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Glacier Up Close: A Detailed Investigation of GNP Natural History: August 17-21, 2020

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Glacier Up Close: A Detailed Investigation of GNP Natural History (5 day trip)

August 17 - 21, 2020

Glacier National Park has many strenuous hikes however this trip will be focused on exploring the shorter hikes and allowing ample time for curiosity, and investigation, of the natural world around us. We will learn about cerulean lakes, meadows busting with wildflower, and Glacier’s famous bears and goats. This trip is designed for those that want to explore the park and gain a deeper understanding of the natural world through moderate hiking. 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 trip of camaraderie, learning and world class hiking that you will remember for years to come. Join like-minded individuals for a truly unique exploration of the ‘Crown of the Continent’ Ecosystem.

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.
  • Twelve meals will be provided (dinner from arrival day – packed lunch on departure day).
  • All transportation to and from trailheads

Your trip fee DOES NOT includes:


Easy-Moderate, our hikes will be at a leisurely pace. 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 9am and 10am. At camp, you will settle in to your cabins, familiarize yourself with the campus, and meet other travelers. We ask that you come with a packed lunch, to eat on trail the first day. Before departing we will review the schedule for the week, go over wildlife safety, go over risk management policies, and answer questions for the week ahead.At 10am we will load up and head out to Johns Lake Loop and Upper McDonald Creek. Our local expert guides will give us an overview  of the often overlooked details in this ancient forest. We will learn about the decomposers lurking on the forest floor, as well as 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. The trail skirts the edge of an 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. After dinner we will enjoy an evening walk to Quarter-Circle bridge to stretch our legs and look for wildlife.

(4mi, 200ft elevation gain/loss).

Day 2: Today will take us to the nearby Flathead National Forest, to Cyclone lookout. We will drive up into the mountains where the trail begins. We will trek up the hill through the forest to Cyclone lookout. One of the many fire lookouts in the area this lookout has a wonderful view into Glacier National Park and the surrounding National Forest. After resting on the summit we will head back down and return to Field Camp for the evening. (5mi, 875ft elevation gain/loss).

Day 3: Our drive today will lead us to the east side of the park to visit the Many Glacier Valley.  We will begin our hike in the shade of the forest, with the occasional view across the lake. We will hike along a series of picturesque lakes before reaching our final destination, Lower Grinnell Lake. We will rest here for lunch with views of the above waterfall, garden wall and enormous amphitheater around us. Our educational focus today will highlight glaciers and their status, we will connect this to the impact on the local flora and fauna. We will have a chance to checkout the historic Many Glacier Hotel before returning to Field Camp for the evening. (5mi, 400ft elevation gain/loss).

Day 4: Today will take us to the North Fork region of the park. We will drive past the iconic Polebridge Mercantile and down the inside north fork road. This out-of-the-way trail meanders through meadows and forested areas. This remote, much quieter location has the potential for wildlife sightings, and wildlife sign. Our guides will lead us in comparing and contrasting how this region differs from the other locations we have visited. After our hike we will make a stop at the mercantile before we head back to Field Camp for the evening. (3mi, 250ft elevation gain/loss).

Day 5: Today will begin with a drive up to Logan Pass along the stunning Going to the Sun Road. We will hike to Hidden Lake Overlook, and a short distance out the highline trail (if time permits). Our local expert guides will give us an overview of the parks 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. We will head back to Field Camp by mid afternoon, in time to wrap up the program prior to departure. (4mi, 460ft elevation gain/loss).

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 to Field Camp on arrival day between 9:00AM and 10:00AM to check in and get settled. Travelers should plan to depart Field Camp in the afternoon 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. For those of you who can utilize Southwest Airlines another option would be to fly into Spokane, Washington, and then drive to the park from there. The drive would be approximately six hours. On past trips, some participants have traveled to the Park by Amtrak. The Empire Builder line, which leaves from Chicago, makes a stop at West Glacier.

*Note: airfare and car rental are not included in the trip price.


We will be staying at the Glacier Institute Field Camp which is best described as "rustic." Though rustic, it is quite comfortable. The camp is located on a bluff overlooking the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, and includes five sleeping cabins, a community bathhouse with private showers and bathrooms, a classroom, a library and a kitchen. Each sleeping cabin comes with five twin beds and has electricity, but there is no running water, TV, or phone. The cabins do have a portable electric heater for use if the nights get too cool. A bottom sheet and pillow are provided, we request guests bring their own sleeping bag or other personal bedding. The community bathhouse has flush toilets, sinks, and hot showers.


Twelve meals will be provided (dinner from arrival day – packed lunch on departure day). Breakfast is continental style (e.g. oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, fruit, hard boiled eggs, bagels) and dinner is homemade (e.g. garlic chicken pasta, burrito night, spaghetti night); lunch fixings (e.g. sandwich fixings, carrots, apples, trail mix, chips) are provided for each participant to prepare their own lunch to eat on the trail. Vegetarians can be accommodated. Upon request we can provide gluten free bread for lunch, gluten free pasta, corn tortillas. If you have specific dietary needs please get in touch with us upon signing up. We can figure out what we provide and if you should bring any items to supplement what we provide.

For more information about the camp and the Glacier Institute, please visit their website at www.glacierinstitute.org.

Notes on our Itinerary

Glacier National Park is among the top 10 ranked national parks in the country. There are many other visitors that visit Glacier during the summer months. Glacier National Park is over 1 million acres in size. It isn’t uncommon for many of our days to start early with breakfast between 6:00AM and 7:00AM. We plan accordingly to beat the heat, beat the crowds, and we 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. 

Trip Difficulty

All of the hikes are on maintained trails and will take place between elevations of 5,000 to 8,100 feet. 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. See milage for each day on above itinerary.

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!