My last three Glacier posts have all been about the central section of this beautiful National Park, which is traversed by Going-to-the-Sun Road. Aside from this highway, there are only two other accessible entrances into the park (plus a couple much less accessible entrances that require long drives down unpaved roads that usually necessitate 4WD).
From the St. Mary entrance station, where I left off last week, turn left onto US Highway 89 and continue north 9 miles (14.5 km) to Babb, Montana. Yes, there’s a town called Babb. Yes, it’s a horrible name. But there’s a place in West Virginia called Booger Hole, so I’d say Babb really has nothing to be embarrassed about.
Anyway, from Babb follow the signs towards Swiftcurrent and Many Glacier. Many Glacier is the northeast section of the park and the one with – you guessed it – many glaciers. It’s also the area in which I’ve seen the most wildlife and hiked the most trails.
As we enter the park at Swiftcurrent, the road parallels the long narrow Lake Sherburne for about the next 5 miles (8 km). Lake Sherburne is actually a reservoir and was created in 1921 by damming Swiftcurrent Creek. Though it’s a manmade lake and still used to provide water for local communities and farmers, it’s located entirely within Glacier National Park and is protected.
As the road follows the shore of Lake Sherburne, there are numerous pullouts to stop and enjoy the view. There are also two trails that depart in the opposite direction from the lake; one is to Poia Lake and the other to Apikuni Falls.
I’ve not yet been to Poia Lake, though it’s on my to-do list. I have been to Apikuni Falls, and my memories of the hike are ones of misery. It’s 1 mile (1.6 km) each direction but with 750 feet (229 m) of elevation gain. I’ve been on hikes that were far steeper and much longer in duration, but I was only 11 when my family did this hike. That’s a lot of elevation gain for little tiny legs.
I’m pretty sure adult me would survive the hike just fine. I’m probably just being dramatic. It’s a pretty waterfall, and worth the hike.
Further up the road is the Swiftcurrent area. Here, on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, is the beautiful Many Glacier Hotel, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in the summer of 2015. The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail also departs from here, as do trails to Cracker Lake and Grinnell Glacier.
At the end of the road is the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, the Many Glacier Ranger Station, and Many Glacier Campground. From here, there are two clear valleys that extend to the west, and a trail leads up each one. The Swiftcurrent Trail climbs up the southernmost valley between Mount Wilbur, Swiftcurrent Mountain, and Mount Grinnell, topping out at Swiftcurrent Pass. The trail passes by Red Rock Falls, Red Rock Lake, and Bullhead Lake along the way.
Less than a mile from the trailhead is a short spur trail to Fishercap Lake. We saw a moose here, so I’d definitely recommend taking the detour.
Beyond Fishercap Lake, the trail meanders through the forest before opening up into a grove of aspen trees with Mount Wilbur rising in the background. The trail is relatively flat and easy, and arrives at Red Rock Lake after just 1.7 miles (2.7 km). The lake is named for the red rocks that form the bottom of the lakebed as well the surrounding mountains.
Across the lake is Red Rock Falls, which can be reached by following the trail around the lake, then taking the unmarked left fork down to the falls.
Red Rock Falls is very unique. Here, Swiftcurrent Creek tumbles over a haphazard rock pile. There are multiple levels at multiple angles, to the point that it’s difficult to fit the entire falls into one photograph. But if you’re willing to do some bouldering, you can get out to the middle of the falls and see most of it.
Beyond Red Rock Falls, the trail continues to Bullhead Lake and Swiftcurrent Pass. I haven’t hiked to either (yet) but both are on my list. Supposedly Bullhead Lake is one of the prettiest lakes in Glacier, though I’m not sure how anyone could determine that.
All the lakes are pretty.
The entire park is utterly gorgeous.
Anywhere you go, whichever trail you decide to take, you’re bound to stumble across something amazing. One of the many reasons Glacier is my absolute favorite national park!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the Swiftcurrent/Many Glacier area is the northeastern section of the park, located 25 minutes west of the town of Babb, MT
- Fees & passes: $30 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: Many Glacier campground (109 sites, $23 per night, reservations accepted for half of the sites during peak season) is the only option in this area of the park
- Hiking: Red Rock Lake/Fishercap Lake/Red Rock Falls trail is a flat 3.6 mile (5.8 km) round-trip hike; the trail for Apikuni Falls trail is along the north side of the road a few miles prior to Swiftcurrent (2 miles/3.2 km round-trip, fairly steep)
- Other: there’s a lot of wildlife in this area of the park (as you’ll read more about in a couple of weeks), so never venture into the backcountry without bear spray, don’t hike alone, and make lots of noise