Glacier National Park’s Quieter Side – Saint Mary

June 2016 – After nearly six weeks in the Canadian Rockies, it felt funny to cross over the border with our trailer and be “home” again in America. And what a gorgeous spot we landed in — the east side of Glacier National Park in Montana! We were welcomed home with some incredible sunrises and sunsets.

RV at sunset in Montana

The mountain clouds gave us some incredible sunrises and sunsets.

Glacier National Park is joined with Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park just over the border from the eastern side of Glacier National Park to create Waterton-Glacier National Park, and the beautiful scenery around St. Mary Lake was very reminiscent of the vivid blues and towering mountains we had been enjoying in Waterton Lakes National Park for the last two weeks.

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Saint Mary Lake is reminiscent of Upper Waterton Lake just over the border in Canada.

There are three entrances to the eastern side of Glacier National Park, one at Many Glacier, one at St. Mary and one at Two Medicine.

Glacier National Park’s eastern side is adjacent to the Black Foot Indian Reservation, so the communities have a distinctly Indian flavor. We were amused to see a series of teepees set up for visitors who wanted to camp the way the Indians used to.

Indian Teepees in East Glacier Montana

Tired of your RV? Try a teepee!

The main entrance to Glacier National Park’s eastern side is at the tiny community of Saint Mary where the eastern half of the Going to the Sun Road that bisects the park from west to east comes to an end after passing by stunning Saint Mary Lake.

St Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Saint Mary Lake

There are many different hikes in Glacier National Park on both the eastern and western sides and in the middle too! We were on the hunt for wildflowers, and a ranger told us there were some beauties on the Beaver Pond Loop trail right by the ranger’s station at the St. Mary entrance.

So we set out on that trail behind a mom and her three year old daughter who was a real trooper. This is a flat and easy hike that took us out towards the bright blue lake.

Beaver Pond Loop Hike Glacier National Park Montana

The easy Beaver Pond Loop hike is not notable or exotic or a signature hike, but we enjoyed it very much.

The ranger was right about the flowers. They weren’t in thick abundance in vast fields the way we’ve seen in some photos of Saint Mary Lake, but they were definitely there, scattered about the meadows.

Wildflowers Glacier National Park Montana

Wildflowers were in bloom… wonderful!

Lupine wildflower East Glacier National Park Montana

A pretty lupine (“loopin”)

The flowers were so pretty it was impossible not to sit down among them.

Little girl in the flowers East Glacier National Park Montana

Simple pleasures.

Daisy blooming East Glacier National Park Montana St Mary


The trail also took us through some nice stands of aspen and other wooded settings. Mark was totally in his element. He is a woods guy and a true tree hugger.

Tree hugger Glacier National Park Montana

Mark embraces his roots.

The most beautiful parts of the trail were a few off-shoots that went down to the pebbly beaches on Saint Mary Lake.

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

Saint Mary Lake has the lovely teal blue color created by glaciers.

The wind was quite strong and small waves lapped the beach, one after another.

Sitting at Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

The strong wind kept the waves coming.

The hike crossed the meadows before turning into the woods and then delivering us to the beach again.

Hiking Beaver Pond Loop Trail Glacier National Park Montana

Hiking across the meadows.

Saint Mary Lake Glacier National Park Montana

What a view!

Near the end, we came across the original Park Ranger’s cabin for the eastern side of Glacier National Park. Built in 1913, the stories on the plaques told amazing tales of what it was like to live in this remote outpost with nothing but nature all around back in those days.

Ranger's cabin St Mary East Glacier National Park Montana

Back in the 1910’s, this is where the ranger and his family lived. No car, no stores…

One of the early rangers, Chance Beebe, went out hiking on patrol one day (there were no roads for cars in those days, and he preferred hiking to riding a horse). His wife and child were back at the cabin patiently waiting for him to return.

Suddenly, she heard something rattling around up in the attic of the log cabin. It was a mountain lion! He had jumped in from a tree through the open attic window!! Luckily, the mountain lion eventually went on his way, and she and her child were okay. When she told her husband about it later, he knew she wasn’t making it up when he saw lion paw prints in the dust in the attic!

The attic window has a wooden door covering it now, but the ground level window gives a glimpse of the simple life lived by the ranger’s family 100 years ago.

Ranger's house St Mary Glacier National Park Montana

Life was so rustic, the ranger’s wife discovered a mountain lion in the attic. Yikes!

One of the duties for rangers, both then and now, was to keep an eye on wildfires and try to extinguish them. In recent years, due in large part to mismanagement of the forests and wooded areas for a century, wildfires have become particularly intense.

Towards the end of the Beaver Pond Loop hike we came across a stand of trees that had been bleached silver by the sun during the years since a wildfire swept through the area. The tree trunks swayed and creaked in the breeze, as if they were talking with one another.

Live and dead trees East Glacier National Park Montana

Remnants of wildfires are prominently visible in all of the National Parks, and we found a ghostly tree community that was ravaged a while ago.

It was eerie and beautiful at the same time. We felt as though we had come across a community of ghostly tree spirits standing in each other’s company today just as they had for decades, but without even a hint an animal’s footsteps or the faintest rustle of a leaf.

Wildfire dead trees Glacier National Park Montana Saint Mary

The tree tops bent and swayed and knocked into each other and made wonderfully eerie noises.

We stayed among these skinny souls for a long time, looking for ways to capture the wistful beauty of this silver world.

Dead trees Glacier National Park St Mary Lake Montana

There was a special aura here that gave us a feeling of reverence.

The most famous part of Glacier National Park is the Going to the Sun Road, and we drove it many times during our stay. For a few days, the weather was misty and soggy, and the towering mountains were as mysterious as they were majestic.

Going to the Sun Road Saint Mary Glacier National Park Montana

The Going to the Sun Road looked more like the Driving Into the Mist Road.

On July 21, 2015, a wildfire erupted right along this road, sending huge plumes of smoke in the air and torching the forest. Again, we found ourselves wandering through wildfire devastation, but this one had happened just one year prior. And again, we found ourselves witness to an unexpected beauty.

The trees were wet from the mist and rain, and they still bore the scars of charring from the fire. The bark was peeling off many of them, revealing rich brown wood beneath, and tiny hints of life grew at their feet.

Stand of dead trees from Reynolds Creek Wildfire Glacier National Park

Last year’s fire was a fresh memory for these trees.

One of the surprise blessings of a big wildfire like this along a famous scenic road is that it opens up the view.

As the years have gone by, many of the most scenic roads in America’s National Park system have lost their views because the trees that were saplings when the road was built have grown tall and strong — and totally blocked the view.

We found this was true on much of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we have seen it on many other scenic drives as well. So, although our hearts broke at the way the woods were stripped of life in a matter of days last summer, we loved being able to see the lake between the remaining trunks!

Continuing on, around one bend we noticed a thicket of bright blue wildflowers that jumped out from the misty backgdrop of mountains. They were growing right along the rocky cliffs.

Wildflowers on a cliff Glacier National Park St Mary Lake Montana

The gods threw a splash of color onto our gray day with wildflowers growing on a rocky cliff.

We snuck closer and saw they were growing against orange lichen covered rocks. Mother Nature had chosen a very colorful palette for her handiwork once again.

Wildflowers on cliffs Glacier National Park Montana

Bright blue flowers and orange lichen on the rocks. Wonderful!

There were several different types of blue flowers, each a slightly different shade. We loved them all!

Wildflowers Glacier National Park Montana

The wildflowers at Glacier National Park were delightful.

The East side of Glacier National Park is the much less visited side. The villages on the east side are tiny, with just a few stores and family restaurants for the tourists. But in many ways it is the more beautiful side.

Although the Going to the Sun Road is not a good road for any but the smallest RVs, it is easy to reach Saint Mary and the other eastern villages from the western side of Glacier National Park with an RV simply by driving from west to east on Route 2 south of the park.

It is also an ideal jumping off point for a visit to eye-popping Waterton Lakes National Park just a few miles over the Canadian border.

RV Sunset Glacier National Park Saint Mary Montana

The east side of Glacier National Park is the less visited side, but it may be the more beautiful too!

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9 thoughts on “Glacier National Park’s Quieter Side – Saint Mary

  1. Beautiful, what a way to start a day looking at the beauty of America and with your wonderful words.

    We will be in Jasper, Banff and Waterton Lakes in about 3 weeks.
    Thank you

  2. So beautiful, even with the devastation caused by wildfires. It’s good to look at the positive aspects of the fires (opening up views, stimulating wildflower growth) as you do. If we hadn’t suppressed fires for so many decades, they wouldn’t be as monumental as they are now. A difficult lesson, for sure. Love your experience and photographs among the “ghostly tree spirits.”

    • We’ve seen this beauty after wildfires before (in Sun Valley, Idaho) and it is such a surprise. Nature heals itself, even when the scars are deep. It is unfortunate the the century of fire suppression, the prevention of logging, and the regrowth of single species forests which are ideal for bark beetles invasions have all conspired to wreak havoc on our forests. But with any luck the land managers have learned a few things… in the meantime, it can be very moving to spend some time among the ghostly tree spirits!!


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