SEEKING SOLITUDE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES: The quest for a quiet trail in Montana’s national parks

Hunter D'Antuono

It’s summer and Livingston has a little less elbow room, thanks in part to Yellowstone National Park – now arguably the world’s largest petting zoo and most fatal hot springs location.  

But many  Montanans have relatively close access to a slightly less crowded, but no less beautiful iconic national park. 

A five hour drive from Livingston, Glacier National Park is no day trip for Park County residents, but it’s one of the West’s most majestic parks with a little more wiggle room than Yellowstone. Yellowstone set a record last year with a little over 4 million visitors. 

Of course, Glacier had it’s fair share of visitors swarming about. The National Park Service announced The Crown of Jewel of the Continent received record visitation during the month of May at 178,218 visitors, representing a jump of over 32 percent from the same time last year. Glacier also set a record last year, with 2.3 million visitors. 

And with 2016 being the Centennial  of the National Park Service, visitation records to both park are expected to shatter again. 

But most park visitors don’t see much of the national parks from far beyond their car seats, so that means one can still find a quiet trail to themselves. Fellow photographer Tommy Martino of the Missoulian and I explored West Glacier and the terrain around Lake McDonald earlier this month, before Going to the Sun Road opened the and inevitable surge of humanity to follow. 

When it comes to “purple mountain majesty” few places top Glacier. On the edge of the Pacific Northwest’s moist climate, the parks copious ferns and towering cedars contrast against Yellowstone’s high sagebrush-studded valleys. 

Perhaps most refreshing of all, no bison-induced traffic jams, which leaves more time for hiking. 

Along Lake McDonald’s northwestern shore, thousands of fuzzy orange tent caterpillars clung to every bush in sight. I could only imagine the clouds of moths in the weeks to follow. At the end of the trail, a bald eagle soared just overhead through the stands of grey, charred timbers along the water. Seven miles of lakeshore traversed and only a handful of perhaps the parks most populous seasonal mammals – humans – in sight. After covering about 35 miles of trails over the weekend, and dodging around groups of Cheetos-munching Asian tourists at the picturesque, but very popular Avalanche Lake trail, our hike to the much lesser known Fish Lake proved the most secluded. The lake proved more of a large lily pond tucked in dark timbers – looking more like a fishing spot in woods of Wisconsin than the alpine lakes representative of Glacier, but it was  just the desired level of quiet. 

There we were only pestered by one other obnoxious mammal, but not of the Homo sapien variety – a bold chipmunk on a quest for the trail mix in our backpacks.