Glacier National Park (St. Mary), MT to Glacier National Park (Rising Sun), MT

5.8 mi / 10.3 mph / 167 ft. climbing
Home: Rising Sun Campground at Glacier National Park

By the time we woke up at 7:15am, the three through-hikers were already packed up and gone. While it seems exhausting to be hiking any time you aren’t sleeping, and sleeping any time you aren’t hiking, I have to admit that there’s something attractive about the simplicity of it: when you have only two things on your menu, there is a certain freedom that comes from not needing to decide how to allocate your time!

But then unlike yesterday, we had a new early-arriver to the St. Mary hiker/biker site before we even got packed up! Karolina was a self-described “fat backpacker” around our age and far closer to our style than last night’s bivy-sack-on-the-gravel through-hiker. She carried a folding chair like us, enjoyed eating actual food (so was excited to hear about the good fresh produce at the St. Mary store), and was just doing day-hiking in the park. She had come over from Apgar (the west-side equivalent of St. Mary that we were slowly heading towards) on the shuttle, so she had tons of great info and advice for us. Though it makes the readers inside us unhappy, it does really turn out that the best way to learn things about this park is to talk with other people.

We were repeating the six-mile move from St. Mary to Rising Sun that we had done just over a week ago. But this time we wouldn’t be backtracking out any more. The westward move would bring us closer to a couple hikes we wanted to do, bring us closer to Logan Pass for our eventual ride west over the Continental Divide on Going-to-the-Sun Road, and, Rising Sun is our favorite campground so far, so why not spend more time there? As usual, I was stupidly-surprised at how different the “repeat” ride was. The calmer wind made it easier, but our later departure meant that the lighting was totally different, and traffic, while still light, wasn’t light enough for me to stop in the middle of the road. So this magazine-cover photo I got last time is something that I wouldn’t have even seen this time, much less been able to set up and shoot.

By 1pm at Rising Sun, the loop we were in still appeared to have about 50% of the sites available, again quite a surprise for this fully-booked-for-the-summer park. “Our” spot in the hiker/biker site however was occupied by another tent, so we were “forced” to choose a different spot than last time (it’s funny how quickly habits and territoriality can become instilled!) But the biggest disappointment was that Sue our beloved camp host wasn’t on-duty for the day. That didn’t stop me from self-appointing myself as her deputy and letting a setting-up couple know that they’d eventually be told that they can’t park their rig “backwards” in their site (luckily they were grateful for the helpful information, as intended, rather than angry at some rando trying to enforce weird rules on them).

Our tent in the Rising Sun hiker/biker campsite.

We spent the afternoon just hanging out in the campground, so the big excitement was when a large mule deer (so big that at first I thought it was an elk) with big velvety antlers sauntered over to the empty site across the road from us and calmly plopped down in the shade. He was soon followed by a smaller version (a father-and-son duo?), and they hung out for an hour or two. They didn’t even want to leave when the human occupants returned to their campsite, so it resulted in a bit of a stand-off.

Mule deer vs. mule deer.
Rett enjoyed just sitting and watching the deer just sitting.
They eventually moved on right through the campground (those puffy antlers might not even be real, I’m suspicious that he may have simply picked up some of those plush antler Christmas decorations on the roadside after they fell off the sides of someone’s car).
Hey, um, that’s our tent! (he was just passing through and gave it no mind.)

Sue did return in the afternoon, with excitement and hugs when she recognized us. She said the deer had been turning up every afternoon for a week, to the spot that was right in front of her RV. Obviously because they know that hanging out by Sue is the best place to be! She was exasperated at her substitute, who doesn’t keep nearly as close of an eye on the campground. That gives rule-violators a chance to get dug in, which makes it much harder for her to dig them out than if they’d been nipped in the bud. “If they aren’t going to care about enforcing the rules, then I’m just not going to bother either!” she griped, and while I totally get her frustration, I’m pretty sure it was an idle threat, and she’d soon be back to keeping the campground as well-run as it had been on our initial arrival.

We walked over to the general store for dinner supplies, and it was remarkable to be reminded how much more chill and quiet Rising Sun is (one reason we love it so much!) vs. the similarly-constructed Many Glacier (both have campground+store+restaurant+motel setups). We were the only people in the store, whereas in our dozen trips to the Many Glacier store, there was never less than 10 other customers filling the aisles. Here the restaurant/motel also publicizes the WiFi password on a whiteboard (vs. the personal-password that works only until checkout time at Many Glacier), perhaps after realizing that demand/traffic was low enough here that their connection can handle public use.

Yesterday at the St. Mary store, all their refrigerators holding alcohol were taped off, as part of a tribal ordinance restricting alcohol sales for the four-day North American Indian Days celebration held in Browning. I thought that really must piss off a lot of tourists and campers (the main customers of the St. Mary store), and be a bad deal for the clerks who end up being undeserved recipients of that anger. What I didn’t realize until today is that it must piss off some percentage of Natives themselves too! Because the clerk at the Rising Sun store told us that for days “the Indians have been coming and buying cases of beer!”, since the National Park (unlike the St. Mary store) is not on the Blackfeet Reservation and thus not subject to its ordinances.

I figured these guys must really be desperate for their alcohol to drive all this way and pay the park entrance fee, but then I remembered from a Ranger Talk at Two Medicine where a Blackfoot woman spoke, that the tribe has a unique deal with Glacier National Park, where the park (rightly) recognizes that the park is really Blackfeet land too, and allows tribal members access (to forage, hunt, and fish) that is not allowed for anyone else (she said she feels a mixture of appreciation and annoyance when other park visitors try to report her to a ranger when they see her doing things that they (understandably) think are not allowed). So that access presumably extends to not needing to pay the entrance fee! I had wanted a beer, but the reminder that I was still in some sense on Blackfeet land made me decide to honor their ordinance even though I didn’t technically need to here.

Sign from yesterday in St. Mary: No alcohol sales July 6th-9th on the tribal lands in honor of North American Indian Days.
Hanging out at the Two Medicine boat dock near sunset, after scouting out the route to the shuttle stop tomorrow on my bike (and then I found I had some cellular reception there too). Going-to-the-Sun Road felt so empty and beautiful at this hour that I had to fight the temptation to just take off up it right now on my lightly-loaded bike!



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