All to ourselves

Beating the crowd to Glacier National Park


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Had it been later in the year, the young grizzly may not have been surprised by our arrival. But since my partner and I were hiking toward Cosley Lake inside Glacier National Park on Memorial Day weekend, before the usual throng of two-legged creatures had started to descend on the area, we ended up spooking the yearling. We immediately retreated and reconsidered our overnight trek.

Lucky for us, we had plenty of options during our early season adventure. The National Parks Service estimates that more than 2.1 million people visited Glacier National Park in 2012, but only a fraction of them ever saw the park in late May and early June. On years when the weather cooperates, like this one, there’s a small window of time when the park offers no crowds and plenty to explore for those willing to work for it.

As it turns out, it also offers bears unaccustomed to visitors. After my partner and I had regained our composure and re-holstered our bear spray, we plotted our next steps. Our weekend plan included this hike to Cosley Lake, as well as trips to Iceberg and Bullhead lakes near Many Glacier. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was still closed to traffic and littered with winter debris, but we intended to make the snow-lined climb on our bikes. The question at hand was whether to push on to Cosley or try something else.

Stubbornness won out. We retraced our steps, yelling “Hey bear!” with a “bearanoid” frequency, and followed the trail past Belly River Ranger Station and Gros Ventre Falls to our destination. We encountered deer, elk and moose, but never the grizzly. That fortuitous first hike led to the pristine lakeside and the type of weekend few get to experience inside Glacier.


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