After our beautiful drive up the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, it is time to travel down the western side to Lake McDonald and West Glacier. We begin our journey at Logan Pass, mile 18.1 west of the East Entrance.
Mile 18.4–Oberlin Bend is a sharp turn that will begin our decent almost 3,500 feet to Lake McDonald near the West Entrance of Glacier National Park. Let’s park and walk up to the falls on Oberlin Creek. Well, the falls are just on the other side of the road, but as the clouds drop we can’t even see the falls. Everyone is leaving so let’s head to the car and wait to see if the clouds clear. Great! Five minutes and the clouds disappear. We now have the place to ourselves so let’s walk up and try for this picture again.
Turning around we see the lush growth within Oberlin Bend. Mountain Goats are often seen grazing in this area, but not today. With this weather, even the goats know enough to find cover.
Mile 18.8–Highline Trail can be seen from here. Look closely at the top of the picture. Do you see the four people walking the trail? Highline Trail begins across the road from the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center and continues 30 miles into Canada with lots of options along the way. Many people do 11 miles, many more do less making it a beautiful day hike. One little problem I have to get over . . .
. . . see that line that looks like a seam in the rock behind the those folks? Well, it’s not. Take a closer look. It’s a rope hand hold bolted into the rock. The trail gets narrow and on the edge so to speak for a mile or so. Hold on!
Mile 19.5–For the next mile we go through an area called the Weeping Wall. With the snow melt and rains in the spring, the water pours onto the road, much like a wide waterfall. If you are driving west along the mountain edge, you can count on your car getting washed in the falls. Although there are grates for the water to escape under the road, both lanes of the road do have a coating of water. This time of year we see water, but the drama is to be found elsewhere.
Mile 21.5–Big Bend pullout allows for sweeping views up the mountains and down in the valleys. We cannot see the many mountains today due to clouds, but McDonald Creek below offers a gorgeous view with autumn colors across the landscape.
When we turn around we are facing the Garden Wall, a steep alpine range that stands over 9,000 feet tall. Highline Trail is carved into the Garden Wall, making for a magnificent view and a bit of a scary walk, I’m sure. We cannot see much of the Wall today because of the clouds, but we can see the water running off the cliffs.
From this spot we can see Going-to-the-Sun Road heading uphill right before the Big Bend. There’s a Red Bus, historically called Red Jammers, that are the in-park transportation for hikers going to trailheads and others choosing to take a guided tour.
Mile 22.5–Haystack Falls pours down off Haystack Butte, under the road, and continues on to McDonald Creek. Notice all the smaller waterfalls coming to join Haystack Creek.
Mile 23-27.5–Stopping at every possible pullout along the way, we get beautiful views back up toward Logan Pass. There’s Bird Woman Falls sitting between Mount Oberlin (left) and Mount Cannon (right), being fed by a permanent ice field that was once a glacier on the north face of Clements Mountain (middle). The Park Service lists this falls as dropping 492 feet, but other sources say it is 560 feet high. Either way, it is gorgeous.
We now drive The Loop, a significant switchback at Mile 25.3. A switchback is a feature on a very steep area that allows you to zig zag back and forth to gain elevation without the steep climb. We cannot stop here for pictures today because the parking areas are full, so on we go. The closer to mid-day we drive, the more likely we won’t get parking at the most popular pullouts. We’ll just rest here a minute and enjoy the colorful mountainsides.
Mile 32–Mount Cannon ice patch feeding a small stream heading to McDonald Creek which is behind us on the other side of the road.
Mile 35.1–Platform overlooking McDonald Creek. The gorgeous water color is true to life in this picture. The turquoise color is due to glacial flour, or silt-sized finely ground rock, that is carried down the mountains by the streams that feed McDonald Creek.
Mile 43.8–McDonald Lake–10 miles long, almost a mile across, and 500 feet deep. We passed many pullouts, but here we have a great view east as we walk on a large beach area filled with small stones. See all the green and red stones? They are argillite, a common rock in Glacier National Park. Argillite is highly hardened mudstone and comes in a variety of colors, but the reds and greens are most stunning. They are often called “rainbow rocks”.
It is another six miles to the West Entrance, but let’s stay here and enjoy the view a while longer. Those are the mountains we just drove down and around. We didn’t see everything Going-to-the-Sun Road has to offer, but what we saw took my breath away. How about you?
Until next time . . .