Solo ride through Glacier National Park
August 09, 2023 · Original photos
After experiencing Yellowstone National Park back in 2014, I’ve had a goal of getting to Glacier National Park in northern Montana. A brand new bike this year gave me the perfect excuse to get a good ride in and see another national treasure. The totals looked like:
- Duration: August 3 - 9 2023 (7 days riding)
- Total miles: 1,720
- Bike: 2023 BMW R1250GS Adventure
- Regions visited: 3 states (WA, ID, MT) plus British Columbia
- Max altitude: 6,667’
- Min/Max temperature: 57 ºF / 101 ºF
The loop was clockwise.
Day 1: Seattle to Winthrop, Washington (191 miles)
For the ride out, I was joined by my dad and nephew. Having three generations of riders on a trip is rare and a lot of fun. We met up in Arlington and headed over Highway 20, part of the North Cascades Scenic Loop. Sadly, just shy of Diablo Lake, we hit forest fires being actively fought by helicopter water drops.
We rode through a bit of smoke and had a sunny crossing of Washington Pass, eventually arriving in Winthrop. We stayed at the Winthrop Inn, which was nice enough, and had great pizza at East 20 Pizza, which we highly recommend.
Day 2: Winthrop to Rossland, British Columbia (246 miles)
We had a quick breakfast at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery, and my dad and nephew headed back west as I proceeded east. This is where the plan ended, and open-ended riding started. It was hot, with temperatures in the uppper 90ºs. About two hours in, I stopped at one of the famous Smallwoods fruit stands. This one was a complete grocrey store and small café.
There was a peach orchard across the street, which set the stage for me ordering a fresh peach milkshake.
Sitting on Smallwood’s terrace under a fan enjoying a farm-fresh peach milkshake is one of the highlights of the trip. After that, it was time to ride back into the heat and continue east. I followed the Columbia River and eventually wound up in Grand Coulee for lunch. PK’s is a from-scratch restaurant that I’d go to again.
It was still hot, so I decided I’d head north for the rest of the day, hoping higher elevations would cool thigns down a bit. The Twin Lakes area northeast of Colville was beautiful. I ventured into British Columbia and spent the night in Rossland, BC.
Day 3: Rossland, BC to Kalispell, MT (252 miles)
Day 3 was about getting positioned to enter Glacier National Park on day 4. Glacier is one of the parks with restricted, timed entry and I had a pass (thanks to my wife) that would get me in the following day. Because of this, not many pictures as I burned miles to get near the park.
Kalispell was unremarkable, other than to warn you away from the very noisy Travelodge there. Run-down, loud, and overpriced due to proximity to a National Park.
Day 4: Glacier National Park! Kalispell to Great Falls, MT (247 miles)
I was up early and greeted with rain! The skies were mixed and it was hard to tell how long it would persist, so I grabbed breakfast in hopes of it letting up. It did let up and the day turned out to be perfect riding weather. Broken clouds, the kind that emphasize distance, were ideal for this park.
There’s a cute little village just after the formal park entrance which began an unexpected journey. I was there to do the “Going to the Sun” route, where you ride across the park through the most scenic areas. The first leg of that route is along Lake McDonald, arriving at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge.
Unfortunatley, the highway along this first stretch had been removed in preparation for re-paving. So the surface was dirt, gravel, rocks, and frequently slick mud as watering trucks went through. Nothing the bike and I couldn’t handle, but bicycles were prohibited.
Asphalt appeared again after the lodge, and I ascended into the somewhat spooky peaks that glaciers have carved over the millennia. It was a mix of rivers, waterfalls, huge vertical drops, and hairpin turns. The best way to get a sense for this was with some 360º footage that I captured. Here’s a bit that I experimented with:
Here are some of the park’s highlights:
Day 5: Great Falls to Hot Springs, MT (250 miles)
I needed to make a decision: venture south into Yellowstone, which I had done before, or explore something more unknown. A buddy suggested riding to Hot Springs, Montana and enjoying the natural hot pools there. I decided to embrace the unknown and do that. This would also start my journey back west, so the timing was quite good.
As always, the unknown brings pleasant surprises. This was the beginning of two days of the best motorcycling of the entire trip. It was pretty desolate, with few other vehicles, which is safest for riders. The first half of the day was also scenic, through farmlands and beautiful historic sites.
Lunch was at Trixi’s, in the middle of nowhere. Great service and unexpectedly good food. I really appreciated running across this place.
After boucing off of Missoula, I entered the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, and slowly rode out of the modern world. Arriving in Hot Springs, I proceeded to the Symes Hot Springs Hotel & Mineral Baths. They have 4 pools fed by natural hot springs, getting progressively cooler as the water flows downhill.
The pools were nice. The rooms showed nearly 100 years of use. Creeky floors, wobbly furniture, and some narrow passages that could only meet 1930s fire codes.
Day 6: Hot Springs to Wenatchee, WA (352 miles)
This was by far the best day of riding of the trip. It began with open fields of Montana farmlands, and evolved into roads winding along rivers as I climed into the hills. Very little vehicle traffic. Because of this, I just kept riding, and thus only got a few pictures. Breakfast in Montana, lunch in Idaho, and dinner in Washington.
Day 7: Wenatchee to Anacortes, WA (182 miles)
I went from the best riding day, to the worst! While I woke up to only light drizzle, by the time I got over Stevens Pass it was cold and raining hard. Even with gear on, it was still wet. Road construction cause long back-ups in standstill traffic, all under pouring rain.
Big thanks to my folks for a cup of homemade chicken noodle soup and a place to dry out. After the rain let up, I rode the last leg under much warmer skies and caught the ferry home.