The land of glacial lakes, bubbling geysers, and mountains that crest the clouds. Mother nature makes herself at home in Montana.
Before I left for my trip, I had a good feeling about Montana. If my plans fell through for any reason at all, I promised myself I’d still book a flight to Bozeman and see the great national parks of the Northwest for a week over the summer. My country roots knew it would feel like home on the grandest of scales.
In its own magnetic way, it exceeded even my biggest expectations. There have been many moments along the way when I’ve spontaneously observed my isolation in remote landscapes 50 miles or further from the nearest town. Every time, I’ve been surprised to find that these pockets of solitude actually make me feel less alone on my journey and rather more connected to the world around me, part of a living breathing ecosystem where no hierarchy exists. It’s just me, the wildflowers, the butterflies, the ants beneath my feet, the fluttering green leaves on trees, and the towering, sleeping giants of mountains above me. That’s the feeling of Montana.
The beauty of Big Sky Country lies in what it lacks. To my surprise, the majority of Montana is underdeveloped, sparsely populated, and just as wild as it was before the arrival of settlers centuries ago. The living, breathing ecosystem is, in large part, thriving, still untarnished by mankind.
My week in Montana began just a few miles from the southeastern entrance to Glacier. This week—after nearly a month of being entirely on my own apart from a pit stop to visit a hometown friend in Oregon—I would be joined by my parents, first my father in Montana, then my mother for the remainder of my trip. My dad and I settled into our campsite beneath the Northern Rockies and made a rough itinerary for our week ahead beneath the surprisingly bright 10pm sky.
The next day, my dad set off to explore the town of Coram just south of the West Glacier park entrance while I worked virtually from the camper. The second my laptop was closed, we piled into the truck and raced to the park to tour the Going-to-the-Sun road, a 49-mile windy stretch offering direct access to some of the best hiking and sightseeing the park has to offer. Just 16 miles in, we were stopped dead in our tracks. Even by the first week of July, the snow hadn’t yet melted enough to allow visitors to pass through.
We picked a nearby trail to hike and meandered through sleepy pine groves and rocky debris from ancient landslides, snapping pictures and masking our disappointment about our shortened adventure, but we knew there was still much more to see.
After another online shift the following day, we headed to the eastern section of the park, where fewer roads lead into the mountains, and instead, visitors are required to explore the terrain on foot. Even better, we thought. Challenge accepted.
We pulled into a random parking lot packed with hikers, some chugging water from perspiring canteens and others stretching on the scorching asphalt. We paused to take a few photos of the perfectly chiseled, snow-capped mountains surrounding us and ventured naively onto the same trail that had left its previous explorers aching in the parking lot. Thus began our 7.4-mile hike to Scenic Point, a 2,300 foot elevation gain overlooking the Two Medicine Valley.
What began as a gradual incline weaving through picturesque wildflowers and past trickling waterfalls eventually narrowed into a two-foot wide rocky trail on the edge of a sheer mountain face. When it seemed like we couldn’t possibly climb any higher, we rounded a bend and did, indeed, continue our journey upward, scooting past fellow hikers and the occasional mountain goat while trying our best not to look down at the dizzying dropoff directly below us. Nearly 2 and a half hours later, we summited the peak of Scenic Point and gazed in awe at our view of Two Medicine Lake glimmering in the evening sun.
It felt like the perfect metaphor to kick off the final week of my trip—the mountain I didn’t even realize we would summit. We knew by the exhaustion of those we met in the parking lot that it would be gritty, difficult, and possibly even insurmountable, but we forged along anyway, one step at a time. And here we were, enjoying our hiker’s high over 7,000 feet up with unobstructed views of one of the largest parks in the U.S. Amplify the Scenic Point hike by a thousand and you have the Great American Road Trip. Sweat, risk, and sacrifice all for the biggest and most blissful of payoffs.
We climbed haphazardly back down, grinning from ear to ear and feeling, at last, that our full Glacier experience was complete. Onto the next destination for me, and despite his best wishes, back home for my dad.
Here’s to Montana, to Big Sky Country, and to the mountains we have yet to summit, ones which we may not even know lie ahead of us. May the views from the top be better than we could’ve ever imagined.