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Glacier Discovery Week: September 19-26, 2020

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Glacier Discovery Week: Natural History Exploration Week in GNP for Adults

September 19 - 26, 2020

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. 

Your trip fee includes:

  • Rustic and comfortable shared lodging on a bluff overlooking the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
  • Five field outings led by professional naturalist guides trained in wilderness first aid and bear safety.
  • Twenty One meals (dinner from arrival day – packed lunch on departure day). Breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day with coffee, tea, snacks, appetizers, and desserts included.  **Example meals & dietary restriction information below**
  • All transportation to and from trailheads

Your trip fee DOES NOT includes:

  • Ground transportation to and from Glacier Park International Airport (information on this below)
  • Park entrance fees. Passes can be purchased online ahead of time at: https://www.yourpassnow.com/ParkPass/park/glac
  • Additional costs associated with non Glacier Institute activities on “Day 5”


Moderately-strenuous. Participants will hike an average of nine 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).

Tentative Trip Itinerary

*Itinerary is subject to change depending on trail closures, road closures, and group abilities (see note below for more information)*

*If two groups are necessary, trails will be adjusted*

Day 1:  All travelers should arrive to the Glacier Institute Field Camp between 4:00PM and 5:00PM. At camp, you will settle in to your cabins, familiarize yourself with the campus, and meet other travelers.  Then, over a happy hour with lemonade (guests over 21 are welcome to bring their own beer or wine) 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: Today’s hike will lead us to the aptly named ‘Huckleberry Lookout’.  The forests we hike through are heavy laden with Glacier’s famous huckleberries when in season.  Along the way, our group leaders will teach us about the importance of fire ecology and share with us several adaptations the local flora and fauna have adopted to live with fire.  After graduating through the mid-elevation montane forests, we will move into the subalpine zone and receive an impressive view of the Livingston range laid out before us.  Our destination for the day is an active fire lookout tower atop Huckleberry Peak.  We will rest for lunch at the lookout while our local guides share stories of Glacier’s epic fire history.

(11.6mi, 2,700ft elevation gain/loss).

Day 4: Todays 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 rest day. Designed to give you the option to explore the area at your leisure; maybe you decide to go rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, or Kayaking on Lake McDonald, or simply enjoying a huckleberry ice cream cone on the shores of Lake McDonald while reading a good book. This day is intended to break up the hiking of the week and allow for people to pick what they wish to do, or choose to come along for another Glacier Institute Hike.

If you wish you participate the Glacier Institute hike we will be headed to Johns Lake Trail. This unassuming trail possesses a quiet power, a plenitude of marvels in hiding, as the rest of the park spills over with unrestrained beauty. As this trail skirts the sheer edge of ancient cedar grove and the rock-lashing ravine of Upper McDonald Creek, one is treated to the interplay of shadow and light throughout the trip. The fungal in the jungle, a mushroom megalopolis churns beneath the duff of the forest floor, a network of gossamer threads extending every which way for miles. Betraying that silent world is the metallic buzz of Varied Thrushes and chatter of Pacific Wrens, feasting on the buffet of insects found in the damp decay of old growth.

Another option: Inquire to see if we have any Catalog Courses that coincides with your rest day. If there is a course that interests you it may be a perfect opportunity to join in on a single day of activtiy.

(2.5mi, 150ft elevation gain/loss).

**The logistics: We will have breakfast at 7:30am, and run various shuttles to nearby Apgar Village at pre-designated times thought the day, appetizers will be at 5pm 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.  Those brave enough to take a dip are welcome to do so!

(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 our trail lunch spread will also be available for packing a travel lunch. All travelers should plan check out by 10:00AM.