After an uneventful trip to the outskirts of the park, we started our search in the Flathead National Forest for a good multi-week boondocking site. It's always exciting when scouting a new area. You never know what you'll end up with. Benchmark, Delorme, forest service, and Google maps are good, but you really need to see a site to know for sure. After an hour of scouting we found some good but not great sites. On a hunch we decided to try one more forest service road and go around one more corner. After boondocking for a while, you start to look at the contours of the land in a different way, sensing where the good dispersed sites might be found. This last road was the charm. We found the perfect, large, secluded, protected view site with plenty of room for the dogs to roam off leash and swim in a nearby stream. It was a new find not on the pre-trip research list of spots. That seems to happen a lot. We just go a little further and then find the right spot. This part of the national forest and the park experienced gigantic forest fires in 2003. The forest ecosystem here is a textbook case of lodgepole pine and larch regeneration with some brushy forage for wildlife in between.
It takes either snow on the higher elevations or the lure of a spectacular spot for us to justify hooking up and leaving Idaho. There's just too much to do within a 50 mile radius of our boondocking property. Having never been to Glacier, we were wondering if it would live up to the hype. Surprisingly, it did not. Finding the perfect boondocking spot was actually the highlight of the trip.
Since Glacier has always been one of those spots that we've dreamed about visiting, it pains us to say it, but this national park is way overrated. We thought that visiting after Labor Day would free us from the hordes on the trails, but it wasn't to be. Nothing ruins a nice hike more than having to sidestep people at almost every turn and constantly trying to find views that don't have a tacky t-shirt or baseball cap in the way. The bumper to bumper traffic on Going to the Sun road was also a buzz killer. We even went out of our way to hike the supposedly "rarely visited" parts of the park, and found ourselves with as much company as we saw when hiking on the eastern seaboard during our first summer on the road. That's right, Glacier after Labor Day was almost as polluted with people as Acadia is before Labor Day!
The best hikes, sights, and swimming holes were actually in the Flathead National Forest next to the park. So why pay for the over-priced entrance fees, camping fees, and restrictive dog rules of a national park? We're starting to ask ourselves that question more and more. It seems there are too many people out there who have the national parks on their to-do list and don't want to spend the effort to explore the adjacent public lands for equally impressive sights and more seclusion. We hope it stays that way for at least as long as we're on the road. We will gladly cede the national parks to the unwashed masses in exchange for the nearby, quiet public lands. We have many more places to go in our lifetimes, but so far, the only national park we would recommend is Great Basin. Better hiking, more ecosystem diversity, and better boondocking opportunities than Glacier (and no entrance fees).
Despite all of this, Glacier still does have some pretty sites.
We did have a day of flurries that brought snow down to about 4,000 feet. That's as close as we wanted to be to it!
Some mule deer decided to make regular grazing rotations through our campsite.
Last day and time to grab one more peak.
And one last sunset over the larch tree at Glacier.
Glacier is picturesque, but nothing beats Northern Idaho in our book, However, we like to tell people they don't need to go any further north than Couer d'Alene. The fact that people generally don't head further north in Idaho is part of what makes it so great up here! :-)