Over a long, 3-day weekend, my wife and I flew out to Glacier National Park for a short getaway. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the entire park, but we still wanted to visit the major attractions. I’m writing this blog to offer some practical and photography advice and share our adventures through images.
The most difficult aspect of the trip was finding balance between the gear I wanted to take and my ability to lug it around without being completely exhausted to the point I wouldn’t enjoy the trip. I have plenty of equipment to choose from, but ultimately I settled on the Sony a6400 with the Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS lens and the RX10 Mark IV. With this combination, I had everything from 15mm to 600mm covered. I needed the ultra-wide lens for majestic landscapes; and the superzoom for any wildlife I might encounter. Other equipment I carried were: hiking poles; a lightweight tripod; circularizer polarizer; 6, and 10 stop neutral density filters; remote shutter release; cleaning cloths; 72mm to 62mm step-down ring (the RX10 IV has 72mm lens filter threads and the 10-18mm f/4 lens has 62mm); and some extra batteries (the RX10 IV and a6400 use the same battery, btw…score!). I carried all this with room to spare in a LowePro Whistler 350 AW II backpack.
We flew into Glacier Park International Airport, rented a car and drove to Whitefish, where we stayed at the Best Western. I would have preferred to stay closer in West Glacier, but no rooms were available for our travel dates. Whitefish, MT is about 30 min (without traffic) from the west entrance to Glacier NP. At the airport, be sure to rent bear spray, just in case. For 3 days it cost us less than $30, about the same as if we had bought it. Remember, you can’t travel on an airplane with a bear spray. Rather than buy one and just throw it away before getting on our return flight, we decided to be environmentally friendly and rent one.
I had perused some websites to plan our hikes. They were all considered “easy” to “moderate”. The first hike we did was to Hidden Lake. The trailhead is located at Logan Pass Visitor Center. This is considered “moderate” and the most difficult one we went on. The views were spectacular! We saw several mountain goats and the lake itself was absolutely breath-taking, surrounded by jagged peaks and lush green forests! The opening picture is from this hike.
The hike to Hidden Lake is about 5.4 miles roundtrip with 1325 ft of elevation gain. The view from the overlook is totally worth the climb. If you choose to, you can go to the lake shore for a different perspective. I preferred the views from just beyond the lookout. Mountain goats and other wildlife frequent this area. If you can do only one hike while at Glacier NP, I think this one has to be at or near the top of your list.
The next day was spent on the southeast part of the park, around Two Medicine Lake and East Glacier. Visit the general store at Two Medicine Lake and talk to the locals about some nearby hikes. The are very knowledgable and will offer excellent suggestions based on your interest and energy level. They also have a handy book with images from a lot of the nearby trails. When we got to Two Medicine Lake, the mid-day sky was brilliant with charismatic, fast-moving clouds that gave dappled light on the distant mountains. I just had to set up my tripod at the lake shore and capture a long-exposure image. There’s nothing like a 10 stop ND filter to capture moving clouds.
We then rented a two person kayak and lazily paddled on the Two Medicine Lake. Half hour later we docked on the opposite shore and enjoyed a peaceful picnic for two. The weather was perfect and the view was heavenly! The cost of the 2 person kayak was $18.50/hr and totally worth it. Single person kayaks along with row and motor boats are also available to rent. If you want to leave the navigation to someone else, short cruises depart regularly.
The rest of the day found us on a couple of short hikes to nearby waterfalls, one of my favorite subjects to photograph. The first waterfall, Aster Falls, was an easy 1.4 mile jaunt from the South Shore trailhead. The path took us through tall evergreens, a few meadows, and a couple of beaver ponds. Aster Falls itself is a lovely cascade of three drop-offs down a slick rock-face. The day was warm, so we took off our shoes and socks and dipped our feet into the cold glacial water. Sweet relief!
On our way back to the trailhead, we came across a moose and her baby. In fact, they were right next to the trailhead. A ranger was close by, making sure people didn’t disturb them. Apparently, moose are very unpredictable and prone to charging people, especially with a baby nearby. So, we just sat down for about 20 minutes and let the moose and her baby do their thing.
We then hiked back to our car and drove a short distance to Running Eagle Falls trailhead. The fall is is just 0.3 miles from the trailhead…talk about minimum effort and maximum payoff! We saw families wading in the water and a gentleman doing some fly fishing. I walked around the riverbed, looking for a good composition. The afternoon sun was playing hide and seek behind some trees along the cliff-face above. I had my wife sit on a nearby large rock, and I took the shot you see below. Here’s a tip…if you want the sun to create a burst pattern, set your aperture to something very narrow such as f/22. Every lens behaves differently, but f/22 gives you the best chance of getting starbursts from a point light source.
On our way back to Whitefish, we caught a lovely sunset at Lake McDonald. The two shots below were taken within 20 minutes. The first was a long exposure where I wanted to capture the motion of the clouds and average out the choppiness of the water. The second is of Cindy taking in the beauty all around her. This was the perfect end to a great day!
On our final day, we headed over to the northeast corner of the park to spend some time near Manny Glacier. Before getting there, however, we did a moderate 4.5 mile roundtrip hike to Avalanche Lake. If you’re going to do this hike, remember to get there early, as it is a popular destination and parking spots fill up quickly. We got lucky with the clouds again. For this shot, I combined two exposures. The first was taken with a 10 stop ND filter for 30 seconds. For the second, I had Cindy stand on a rock for a short, 1/50 second exposure. I then combined the two images in Photoshop.
After the Avalanche Lake hike, we drove the curvy Going-to-the-Sun road, eventually ending up at Manny Glacier. We took it slowly, stopping frequently to take in the beauty. One of my favorite stopping places was the Goose Island Overlook.
Eventually we made it to Manny Glacier and went on a pleasant, 4.2 mile roundtrip hike to Redrock Falls. The magnitude was not very impressive, but the location and backdrop were spectacular! Along the way we saw a moose swimming in a lake and Grizzly Bear with her cub waaaayyy off in the distance, visible only with a telescope that someone had set up.
We left for Whitefish right after our hike because it was a 2 1/2 hr drive back. On the way back, near the Logan Pass Visitor’s center, we saw some mountain goats grazing along the hillside and a black bear doing a little dumpster diving.
It was a short but awesome trip to Glacier National Park. I hope you can use some of the information here to plan your next getaway there. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time!