Lets continue with Glacier National Park in springtime. This post will suggest things to do if you visit the park in early season (May & June). Check out the introductory post too. I visited this beautiful park in NW Montana last month. Though much of the park was snow-free, most of the high country was inaccessible because of snow. The famous Going to the Sun Road, which crosses spectacular Logan Pass, was closed from the Avalanche trailhead & campground on the west side all the way over to the east entrance at St. Mary Lake.
Spring was in the air at lower elevations, with green meadows, flowers and busy critters. That atmosphere, combined with relatively few other visitors and all those waterfalls made the trip very worthwhile, despite Logan Pass & St. Mary Lake being closed.
A Caveat: If you’re going to Glacier to knock some shots off your photography bucket list, you should stop reading right now and find another avenue of research. For one thing, it being early season, I wasn’t able to access ever-popular Triple Falls or St. Mary Lake (at Sun Point). So I’m not much help for these two very popular places to shoot at Glacier.
The internet features thousands of pictures from these two spots, and it seems everybody with a camera wants to (or feels they should) see and shoot them. They’re on the itinerary of every photo workshop at Glacier (they have to be, people would feel cheated if they weren’t).
That’s why, as those who’ve been reading this blog for awhile have probably already guessed, I’ve happily skipped them on all my trips to the park, even in summer or fall when they’re accessible. Besides, I don’t need to keep a group of workshop participants happy. And I don’t do bucket lists.
Here are a few ideas for things to do if you come to Glacier in early season (photography suggestions follow each one):
- Rivers & lakes are plum full in spring. So it’s a great time to float the Flathead (north or middle forks) in a raft. These rivers approach Class III but are mostly mellow Class I & II. Look for outfitters based in Kalispell or Whitefish, or closer to the park at West Glacier. This is a favorite weekend activity for local residents of the Flathead Valley.
** Action shots on the river, especially if you’re able to capture people’s expressions in the great light of a lowering sun, will make you popular with companions. If you’re nervous about shooting on the water, buy a relatively inexpensive waterproof point and shoot camera. But the chances of capsizing on the Flathead, especially in a raft, are slim indeed.
- Camping lakeside is a wonderful way to spend a weekend in May or early June here. Lake McDonald is an obvious choice, but Bowman Lake, also on the west side, is more out of the way and gorgeous as well. You’ll need to drive a gravel road into Bowman, but it’s well graded for 2WD, and in early season not too washboarded. On the east side, camping (and hiking) along Two Medicine Lake is a superb choice.
** Campfire pictures (and videos) are sure winners. I’m talking people pictures, not close-ups of the fire. Help to get your group in the mood to sing and dance, then stand back with your camera on a tripod and capture both freeze-frame (higher ISO) and movement-blur shots. Or zoom in for a close portrait of someone telling a story, face to the firelight. Can you think of other ideas?
- As long as you’re camping by a lake, spring is a fantastic time to paddle, either in kayak or canoe. Morning is best to avoid any wind that may come up. And drop a line if you’re so inclined.
** Photograph canoes & kayaks in quiet, peaceful, and watery settings at sunrise, sunset, or even in the moonlight. Shots of people (fishing?) or just the empty boats can both work. Sure these can look a bit cliche, but if you’re genuinely trying to capture the mood of a peaceful paddle, these types of pictures can really shine. Of course sunset or sunrise by a lake also provides the perfect chance to shoot landscape if the light is right.
- Wildlife watching & photography is great this time of year. Dusky grouse were mating when I visited in May, and the deep “thump thump thump” calls of the male permeated the forest everywhere I went. I saw moose and plenty of deer, along with bighorn sheep. Mountain goat are quite common as well, especially if you hike to one of the high rocky ridges, such as Apgar Lookout near the western entrance.
I didn’t see bears this time, but they are mostly out from hibernation at this time of year. Note: there are plenty of grizzlies in this park, so travel in groups if possible and make noise when you’re hiking (especially if alone) in areas where you can’t see far (no bells, loud talking instead). Discretion is the better part of valor: shoot grizzlies from a distance!
** You have to be patient to get pictures of dusky grouse, but the males (like males of any species, including us) are easier to approach when they’re displaying and their minds are elsewhere. The real challenge is to get a shot of a female!
** Bighorn sheep are fairly easy in most areas of Glacier because they are habituated to humans. But in order to observe more natural behaviors, and to get close to young ones, you need some patience. For both sheep and goats, if the terrain and your abilities allow, climb above them at a fair distance and circle around. Then descend slowly, approaching from above. That tends to keep them much more relaxed than if you were to approach from below, where most of their danger comes from.
Next time I’ll cover hiking at Glacier. It might have to wait until a follow-up trip in a few weeks, after which I’ll be able to recommend not only good trails for spring, but perfect hikes for summer as well. Happy traveling!