Friday, December 27, 2013

Fantastic views of mountains, lake await

Mount Gould rises over Swiftcurrent Lake
in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.
Swiftcurrent Trail map, courtesy NPS.

Glacier N.P. trail passes moose, crosses footbridge

A scenic stroll around a high mountain lake awaits day hikers on the Swiftcurrent Lake Loop Trail at Glacier National Park in Montana.

Flat and full of great views as well as wildlife, the 2.9-mile loop – made up of segments of three other trails – is perfect for families with children. Late June through early August marks the best times to visit, as summer wildflower blooms are at their peak. Come a week or two earlier, though, and you’ll probably need a windbreaker if not a light jacket to stay warm.

To reach the trail, from Great Falls, Mont., take U.S. Hwy. 89 north to the park near the tiny town of Babb. Turn left/west onto Many Glacier Road/Route 3. A scenic albeit bumpy route, the road heads past lakes and mountain peaks before reaching the left/south turnoff to Many Glacier Hotel. Park in the hotel lot and head to the southern end of the hotel where the boat dock sits on Swiftcurrent Lake.

The first leg of the trial – the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail – heads through an evergreen forest with several short spur trails leading to lakeside beaches. At 0.6 miles, the trail passes the Chief Two Guns winter boat house.

Moose zone
You’ll reach a footbridge crossing a channel connecting Swiftcurrent and Josephine lakes at 0.9 miles. Keep an eye out here for moose enjoying a mawful of grass or eating leaves off trees. While moose can be seen just about anywhere on the trail, they particularly like this swampier habitat.

Rounding the lake’s south side, at 1.1 miles you’ll come to the south boat dock. If staying overnight at the national park and planning to hike the popular route to Grinnell Glacier (the meltwater of which feeds Swiftcurrent Lake), seriously consider ferrying via shuttle boat across the lake to this dock, which will save your feet some miles, as the trail to the glacier leaves from near this point.

The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail technically ends at the junction with the Grinnell Glacier Trail. By taking the Grinnell Glacier Trail to the northwest, however, you can loop around the lake back to the hotel. As turning back for an out-and-back trail is almost as long the loop, opt for continuing onward rather than retreading old ground. More great views await.

From the Grinnell Glacier-Swiftcurrent Nature junction, the trail parallels the lake’s western side, offering great views of the hotel across the waters. While you probably came here for the scenery and some fresh mountain air, the hotel itself is a wonder. Built during the early 1910s, it replicates Swiss chalets that perfectly fit this locale.

Footbridge vista
The trail veers away from the lake as nearing Swiftcurrent Creek. The footbridge over the lake marks a good resting spot, if only for its views. Mount Wilbur rises to the west and Wynn Mountain in the east.

North of the creek, the trail runs through a pine and aspen forest. Grinnell Point is visible to the left/west.

At 2.1 miles, the trail reaches the Grinnell Glacier Trail parking lot. Go northeast around the edge of the lot and pick up the Continental Divide Trail, turning right/northeast onto it.

The Continental Divide Trail loops around the lake’s north and northeast side, arriving back at the hotel.

While temperatures generally are pleasant during summer, there can be some hot days; you’ll want bug repellent for the mosquitoes when that occurs. Also, be aware that bears inhabit the area (Don’t be surprised if you find bear scat on the trail - watch your step!), so you may want to read up on how to avoid them and what to do in case an encounter happens anyway.

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.