Wagons East! to Glacier National Park

After two weeks in Seattle, we head back toward the East with our eyes set on Glacier National Park for our next stop. We leave the Tall Chief RV Resort & Campground that is located in Fall City, Washington, east of Seattle about 30 minutes and just a few minutes off of highway I-90. The roads from the highway to Fall City are a little tight and windy as you hug the terrain.

We made our way out early in the morning to try to beat the heat of the day, having to dump our 2-week full holding tanks before departing the campground. Tall Chief does not have any sewer sites in the park. Once empty we headed out on I-90 over the 2,800 ft. Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, backtracking a little until we started new ground eastward. Over the course of many different trips over the last two decades together we have probably driven almost all of I-90 at one time or another. I-90 connects Seattle to Boston across the northern tier of the continental United States.

Barb noticed this beautiful art piece on the horizon as we made the turn up out of the Wanapum Lake valley on I-90. The Wild Horse Monument can be accessed from the Wild Horse Scenic View only when you are East/Northbound on I-90.
Overlooking I-90 crossing Wanapum Recreation Area and Lake from the Wild Horse Scenic View on the northbound side of I-90.

We overnighted for free at the 50,000 Silver Dollar complex where it positioned us for a shorter drive the second day as we headed up into Whitefish, Montana, to the Whitefish / Glacier KOA. The Whitefish KOA is the “second-tier” out from the Glacier National Park at about a 30 to 45-minute drive and is a very dead area for cellular signals. We made a mistake in following Google Maps and took the bypass around Kalispell during the construction season. Once that is complete it will be a great way to get around the countless stoplights in Kalispell, but until then avoid the bypass.

The 50,000 Silver Dollar saloon is just an ordinary western bar with some casino machines. Interesting to check out, a gimmick without much more purpose than to draw you in for a look. However, the gift shop was actually one of the better featuring local artists in addition to the typical knickknacks.
We parked overnight in Montana outside the 50,000 Silver Dollar motel, souvenir shop, cafe, and bar. The “campground” is some spots back further in the woods behind the complex, but we didn’t feel as safe there. A nice couple in a fifth wheel parked next to us and introduced themselves, parking so that we could each get our slides out safely without being clipped by a truck.
We ran into ex-coworkers and friends from River Falls, Wisconsin, at the Piggyback Barbecue in Whitefish, Montana. They were there for a relatives wedding that weekend. This is the first time we have happened across someone we knew so far from back home. This photo also gives the perspective of how close the mountains that make up Glacier are to Whitefish Montana. Oh, and the food? So so BBQ.

Dead Zone

We switched to Google Pixel 4A (5G) phones on Google Fi before we left Minnesota. By adding this to our already existing Verizon Unlimittedville and AT&T grand-fathered hotspots we have access to all of the major carriers now. Plus there is often WiFi in the campgrounds if we get really desperate for connectivity. However, none of these carriers made a difference in the Whitefish KOA as it was a complete dead zone. We were not able to place or receive calls and could barely text message. (No multimedia messages.) The campground wifi was its usual terrible service too.

We suspected this would be the sort of coverage in this area based on the reviews we read so Jason took off the week from work to accommodate for it. However, we were not anticipating it to be as bad as it was there. Ultimately it impacted our ability to download trail maps and to prepare for travel in the area. Paper maps are mostly non-existent between technology and CoVID influence on publishing them. Maps or information you do find usually refer you to a website and the information on the paper is very generic so it doesn’t have to refresh very often.

How NOT to WiFi! No wonder we had horrible internet at the Whitefish KOA.

Whitefish KOA

Other than the horrible cellular coverage by all of the carriers, and accompanying worse WiFi service provided free by the park, the Whitefish KOA is an excellent alternative to the closer Glacier KOA park. This park featured a free and plentiful breakfast each morning, had decent power at the sites that were consistent, and lots of family-friendly amenities like a play pool, free scooter bikes, and for the second half of the week onsite food services.

The sites are very tight, there are lots of trees and terraces on the side of the hillside terrain. Jason had a not so helpful KOA staffer improperly directing him into the site and he should have just ignored him. Ultimately, he got out of the motorhome, had to tell him he was wrong and what we were going to do instead. Once parked squarely in the very tight site we were set for our stay.

This was the most expensive campground we have ever paid for at over $90 / night with the taxes included. We opted to leave early since we found the area to not be as spectacular as some of our previous areas this summer and the cost was just not worth it. Our next stop after this was not yet available for a couple of days, so we ended up opting to leave only a day earlier instead of two.

Site #6 was very short at the Whitefish KOA due to a tree dead center in the back of the site. We had tons of very close walkers to the windshield that made the cats very happy, lots of people would interact with them as they went from the main campground down to the pool area.

Glacier National Park

From our Instagram post causing controversy over our opinion “#disappointed” opinion of this national park. The Cut Bank Entrance gets you access to the Cut Bank trailhead parking area just south of Saint Mary’s entrance. This is a quiet dirt road with cattle crossing and hanging around alongside it grazing. We stopped along Cut Bank Creek for a packed lunch.

We sparked some controversy on Instagram and Facebook with our post about being disappointed with Glacier National Park. There was a combination of smoky haze covering much of the beauty and that we were becoming immune to spectacular mountain beauty. We have had a couple of friends comment that they too wish they had started with Glacier instead of ending with it after places like Banff, the Tetons, or other similar more magestic sites. The haze of the wildfires in Oregon and California was really starting to set in and obstruct our views of any mountains not up close.

We also hope that you will understand that with Barb’s limited mobility the Jeep provides us with access to places that she would never be able to hike or use her mobility scooter to access. We ran into this problem in Moab at Arches National Park when we we’re erroneously told a particular trail was “ADA” accessible. None of the trails in Glacier National Park are labeled “ADA” accessible.

Hazy smoky views of Heavens Peak and Mt. Cannon from Apgar Beach looking over Lake McDonald.

As with most national parks, the roads to access them are severely limited because of the overcrowding that is happening during the peak season. Glacier was no expectation to the fact you could use a Prius to access everything with no need for a Jeep. The ticketing system used to access the park this year made a big difference, other than at Logan Pass visitor center we did not encounter any major issues with traffic. We did start at the main West entrance of the park, took the “Going to the Sun Road” and tried to get into the Logan Pass Visitor center before we continued out of the Saint Mary’s entrance. We found two other alternative access points in the Southeast corner of the park that we pretty spectacular as well.

We stopped and enjoyed an amazing lunch on the Cut Bank Creek enjoying the pleasant smell of the pines listening to the streaming water, with cattle mooing in the background! 48.611581, -113.354592
Lower Two Medicine Lake from Looking Glass Hill on the eastern side of the park. This is the southwestern entrance to the park and campground at the Medicine Lake Entrance to this section of the park, with no interior access to the Going to the Sun Road. 48.523536, -113.301011
Blackfeet Indian Memorial on the Blackfeet Nation overlooking the eastern end of Glacier National Park just outside Saint Mary’s entrance,
The view from the eastern side of the park at the Saint Mary Visitor Center. Unfortunately, this visitor center was not open due to CoVID. It is the eastern access to the “Going to the Sun Road” and central park.

Blacktail Wild Bill ORV Trail

The Blacktail Wild Bill ORV Trail is the only Jeep Badge of Honor trail in Montana and is about 30 minutes south of Whitefish. The Blacktail Mountain is a ski resort and you will access the trail about two-thirds of the way up to the ski area via relatively smooth roads. The roads change from asphalt to gravel about halfway to the summit.

This was a pretty easy trail and most any Jeep will not have any issues with it. There are numerous man-made obstacles that the local clubs have developed on the trail and each of those likely has a smooth and easy bypass for all makes of off-road vehicles as well. The views here were really amazing, especially of the Flathead Lake (the largest freshwater body west of the Mississippi in the lower 48 states.) As usual, we overprepared and we had lunch on the trails, enjoying the view and ever slightly lower temperatures on the summit.

On the way in on the trail, we bypassed the route coming down from the right. However, on the return we climbed out on this shortcut.
A good view of the options this trail presents. The passenger side route here was dry and gave some ups and downs, while the route to driver side was flat and smooth.
The flip of the photo with the front view of the Jeep. The harder route on the passenger side was dry and was some ups and downs without many technicalities. If the depressions had been full of mud, we could have bypassed them easily by staying driver side on the alternate route.
There is a consortium of local Jeep clubs that maintain this trail. They do an excellent job. When we ran the trail it was a working forest road as well. You will find these man-made optional technical add ons alongside the main trail.
At the summit, you find the Lakeside FAA Radar Site ARSR-4 at the top off of the main ski resort access road. There are numerous US buildings at the top of this mountain as it is an ex-military site as part of the northern board cold war protection system. Kalispell Air Force Station operated a SAGE early warning system site watching for a Soviet bomber attack from 1961 to 1978.

Hungry Horse, Montana

We did check out a local “legend” which is the Hungry Horse Dam. You may have seen pictures of the record “glory hole” and didn’t even know it was just outside of Glacier National park. It is the largest water fall height in a glory hole in the world for a dam, measuring at 490 feet deep. Although since the water was low the glory hole was not active, it was still cool to walk across the span of one of the largest arch dams in the United States at 564 feet high in total. It was good to see water levels in a reservoir at a more normal level for the first time on our trip. Of course, due to CoVID opportunities at the visitor center and with tours were minimal.

On the top over the Hungry Horse Dam looking northeast over the glory hole spillway from the top of the dam structure.
The Hungry Horse Dam is about 15 minutes southwest of Glacier National Park’s main southwest entry.

From Whitefish we take a little detour south to Worland, Wyoming, to retrace our steps from our first summer out west where we had to turn the truck around. Can the Jeep make it through where the truck could not?

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