditions still were not favorable, so Larry reached out to Kevin, one of the family members who was renting the lakefront home, to see if he would provide some assistance. He and his family stay there every summer for vacation.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, although we may or may not ever learn what that reason is. That being said, I have to believe that there is a reason that we had met this family that day, because shortly thereafter, the water had settled down quite a bit and we likely could have continued paddling. There also is a funny piece of this story that I have chosen to withhold from this post, as I do not think Larry would appreciate my mentioning it…perhaps another time.
Thank you to Bill, Kevin, Zach, and the entire family who worked together to bring us back to our launching point. We loaded up “The Big Mango” and headed to the earliest dinner that we had had all week. We were a little disappointed that we had not been able to kayak all the way around Whitefish Lake, but it sure had been nice to just relax. That was the first and only evening that we had done so.
We finished our paddling adventure around 3:30pm, completing 8.5 miles. By the time we finished dinner and returned to the B&B it was about 8:00pm. That was also the first and only evening that we had relaxed on the patio at the B&B and were able to take in the beautiful view. I played my guitar outside for some of the other guests, only to be eaten alive by the mosquitos. Perhaps it was not all that relaxing, I guess…
Great Montana Adventure ~ Trip Summary: This was an amazing trip to a new area for us. Between kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, we completed 55.5 miles using pure shoulder power! We did not bike nearly as much as I had planned, nor did we hike nearly as much as Larry had planned, but that is okay. We had very full days outside in the beautiful wilderness, enjoying our outdoor activities and one another’s company.
Aug 4-8 ~ Bear Lake, Utah: Our third trip to this area, but I just cannot get enough of the beautiful water there; it lures me like a siren’s song. We plan to kayak and stand up paddleboard for many miles each day, along with biking and eating lots of great food at our favorite restaurants. My parents, and their adorable pup, will be joining us again this year.
Aug 9-15 ~ Alpine, Wyoming: Our first trip to this area, which is about 40 minutes outside of Jackson Hole. We plan to spend two days kayaking and/or stand up paddle boarding on Palisades Reservoir in Alpine. We are staying at a lodge situated on the banks of the Snake River. The other days will be spent biking, kayaking and hiking in/around Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park.
LODGING: If you are planning a trip to this area, we highly recommend the Outlook Inn Bed & Breakfast, nestled directly above Flathead Lake. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and offer a spectacular view. But most importantly, the breakfasts far exceeded any other B&B that we have ever stayed at. They set the bar so high that I’m not certain any other B&B could compare.