I spent last summer working at the front desk of the Many Glacier Hotel in Montana's Glacier National Park and not a day went by when I didn't feel grateful for the awesomeness of life under the big sky. The snowcapped peaks, the rushing waterfalls, the turquoise lakes...it all seemed unreal. Throughout the summer, I hiked many of the trails that sprawl from the valley. I paddled in the tranquil lakes and down nearby running rivers. But without a doubt, what I remember most were epic bike rides I took out of that valley.
The Many Glacier Hotel is an isolated, century-old, Swiss chalet-style hotel situated in the Northeast corner of the park. Built well off the beaten path beside picturesque Swiftcurrent Lake amid a jaw-dropping panorama of the continental divide, it's certainly "out there"! It's a photographer's paradise with awe-inspiring views everywhere you look.
On a typical summer afternoon, you're bound to spot some wildlife, like a moose munching away at vegetation on the lakeshore. Or a couple of grizzlies on a mountain slope devouring huckleberries, one bush at a time. At the very least, a herd of Bighorn sheep looking confused in the parking lot (which was built across their primitive migration route). Not to mention an array of wildflowers painting the landscape. You couldn't take a bad photo if you tried! And though there's no cell phone service and the Wi-Fi connection is on par with my dial-up modem from 1997, it makes you feel all the more connected to the Many Glacier Valley paradise surrounding you.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is Glacier National Park's main attraction, and rightfully so! This 50-mile stretch of highway is a marvelous feat of engineering. From Lake McDonald to St. Mary, it traverses the Continental Divide's mammoth peaks, affording breathtaking views around every hairpin turn--adventure cycling at its finest! Along the way I pedaled through glacier-carved U-shaped valleys, passing giant waterfalls and moss-filled canyons, all the while taking breaks at the various Cliffside overlooks to soak it all in.
Backroads' Glacier and Waterton Lakes bike tour includes a night at the Many Glacier Hotel and rides along some of the most scenic roads in North America. Imagine yourself there. The sun is shining, a gentle breeze is combing through your hair. Your heart is racing, a wide smile across your face. Hold on to your handlebars--you're not dreaming! Does life get any better than this? It does! Tomorrow you get to pedal north along the quieter Chief Mountain International Highway, which leads toward Waterton Lakes National Park.
Chief Mountain is the name of the massive rock formation that dominates the landscape for the first half of the day's ride. It is the most prominent mountain in the region and has been a sacred place for the Blackfeet Native Americans since long before the Lewis and Clark expedition came through. It's a powerful, mysterious, captivating and extremely photogenic site. Soon you come to the Canadian border-crossing, then triumphantly descend toward the prairies of Alberta. A fascinating view lies before you as the mountains suddenly shoot up out of the plains. Unlike other regions of the Rocky Mountains, where foothills gradually morph into towering peaks, the immediate change of topography here is drastic. As you enter Waterton Lakes National Park, you ride a smooth, paved path that leads all the way to the Prince of Wales Hotel and the town of Waterton. After the ride, you sip a cold drink by the lake, feeling proud of all the wonderful miles of cycling you've just experienced.
Some people call this region the Crown of the Continent. Others call it the Backbone of the World. I simply refer to it as the Greatest Place on Earth because its beauty is unparalleled. It evokes in me a feeling so uplifting that I will never forget it...and I continue to count down the days until I return.
For those taking the journey: Two Sisters Café near Babb, Montana, is a must-stop for huckleberry pie. And if you want to pick your own huckleberries, Fishercap Lake (0.7 miles down the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail in the Many Glacier Valley) is a great place to do so.