Swiftcurrent Lake hosts iconic Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, USA
This post documents the drive from Calgary, Alberta to Many Glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA followed by a loop hike around Swiftcurrent Lake.
Early morning departure from Calgary and driving south on Hwy 2 initiates a sunrise trip through rolling, luminescent, prairie wheat fields under a clear sky thinly veiled with broad, intricately laced and virtually transparent cirrus cloud.
There are spectacular views of the brilliantly snow-draped Rocky Mountains, 44 miles (70 KM) to the west, when passing High River, Alberta, followed by the drive through Nanton, Claresholm and historic Fort Macleod before a breakfast stop at the Remington Carriage Museum’s Hub Restaurant in Cardston, Alberta, Canada.
Cardston is a town settled by Mormon pioneers in 1887 and the home of the distinctive Cardston Alberta Temple, the first Mormon Temple established outside the United States.
The town is 25 miles (40 KM) north of the Carway/Port of Piegan border crossing. On the approach to the Canadian/US border, the sacred 9,080 ft. (2,768 m) Chief Mountain is making a dramatic, sunlit presentation framed by white, billowing cloud and a foreground of rolling ranch land rendered golden by early morning sun.
The border crossing is swift and cordial followed by the short drive to Babb on the Blackfeet Reservation where the right turn on Glacier Route Three leads into the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park.
At the park entrance an annual Glacier National Park pass is an economic necessity since the park will be exited and re-entered many times.
The occasionally sketchy, paved road winds its way between the north shore of Lake Sherburne and magnificent mountains to the right.
At the end of the 12 mile (19 KM) road, just past spectacular Appikuni Mountain and Altyn Peak, is the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn which will provide accommodation for the next six days.
It is 12:30 PM. Check-in time is 4 PM and the room is not ready yet.
To fill in time, the nearby Ranger Station may be able to provide instructions for hiking into the old mining town of Altyn which remained elusive during the 2009 trip. In the early 1900’s, Altyn was briefly the town site for servicing Cracker Mine.
For those who share an interest for old mining sites and wish to learn more, you can reference the Cracker Lake hiking post. Surprisingly, the Park Rangers are of no help on this issue and suggest discussing the issue with an old wrangler at the stables.
The horse outfitters are located near the upper parking area above Many Glacier Hotel. The old geezer comes in the form of a beautiful, 20-something, young woman wrangler who knows precisely where Altyn is located.
She takes the time to provide detailed instructions and explains there is nothing left there but a small meadow and a large dip in the ground. For a good part of the year, during spring runoff and summer, the location is under the water of a swollen Sherburne Lake.
Back a short way past the entrance to Many Glacier Hotel there is an opportunity to photograph a picturesque valley from the road with south-side mountains in the background on the other side of Lake Sherburne, before wandering about to enjoy the awesome scenery.
A very light drizzle begins under overcast skies. About 50 M off the north side of the road, there is a circle of rocks filled with gravel adjacent to an ancient, weathered tree at the base of Altyn Peak.
Three days later, Richard, the Jammer driver, explains the circle of rocks is a memorial to the deceased citizens of Altyn. There are no grave sites or markers. The small mining town had a very brief but fascinating history.
There is no intent to hike on this day but circumstances provide the opportunity and time to walk the 2⅝ mile (4.2 KM) circuit around nearby Swiftcurrent Lake.
The trail-head begins at the historic Many Glacier Hotel with grand features and a Swiss motif was built during the First World War. Almost immediately, on the flat trail around the lake, a family group of five is hiking ahead. An older couple with three younger adults are pausing to don their new Gortex rain gear.
Each of them is dressed for a multiple day mission with fully loaded packs, leather hiking boots, hiking poles, bear bells and bear spray. That is five canisters of pepper spray and five sets of incredibly irritating and completely useless bear bells.
Although they seem like an ordinary family, there is an eerie feeling that at least one of them may be packing heat. Along the trail, the family has taken a short path to the lake shore for photos. Picking up the pace allows rapidly forging ahead of the potentially armed menace.
In the unlikely event there are bears nearby, it will be possible to shoo them away from the group now hiking behind. Save the bears!
Just past the Parks personnel residence and boat storage shed is a bridge crossing the stream which links Swiftcurrent Lake to tiny, shallow Stump Lake and larger Josephine Lake in the mountain-surrounded chain of lakes through Grinnell Valley. At the far end of the valley is the spectacular Grinnell Falls and Grinnell Glacier.
At the far end of Swiftcurrent Lake is the boat dock for the passenger shuttle from Many Glacier Hotel along the length of the lake for those who need orprefer water travel.
Arrival at the dock occurs as an isolated area of sun breaks through at the other end of the lake and a faint rainbow forms over the lake and the Many Glacier Hotel.
It is a spectacular image and the camera is working hard for the few brief seconds of the rainbow’s existence before the sun retires again behind heavy cloud cover.
There are incredible views of the Many Glacier Hotel from the forested west shore.
Past the public boat launch at the other end of the lake, there is a moose bottom-feeding just off the shore line.
Effort is taken to approach close for photos before leaving as a crowd assembles. The moose is focused on feeding and seems ambivalent to the people who are gathering.
The short and easy loop hike completes in a full rain. At 4:30 PM accommodation at Swiftcurrent Inn is ready and after ordering a hiker’s lunch for pickup at breakfast the next morning, the transfer of gear is completed to my room assignment # 52 in motel unit 4 which is close to the main building containing reception, the gift shop and the Italian Gardens Ristorante.
Accommodation is fundamental with two double beds, a small bathroom and running water, both hot and cold. The room is small. Accommodation is similar to staying in a quaint and comfortable summer cottage.
There is no phone, no radio, no television, no WiFi, just electricity for room lights and a tiny digital alarm clock. Dinner is excellent. The food is consistently good and reasonably priced.
Glacier National Park in north-central Montana is an entirely different experience than the Canadian counterpart at Rogers Pass in south-central British Columbia. They both contain magnificent mountains, wilderness and wildlife.
The Many Glacier region of the USA Glacier National Park is actually closer to Calgary, Alberta, Canada than Glacier National Park at Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada.
Tomorrow the plan calls for hiking the entire length of Grinnell Valley and beyond.