For the long Labor Day weekend, we decided to stay close to home and be tourists in our neighboring state. Just 3 hours drive north into Wisconsin, we found ourselves in Door County, where some call it the Cape Cod of the Midwest. We’ll be honest and admit we were skeptical at first, but we were wrong!
Granted, we have never been to Cape Cod, but we did however find Door County to be charming, quaint and relatively affordable. We camped at Potawatomi State Park, and drove in a loop around the peninsula, stopping wherever we saw anything that interested us.
We found an art gallery in Egg Harbor, stopped at numerous souvenir shops and country stores, sampled delicious apple cider in Ellison Bay, and eventually found ourselves coming back to Sister Bay time and again. For us, the main draw at Sister Bay was the extremely high quality and delicious ice cream and cheeses at Door County Creamery. With ice cream in hand, we would join the crowd to observe the goats on Al Johnson’s rooftop, maybe get a bratwurst next door and then wander into Kind Goods to find handmade wares.
On a sunny day, we rented a tandem bike and toured Potawatomi State Park, climbing up an observation tower with views into Sturgeon Bay. Or, we simply sat around the campsite and read.
Door County was a surprising gem. Watching people read on their porches, take their boats out, mill around each of the bays – the slow and relaxed pace gives a surprising shot of fresh energy. Sometimes we don’t need to put huge distances between home and vacation to get a real break from everyday life.
Babb, Montana – A Motel, Diner and a General Store
We spent most of our time inside Glacier National Park (GNP), and barely explored anywhere outside the park. Indeed, it was with regret that we ran out of time to visit the town of Whitefish. No doubt, Whitefish was the place to get souvenirs and a nice meal at the very least. With some time to spare before we had to leave, we decided we needed a diner experience. We found ourselves in Babb, right outside Many Glacier, a tiny town with barely a handful of stores. We picked out Glacier’s Edge Café, a basic diner serving pretty delicious food. We just had to try the Huck pies, as those huckleberry pies were affectionately called around here. Huck was good, and pretty similar to rhubarb, at least in the dessert form. It was the first time since coming to GNP that we felt we had a chance to observe the people who lived here, not just tourists and hikers from out of town visiting GNP.
Hike #3: Iceberg Lake Trail – Montana Hiking in Glacier National Park
Our last hike at Glacier National Park (GNP) was the Iceberg Lake trail, located in the Many Glacier area, separate from the main Going to the Sun road. Many Glacier road was off the little town of Babb, where a few homes were hiding, and the road was filled with massive potholes. This section of the GNP felt different from the popular section of the park with Logan Pass and Lake McDonald – it almost seemed much sunnier and brighter, even hotter, and the mountains perhaps loomed larger and more rugged.
The hike that we had planned to go on was the Ptarmigan Tunnel trail, but yet again, it was too early in the year and snow was in the way. Instead, we went on the Iceberg Lake Trail. It was July 4, and the trail was extremely busy. We started off behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, followed by a steep hike up a hill, and then began a slow ascent on a trail carved into the side of mountains through a valley of flowers. Much of the trail was in the meadows, completely exposed to the sun, which meant it was scorching and stiflingly hot, but we got a good view of the mountains, valley and meadow.
Finally, a forest of evergreen began, and Ptarmigan Falls soon appeared. Many hikers took a break at Ptarmigan Falls to get a quick bite or simply as a respite from the sun and hiking. From the falls, half the hikers turned back, but of course, we continued onwards. After a little bit of forest, we were back in the open sun again. The trail continued to tread on ledges, curving around the valley, where we could still see the Swiftcurrent Motor inn far, far below. At one point, there was a traffic pileup of hikers – a moose was spotted! The moose disappeared so fast up the mountains that we barely caught a glimpse of it.
As we continued on, the trail started heading straight towards a half bowl shaped mountain. A few streams and small lakes were on the path, and some pine trees peppered in between the meadow and snow. Soon enough, we got a peek of a turquoise blue lake, with dense looking ice and snow seemingly sliding down the mountain into the edge of the lake. Carefully picking our way on a path across newly sprouting grass and little flowers, we found a spot to rest away from the crowd. Somehow there was enough room at the edge of the lake for the crowd to disperse themselves, and everyone seemed to have found a moment of peace and quiet to enjoy the view. We sat on the rocky edge, watching pieces of ice floating in the lake, which probably inspired the name Iceberg Lake. At one point, one “iceberg” floated close enough to be picked up. The water was shockingly cold, icy and cut right to the bone. It was quite refreshing after a long and hot hike.
The Iceberg Lake trail might have been crowded on July 4th, but it was still an amazingly beautiful hike of meadows and a scenic lake tucked into the mountains. And you could still find some solitude resting at the lake.
Hike #2: Siyeh Pass Trail Glacier National Park Montana
Siyeh Pass trail is a stretch goal for us. This could be a one way trail, starting at Siyeh Bend and ending at Sunrift Gorge, but we made it a round trip hike, turning back somewhere near the highest point. Trail started off easily enough with a gentle hike through the evergreen forest. It was a little unnerving to hike where grizzlies roamed, so we tried to make as much noise as we could. This trail also appeared to attract a more professional crowd, with people who looked fit and hiked at a rapid clip, in contrast to us who were breathing hard even at a lesser elevation gain. Overall this trail had a 2000ft elevation gain.
We started out hiking by a river, took a sharp right away from the river, and plunged deep into the forest. The forest went on for a while, before opening up to a fork in the trail where the river met us again. Picking the trail that led to Siyeh Pass, we continued on, coming into an open meadow with little lakes and clusters of trees. The views in the meadows were stunning, mountains curving down on both sides and far into the distance. At one point, we could see Piegan Glacier, a white snow-looking solid mass sitting in a bowl shaped mountain. It was amazing to see a glacier without binoculars, and with glaciers disappearing at a rapid pace, who knows if it would still be there when we visit in the future.
As we continued through the meadow, hiking along the bottom of Mahtapi Peak, we met up with the river once again. This time, we would have to cross the river to continue. We stood perplexed, trying to figure out a way to cross without getting wet. Some people came along and simply jumped and hopped their way across rocks scattered in the river. Somehow we just could not see how it would work out. After much agonizing, we forged ahead, precariously balancing on rocks and made it dry to the other side. Phew!
With that, a different landscape began. The meadow was behind us, and the path ahead was dry, rocky and barren, with a few brave tiny flowers peeking out beneath rocks. The grueling part of the trail was upon us. This short section of slightly less than a mile had a 700ft climb, with countless switchbacks, heading up a lower section close to the Mahtapi Peak. The wind was howling and the air was frigid. It was as though we went from spring to winter. At some points, we were almost knocked off our feet and had to crouch. Despite the conditions, we did not forget to check the panoramic views as we gained elevation. Somewhere along the climb, we could see a turquoise lake hidden at the bottom of the mountain, fed by the melting snow. The lake looked like a 10 minute walk away, but distance judgments were extremely off kilter here. Mountains and lakes that appeared within arms length were actually hours or even days of hike away.
We climbed what we thought was a short hike to the top, but it actually took a lot longer for us to get there. With great relief, we finally came to the end of the trail, marked by a large snow field off the side of Siyeh Pass. We sat down next to the snow field to catch our breaths, the only spot that was surprisingly spared the whipping wind and ate our lunch. We watched as a couple squirrels chased each other and almost bumped into us, and enjoyed the view down into the valley where Boulder Creek ran.
Siyah Pass trail was a tough hike for us, where most of the challenge laid in the final section hiking up the switchbacks. The trail is a relatively short hike, but it is packed with amazing views of glaciers, mountains, rivers and meadows, and the rare treat of drastic landscape changes from a thick forest to meadow to bald windswept mountain. Hard to imagine a trail that boast giving hikers the experience of all 4 seasons in a few hours, but Siyeh Pass trail certainly proved such trails exist even for us amateur hikers!
Hidden Lake Trail – Glacier National Park Hike #1 – Tom and Priscilla
Our first hike at GNP started at Logan Pass. We snagged the last parking spot and headed straight to the visitor center to check trail conditions. It appeared that snow still covered the mountains at Logan Pass in July, despite the scorching sun. Priscilla wanted to go on the highline trail, and was sorely disappointed to learn that the trail was closed due to snow danger. Unfortunately, we visited 2 weeks too early. Feeling dejected, we went on the Hidden Lake trail instead, which was rated easy. We truly thought we were deprived of an adventure.
We soon learned there was never a boring trail in GNP. If the snow was completely melted and the boardwalk was accessible, then yes, it probably was an easy and relaxing walk. In early July however, the boardwalk was covered in deep snow. It was a make-your-own-trail type of hike, whichever path through the snowy mountain you could get a grip on. Trekking through snow was tough, and parts of the hike seemed to be on a 45-degree angle off the mountain side, where we were doing all we could to not slip and tumble into the valley below. Along the way, mountain goats came by to flaunt their mountain climbing skills, nimbly hopping and trotting on even steeper surfaces. At the end of the boardwalk section, there was a lookout to view the Hidden Lake – a beautiful, still, blue gem with parts of it frozen solid and covered in snow.
This trail actually had a surprise. Where the boardwalk ended was where the easy rating ended. After the boardwalk, there was an option to hike right up to the Hidden Lake. We continued on bravely, hiking steeply downhill, until we got to the final leg on the hill. There were no clear paths to descend this final steep and snow covered section. We watched as a few people stumbled and rolled downhill (they survived, albeit shaken). A fellow hiker described this best, “choose your own adventure.” Choose we did. Our adventure was sitting on our behinds and sliding down the hill. That turned out to be a surprisingly efficient and fun way to get to the bottom. Thank goodness for quick drying hiking pants!
And then, we arrived at Hidden Lake. We dipped our toes in the freezing water, and sat on the edge enjoying the magnificent view.
This was also a great spot for lunch and rest before mustering up enough energy to tackle the return journey. The steep descent was now a painful leg and lung busting upward climb, before finally stumbling back to the start, sunburned and worn out. This “easy” hike turned out to be anything but easy or boring. It was rather physically challenging, and views were phenomenal. We highly recommend this trail to anyone who plans to visit!