Great America Road Trip Day 7: Avalanche Lake Trail and Polebridge

As I sit on a rocky beach in Glacier National Park, rugged mountains surround me on all sides. Glacial runoff flows into the lake mere inches away. I drink it all in, feeling a sense of peace that I haven’t experienced in a long time.

I’m grateful to be here, given all that we’ve been through the past few months…. including cancelled travel plans, getting COVID-19, and suffering through an agonizingly slow recovery from COVID. This is especially true after yesterday’s failed attempt to hike the Avalanche Lake Trail.

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Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake Trailhead, Take 2

Rewind the clock back a few hours to earlier in the day. Daniel and I awoke bright and early, determined to reach the Avalanche Lake parking lot before it reached capacity. We weren’t taking any chances after getting turned away yesterday. We arrived at 6:30 am and found a place to park – although the available spots were going fast.

Since the Going-to-the-Sun Road is still closed for the season (or it was as of Sunday), the Avalanche Creek Campground was converted to a parking lot. We found a choice camp spot with a picnic table and settled in for the day. Daniel didn’t feel like hiking, so he went back to sleep while I ate breakfast and prepared for the day ahead.

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Our parking spot for the day in Avalanche Creek Campground
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Avalanche Creek as accessed from the Avalanche Creek Campground

Ascending to Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake shares a trailhead with the Trail of the Cedars nature trail. So I began my hike by rambling through a forest of ancient western hemlocks and red cedars.

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This way to Trail of the Cedars!

After following the Trail of Cedars for a bit, the path to Avalanche Lake diverges to follow Avalanche Creek. The trail climbs uphill for a short bit and then immediately levels out and gently follows the creek. It’s a lovely stroll with lots of great viewpoints of the water.

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The beginning of Avalanche Lake Trail
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There are lots of great viewpoints of Avalanche Creek along the hike
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A mossy creek tributary

Eventually, the trail leaves the creek and climbs through the forest to some lovely alpine views.

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Hiking Etiquette during COVID

Even though I brought bear spray with me, I was a little apprehensive about hiking alone in grizzly bear country. But I needn’t have worried. There were tons of other hikers on the trail with me.

In fact, it was actually too crowded at times. I frequently had difficulty maintaining a proper social distance of 6 feet, even though I always gave other hikers a wide berth. About a third of the other hikers wore masks (or had them readily available), which was encouraging. It’s more than I’ve seen on previous trails.

As I hiked, my mask stayed affixed to my face at all times. I did this so I could pull it over my nose and mouth whenever nearing another hiker. On a trail this popular, a mask in your pocket is basically useless.

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My mask stays on during a hike on a busy trail. I hang it from one ear or pull it over my chin when I’m not near other hikers. It takes some getting used to at first, but I’ve got the hang of it now.

Behold! Avalanche Lake

I eventually arrived at the northern end of Avalanche Lake. Here, I joined the hordes of hikers along the beach. Framed with a backdrop of jagged peaks, the sparkling alpine lake was absolutely stunning. But it was too crowded for my tastes.

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The north end of Avalanche lake. This beach is very popular.
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Squee! I love it here!

So I continued along the muddy path until the trail ended. From there, I followed a spur to a rocky beach along the lake’s southern end. Not as many hikers ventured this far, which made the hike more enjoyable. I hopped over several streams, getting my feet thoroughly wet in the process, until I found a quiet spot.

Here, I plopped down on the rocks for a spell.

And breathed.

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The view of Avalanche Lake from my spot on the lake’s southern side.
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This couple enjoys the view.
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Log crossing
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Photo taken as I crossed the log. The wind whipped up and blew my Unicorn hat right off my head as I took this photo. Lucky for me, another hiker grabbed it before it went too far.

The Return Hike

The hike back to Avalanche Creek Campground was an entirely different experience. By the time I returned to the top of the lake, the crowds had gone. I encountered only a handful of others on the way back down.

I apparently had been traveling in a big group of people. We all arrived super early to get a parking spot and then ended up hiking at the same time. Most of those people didn’t venture to the other side of lake and left way before I did.

So the moral of the story is to try and avoid the herd, if you can. Which is a lot easier said than done.

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North end of Avalanche Lake without all the other people

Polebridge

After lunch at our temporary camp site, Daniel and I decided to visit Polebridge. Polebridge is a small town on the outskirts of Glacier National Park near the Canadian border. This trip wasn’t originally on our agenda…but after FIVE separate recommendations, we figured we had to go.

We didn’t know anything about Polebridge before heading out, except for one thing: we had to try the huckleberry bear claws. These were available for sale at the Polebride Mercantile and were apparently very popular. So off we went.

Daniel and I arrived at Polebridge an hour later, with the realization that we’d made a tactical error. We had no idea that the majority of the drive would be along unpaved bumpy roads. This would have been fine in most vehicles, but our poor Rialta motorhome jiggled and clattered the entire way. Oops.

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The Rialta after our very jiggly drive to Polebridge
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View from the road into Polebridge

I’m glad we went though. With only a general store and a saloon, Polebridge is more trading post than town. It is incredibly remote and disconnected from the outside world. I wished we had more time to spend there … and an appropriate vehicle to explore the area. Oh well, some other time.

And yes, the bear claws are amazing.

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The Polebridge Mercantile, home of the famous huckleberry bear claws! Even out here in the middle of nowhere, masks are required before entering the store. Very cool.
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Little cabins scattered around the Mercantile property
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The famous huckleberry bear claw! Daniel and I are on a pretty strict paleo diet right now so we can lose all the weight we put on during quarantine… but we made an exception for this bad boy!
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That’s my awesome husband!
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Just hanging out in Polebridge with this cute little guy. Photo by Daniel.

Transboundary Flathead River Interpretive Trail

The Transboundary Flathead River Interpretive Trail is located right next to the Polebridge parking area and provides amazing views of the surrounding countryside. Daniel and I took a little stroll along the trail before heading back to our campground in West Glacier.

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Transboundary Flathead River Interpretive Trail
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Views from the Transboundary Flathead River Interpretive Trail
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Transboundary Flathead River Interpretive Trail Panorama

Where are we now?

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We are in Glacier National Park!

Date: Sunday, July 12, 2020
Great American Road Trip Status: Day 7

Location: Glacier Campground, MT
Miles Today: 80.5
Total Trip Mileage: 775.7

For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:

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