Exploring Glacier in September
September 12 – 19, 2021
John Muir encouraged visitors to Glacier National Park to “give a month at least to this precious reserve.” He said that time in Glacier “will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening it, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.” Although we cannot promise that this trip will result in immortality, we can promise a week of camaraderie, learning, and world-class hiking that you will remember for the rest of your life. Join like-minded adventurers for a weeklong exploration of the ‘Crown of the Continent’ Ecosystem. Venture out each day with professional naturalists to see and learn about cerulean lakes, meadows bursting with wildflowers, the iconic Going to the Sun Road, and Glacier’s famous bears and goats. This trip is designed for those that want to see and learn as much as possible about Glacier over the course of a single week.
Itinerary: (subject to change due to trail closures and weather)
Day 1: All travelers should arrive at the Glacier Institute Field Camp between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. At camp, you will settle into your cabins, familiarize yourself with the campus, and meet other travelers. Then, over a happy hour with lemonade and appetizers, we will review the schedule for the week, go over risk management policies, and answer questions for the week ahead. After dinner we will enjoy an evening walk to Quarter-Circle bridge to stretch our legs and look for wildlife.
Day 2: Our morning drive will take us around the southern boundary of the park, back towards the Two Medicine valley, with our eyes set on Scenic Point. The raging torrent of Appistoki Falls is hardly out of earshot before the first few switchbacks carry one into a bleached graveyard of Whitebark Pine. The decline of this keystone species is reverberating throughout the forested zones of the Rockies with grave ecological implications! Switchbacks of dusty scree and a moonscape tundra contrast with hemispheres of green, plants inches-tall clinging to the thinnest skein of soil while bighorn sheep graze at elevations of the eye that defy pastoral possibilities. We will eat lunch atop the mountain with grand sweeping views, the Two Medicine valley one way and, in the other, the Sweet Grass Hills nearly 100 miles afar on a raven’s line.
(7.9mi, 2,300ft elevation gain/loss).
Day 3: We will start the day with a drive up to Logan Pass along the stunning Going to the Sun Road. We will hike along the Highline Trail and to Hidden Lake Overlook, two of the Park’s most remarkable trails. Our local expert guides will give us an overview of the park’s geology and the mile high glaciers that once carved these landscapes. Logan Pass is a wildlife-rich area, and we will keep an eye out for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and the gregarious hoary marmot along the trail, discussing how these alpine species survive in this harsh environment.
(combined daily total 9mi, 1,200ft elevation gain/loss).
Day 4: This hike will lead us to a primeval forest nestled in the maritime climate of the McDonald Valley, where one can expect to find ancient markers of centuries past, the lush cedar-hemlock complex, is home to an explosion of life and awakens one to the grandeur and biological fullness of Glacier’s timeless spaces. Following mossy boulders and smoothed ravine walls of Avalanche Creek, hike to Avalanche Lake, home to the Westslope Cutthroat trout who feed in the chilly clines of this lake and tell a remarkable tale of adaptation and change. Encountering the remnants of avalanche blowdown, colossal stones plucked out by pressures of ice, and finishing in a glacier-fed cirque basin leaves the gravest of hikers misty-eyed.
(4.6mi, 600ft elevation gain/loss).
Day 5: Today is our free day. You will have the option of a half day rafting excursion with Glacier Guides, a half day trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters, or you may also opt out of both and choose to do some exploring on your own. This day is intended to break up the hiking of the week and allow for people to pick what they wish to do, at their leisure!
**The logistics: We will have breakfast at 7:30 a.m., and run various shuttles to Glacier Guides, Swan Mountain Outfitters and Apgar Village at pre-designated times throughout the day, appetizers will be at 5 p.m. followed by dinner at 6pm.
Day 6: Our morning drive will lead us along the southern boundary of Glacier Park to the Two Medicine Valley. After hiking along Upper Two Medicine Lake, we will climb out of the glacially carved valley towards Cobalt Lake. Along the way, our guides will share the cultural history of the area focusing on the Blackfeet people and their connection with Glacier National Park. Suspension bridges, moose ponds, and stunning peaks will keep us company on our journey to the frigid and beautiful alpine lake.
(11.2mi, 1,400ft elevation gain/loss).
Day 7: Today we will head to the exuberant scene at the southern boundary of the park and area that leaves one breathless before even hitting the trailhead. This nexus of prairie, montane, marsh, and parkland, and ultimately reaching into the sub-alpine, one is unlikely to miss the whistling songbirds and greater menagerie of wildlife that corridor through. We will rest for lunch atop Firebrand Pass peering into Ole Creek valley. This is a catch-all trail rare on the south side!
(10.2mi, 2,100ft elevation gain/loss).
Day 8: The trip will end after breakfast, and packed lunches will be available to take with you. All travelers should plan to check out by 10 a.m.
Food: The following meals will be provided: Dinner on Day 1 – lunch on Day 8. We can accommodate any dietary restrictions upon request. Breakfast and dinners will be eaten in camp while most lunches will be eaten out in the field.
Accommodations: 7 nights of lodging are included into the course fee. Our student cabins are basic, hostel-style cabins with 5 single beds, bedside lights, and electrical outlets. Students should be prepared to share a cabin with up to 4 other people, cabins are separated by gender. Couples may be paired up in the event there is ample space. We provide a bottom sheet for your bed as well as a pillow and pillow case, but please bring a warm sleeping bag. Be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp for night trips to the bathroom. The community bathhouse has flush toilets, sinks, and hot showers.
Park Entrance Fees: Participants are responsible for purchasing their park entrance passes prior to the course. These can be purchased online at: https://www.recreation.gov/sitepass/74280.
Other fees: Your trip includes transportation to and from the trailheads, as well as costs associated with Day 5rafting or horseback excursion. You are responsible for costs associated with activities on your own terms for Day 5.
Physical Requirements: Moderately-strenuous. Participants will hike an average of 9 miles each day over uneven terrain with an average elevation gain of 1,500 feet. See hike specific trail stats on itinerary below (these are approximations).
Equipment: You will receive a Field Camp gear list once you register. Most importantly are comfortable hiking shoes, snacks, water bottle at least 1-2 liters, backpack, rain gear, hat, and sunscreen. Weather can be varied, especially in the higher altitudes, so please be prepared with appropriate clothing, with extra warm layers. We will be hiking in varied elevations throughout the course so expect cold, potential snow and high winds
Academic Credit: Please see our ‘2021 Academic Credit’ link on our website to learn about OPI credit and FVCC and UM credit for our courses.
Suggestions on Getting There: The Glacier Institute Field Camp is located just inside the West Entrance to Glacier National Park. The nearest airport is in Kalispell, Montana, about 30 minutes from Field Camp. Travelers should plan to arrive at Field Camp on arrival day between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to check in and get settled. Travelers should plan to depart Field Camp by 10 a.m. on departure day. If you find airline reservations are difficult to make by flying into Kalispell, an alternative is to fly into Missoula, which is about three hours from the park. If you fly into Missoula you will need to rent a car for the drive up to the park.
*Note: airfare and car rental are not included in the trip price.
Notes on our Itinerary: It is common for many of our days to start early with breakfast between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. We plan accordingly to beat the heat as well as the crowds, and allow ourselves ample time to reach the trailhead each day. The early bird gets the worm, especially in Glacier National Park. We allow ample down time in the evenings, upon returning from our daily excursion. Due to the nature of experiencing a natural place such as Glacier National Park we are constantly adjusting our plans to accommodate road and trail closures (due to bears, weather and wildlife). Therefore natural circumstances may arise that warrant us adjusting some of the above itinerary.
*Be sure to also check out our adult day courses going on. If there is one you are interested in joining during your week, please inquire upon registration.
Trip Difficulty: Most of our hikes will range from 8-12 miles in length. The hikes will be moderate to moderately strenuous with elevation gains of 400-2,700 feet. All of the hikes are on maintained trails and will take place between elevations of 5,000 to 8,100 feet. In order to comfortably complete the hikes on this trip, all hikers should be participating in regular aerobic activity four to five days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes duration — jogging, bike riding, or using the aerobic equipment at your local gym are just some examples. To help build your endurance, you should begin weekly hikes a few months before the trip of 8-10 miles that gain at least 1,500-2,000 feet of elevation. By the time of the trip you should be able to comfortably maintain an average hiking speed of 2-2.5 mph for six to eight hours — the key word being comfortably. Because of the small, but real potential for grizzly bear encounters while hiking in Glacier National Park, it is not safe for people to become separated from the group. Therefore, it is imperative that you are able to maintain the hiking pace recommended by the leader.
Weather: Field Camp is located in West Glacier, roughly 3,600ft above sea level. Glacier National Park covers quite a large spread of land, and straddles the continental divide. On any given day, the weather on the west side of the divide can be quite different from the weather on the east side of the divide. The best way to be prepared for ever changing mountainous weather is to have layers! See our gear list for recommendations on what to bring. We recommend checking the weather prior to your trip. NOAA Weather Forecast is a great resource for this. Although we will be lodging in West Glacier we will also travel to the eastern side of the divide near East Glacier & Saint Mary; checking the weather for these different locations can help to provide a big picture of the forecast.
Gratuity Guidelines: Gratuity for Outdoor Education Specialists and/or Instructors is welcome and appreciated but not required.
Fellow Travelers: This is a group travel adventure. All participants are encouraged to review the itinerary and trip difficulty. It is inevitable that some travelers will have different goals, perspectives and abilities. We ask that the group respect each individual’s conditions and needs throughout the course or trip. We want everyone to enjoy themselves to the fullest!