This trip started on Monday, July 21st. Unlike my Western States Tour, I had company on this entire ride. My friend and regular riding partner Will came along.
The route was 1,520 miles long and took five days. The original plan was to stay within the US borders, but wildfires blocked both Hwy 2 and Hwy 20, so we detoured into Canada for a few hours on our way east. The two of us were on the road for five days: two days to Kalispell, Montana, our staging point; one day in Glacier, and two days to return, via a southern route. By traveling during the week, we encountered less traffic and congestion at Glacier.
For this trip, we reserved camp sites for the first and last evening, and a two-day motel stay in Kalispell, our staging area for day three’s trip into Glacier.
Day 1 – Seattle to Kettle Falls
The weather was fair, sometimes cloudy with a bit of rain on both days. Temperatures ranged from the 60’s to the 80’s.
Day 1 distance: 425 miles (est.)
We travelled up I-5 until Bellingham and then took Hwy 542 and Hwy 9, stopping for a snack in Sumas. Crossing the border at Sumas was easy and quick. From there, we headed to Hope, British Columbia along Canadian Highway 1. A quick stop at the Visitor’s Centre in Hope provided us with updates on road conditions and a photo opportunity.
We were told the roads ahead were open but a higher than usual number of animals were crossing the highway. Apparently they were fleeing the fires in Washington. The air did smell of smoke but we didn’t see any animals crossing the highway as we continued into Princeton, BC. We took a quick photo stop in Hedley, a small town with gold mining in its history.
We crossed back into the United States at Osoyoos and stopped for fuel at Oroville, WA. The air here was thick with smoke from fires. Another motorcyclist reported being able to see the fire from the top of the nearby mountains. We continued south on Hwy 97 until reaching Tonasket, WA.
We travelled east along Hwy 20 from Tonasket. We had a lot of miles to cover and it was raining off and on, so I kept the DSLR camera stowed away from Tonasket until we reached our campground in Kettle Falls. But I set up the GoPro to take a photo every minute. Here are a few of the best images captured.
We made camp reservations days in advance but learned later from the camp hosts that Kettle Falls Campground almost never fills up. Being able to pick a site upon arrival would have had advantages as we ended up right next to a very big camper with a generator running until “quiet hours” began at 10pm. It wasn’t too annoying, but it didn’t “feel” appropriate to the type of camping we were doing and most of the rest of the campground was unoccupied.
Kettle Falls is located along the Columbia River and the campgrounds were located against the eastern shore.
Day 2 – Kettle Falls to Kalispell
I woke up to the sound of rain drops on my tent. The shower was light and stopped quickly but we experienced rain on and off throughout Day 2. Temperatures reached the 80’s in Kalispell, where it was sunny.
Day’s distance: 275 miles
Total trip distance: 700 miles
I didn’t take a lot of photos during Day 2. When it rained, the DSLR was packed away in a waterproof bag. When it wasn’t raining, we were enjoying the scenic and often twisty highway. The next few photos give a sense of the roads and the scenery.
Later in the day, and closer to Kalispell, the sky cleared up.
There was roadwork occurring along Hwy 2. We had several delays on the order of 15 minutes or so and the surface of the highway was dirt as we approached Kalispell, MT.
We arrived in Kalispell in the late afternoon.
We stayed at the Aero Inn. It was an inexpensive, clean, safe motel. The pool was pretty small but usable, and both Will and I took advantage of it before we went to dinner at the Blue Canyon Kitchen Tavern. I had the Bison Ribeye, which wasn’t quite as tender as the buffalo ribeye I had in Cody, Wyoming, but was good nevertheless. We turned in early excited to see Glacier the next day.
Day 3 – Glacier National Park
The weather started out cloudy. It rained lightly early in the morning but stopped before we departed, though the roads were still wet. Temperatures started in the 60’s and reached into the low 80’s in the park and the high 80’s in Kalispell by the time we returned.
Days distance: 142 miles
Total trip distance: 842 miles
We left the motel before 8am to try to avoid any anticipated crowds inside Glacier National Park. We headed to the West Entrance and the ‘Going to the Sun Road’.
This was my first ever visit to Glacier. Turns out it was Will’s first visit, too. We were not disappointed. The park has some incredible scenery. A definite must see !!
At higher elevations, the Going to the Sun Road gets narrow with steep drops on one side and sheer rock walls on the other.
Red Jammer’s were a common sight in the park.
According to a wikipedia article, Red Jammers are used at Glacier to transport park visitors. While the buses are called reds, the bus drivers are called jammers. Originally built with unsyncronized transmissions, the driver had to use a “double clutch” technique to jam the bus into gear. The buses have recently been rebuilt using a modern chassis and automatic transmissions. Some are also equipped now to burn propane to lower emissions.
We traveled towards the East Entrance until the paved road turned to a gravel road near St. Mary Lake.
Our plan was to travel the ‘Going to the Sun Road’ in both directions because of the sheer beauty of this part of the park, so we turned around at this point. Another option would have been to travel out the East Entrance into St. Mary and return to Kalispell via Highway 2.
We took a few more photos heading west before leaving the park. I leave you with these last two.
Here’s a two minute video from the Going to the Sun Road. It turned out to be a very beautiful day 🙂
Day 4 – Kalispell to Lewiston
The weather on Day 4 started with occasionally heavy showers from Kalispell until reaching Seeley Lake. After the rain, occasionally strong winds presented themselves until we were well into the Clearwater National Forest. By the evening of Day 4, the winds subsided in Lewiston and the evening was clear and pleasant. Temperature reached the 80’s.
Day’s distance: 369 miles
Total trip distance: 1211 miles
We decided to take Hwy 83 south towards Missoula. This quiet two lane highway took us past a series of small lakes, including Swan Lake …
and Salmon Lake.
Online reviews of Highway 83 included warnings of large number of deer on or near the roadway. We kept watch and did encounter two deer on the road.
As we turned west on Highway 12 to head to Missoula, the winds picked up. These were some of the strongest I’ve encountered since riding along in Kansas on my Western States Tour.
While in Missoula, we stopped for breakfast at Paul’s Pancake Parlor. Tucked away inside a strip mall, this place was packed and earned its reputation as one of Missoula’s favorite restaurants. Service was excellent as was the food. Definitely recommended.
After breakfast, we headed west on Hwy 12 and over Lolo Pass. This was familiar to me, as I traveled this way on the Western States Tour earlier this summer. Since I took lots of photos during that ride, I focused this time on just enjoying the nearly endless twists and turns.
The Lochsa river was lower than during my early summer visit. We saw no rafting and no pipeline activity this time. The wind we encountered earlier subsided and the temperatures warmed. It was pretty ideal.
Eventually we reached Lewiston and set up camp at Hell’s Gate State Park.
Situated adjacent to the Snake River, this was a nice place to stay with large grassy areas on which to set up the tents. As the weather was predicted to be clear and dry, I slept without the fly and was able to see the sky throughout the night. We didn’t swim as I received some news from home which I had to pay attention to for the remainder of the evening.
Day 5 – Lewiston to Seattle (Last Day)
Day 5 was clear and sunny, with lighter wind in places. Temperatures reached into the low 80’s.
Day’s distance: 341 miles
Total trip distance: 1552 miles
A matter requiring my attention, mentioned above, required me to return home as early as possible. We took a relatively direct path home and I didn’t take any photos. Despite my distraction, it was a nice ride. We started out crossing the Snake River to get a latte, then crossing back to try to find our way to the Old Spiral Highway. Somehow, we got turned around and found ourselves crossing the Snake River again. Already preoccupied, I got frustrated and called off our planned side trip.
We returned home in the mid afternoon, safe and sound.
Glacier National Park was beautiful. It was my intention to visit earlier in the year while still on my Western States Tour, but a late snowfall blocked the Going to the Sun Road. It felt like this trip helped give a sense of completion to my earlier tour. I think Glacier requires some ‘hiking time’ to fully appreciate. I was told this prior to leaving and understand now.
Traveling with others is a different experience than traveling alone. Seems obvious, huh? I do have a preference at this time for traveling alone on longer trips but having someone along for shorter trips is fun, too! It seems to require more communication and planning to accomodate everyone’s needs. If you are good at that (it’s not my strength), then you’d likely prefer company.
As mentioned, I was made aware of a situation at home on the evening of Day 4. This unpleasant news completed disrupted my evening. Unfortunately, I allowed it to ruin the last day as well. Transitions back to our everyday life happen after vacations. I now realize I have to plan for that better in order to keep my “vacation mindset” intact as long as possible and to shorten the post-vacation “blues”.