Road Trip with Jess’ Family | Driving from Port Angeles to North Cascades National Park to Glacier National Park | June 2021
On Monday morning, our stay in Port Angeles was up and it was time to begin heading East. We had spent a lot of time coming up with a fun route back to the Midwest, picking out lots of campsites and places to see along the way. However, the extreme heat was still sticking around the Northwest, stretching across Washington and into Idaho and Montana. Everywhere that we had thought about camping or visiting had highs of over 110 degrees for the next few days — not ideal for us or our dogs!
Along with that, I made a mistake this morning that also threw a wrench into our plans. We had been banking on driving WA-20 all the way to the Idaho border, then taking US-2 into Montana and to Glacier National Park. We knew we couldn’t hike here with the dogs, so all we were planning on doing was driving through the park on the Going to the Sun Road. As of this year, they require reservations made 2 days in advance in order to drive the road because of how popular it’s become. No problem, I had the website saved, an alarm set, and was all ready to make a reservation the second reservations for that day were available…until I realized I had prepared for the wrong time zone, and was 60 minutes too late and all the reservations were taken up. Whoops!
We decided to just roll with it and adjust our plans accordingly. We could actually still drive the road if we entered the national park before 6AM or after 5PM, otherwise we could continue on US-2 and skip the park entirely.
And so we packed up the car and began our journey East. We started out on US-101, then began our long drive on WA-20. Once in Port Townsend, we did a quick drive by of the county courthouse and then took the ferry to Whidbey Island. While on the ferry, the car felt hot and stuffy with windows down and AC off, so we walked to the back of the ferry with the dogs and enjoyed the cooler air and our last views of the Olympic Mountains. Once on Whidbey Island, we continued on WA-20 and drove across the island and back to the mainland.
As we drove into the Cascades, the temperature continued to rise. While driving through North Cascades National Park, it was consistently around 110 degrees, and the highest we saw all day was 113! Because of this, we only made one quick stop at the Gorge Overlook. We were able to see a huge waterfall here, and overlooks of the Skagit River which was a gorgeous shade of turquoise, it was hard to take my eyes off it! Curtis and I did a short walk here to take in the views, then went back and watched the dogs so that Mom and Dad could do the same walk. The hot air reminded us of our summer living in Arizona, and was the hottest temperature my parents remember being in. We enjoyed the rest of the views from the air conditioned car.
That night, we found a campsite in Curlew Lake State Park, 6 miles North of Republic, WA. We arrived after 6 when the weather finally started to cool down. We enjoyed a hot meal, playing games, and sitting by the still lake until the sun set.
The next day, we resumed our drive on WA-20, retracing some of the route Curtis and I drove back in 2017. We made it to the Idaho border where we picked up US-2. Along the way, we enjoyed the mountain views and driving past still lakes. Eventually we entered Montana, which was a new state for both of my parents. We started to come up with a plan since we could only enter Glacier after 5PM or before 6AM the next morning. We would start by looking for a campsite on the East side of the park, and if we had enough time we would visit the park tonight and just drive up to the Continental Divide inside the park.
Our search for a first come, first served campsite took us down a forest road South of Hungry Horse and along the Hungry Horse Reservoir. The first several campsites were all by reservation and full, but we lucked out in finding one in Lid Creek campground right before the pavement ended and turned to gravel. This was a bit further down the forest road than we had intended on driving, so we decided to forgo driving to Glacier that night and try getting up early enough the next morning. Archie had been getting up at 4:30 every morning anyway, so we relied on him to be our alarm clock. It would take about an hour to get to the park entrance, so as long as Archie got up at his usual time and we packed up quick enough, we thought we could make it.
Sure enough, the next morning we woke up to the sound of Archie starting to stir. While Dad and Curtis packed up the tents, my mom and I quickly and quietly got up and walked the dogs out of the campground and closer to the forest road so they wouldn’t start playing and barking and wake up the other campers. We were on the road by 5, hopeful that we would make it into the park on time. We definitely weren’t the only ones with this idea, as the highway heading to the park had more traffic than you would expect at 5:30AM. But our plan worked — we made it into the park with 5 minutes to spare! Yay!
As we were driving through the park, we noted that several trailheads were already full, even right around 6. I guess the lesson here is that even if you have reservations, it still pays to arrive as early as you can! We of course couldn’t hike with the dogs, but were still very happy to be experiencing the park. I’ve wanted to visit for years, and part of the reason I wanted to see it now rather than waiting until the next time we were in this area without Charlotte was that the glaciers are melting, and within our lifetime there won’t be any left.
I think the whole drive through the park was proven worth it as soon as we saw not one, but two bears crossing the road! Curtis can now also say that he’s seen a bear in the ‘wild’! Our next wildlife sighting happened at the Logan Pass visitor center, where a bighorn ram was just strolling through the parking lot. We made sure to keep the dogs away and distracted so they wouldn’t bark or pick a fight they weren’t ready for. Mom and I did a short walk together while the guys waited with the dogs, then we continued our drive through the park. Instead of being disappointed that we couldn’t hike, we decided to see this as a way to drive through and scope the park out so that some other day we can return and come with a plan and better understanding of the park. This wasn’t just about checking something off our bucket list and calling it good, we will most definitely be back!
We had a hotel reserved that evening in Bozeman, so after driving the whole Going to the Sun road we began driving US-89 South to Helena. It was much quieter and less busy on the East side of Glacier than the West side, and the highways were nearly empty as we drove South.
In Helena, we stopped to see the Montana State Capitol building, and got some lunch. We then finished the drive to Bozeman and checked in to our hotel. We took it easy for the rest of the day and enjoyed being out of the heat. Curtis and I ran out later and got some more food for the next couple nights of camping, and picked up burgers from MAP Brewing Company for dinner. We made our plans for the next couple days, including driving through Yellowstone the next morning. Thankfully, the weather looked to be much cooler for the rest of our trip!