Montana, Travels, US National Parks

An Impromptu Swim – Glacier National Park, Montana (part VII)

Are you sick of reading about Glacier yet?

No?

Good, because I never really get sick of talking about it.

Lucky for me, Pat really wants to go to Glacier and has been enjoying reading these posts and listening to me plan our future trip that’s probably at least 2 years down the road. I wish it was going to be sooner, but right now we’re in full east coast exploration mode before we move away this summer.

Anyway, if you’re excited to hear more about Glacier, today I’m going to talk about the Two Medicine section of the park. If you’re not, you’ll be pleased to know that this is the final post in my Glacier saga. I didn’t mean for it to get so long, but it’s just such an amazing place and I wanted to talk about everything. Two Medicine is the southeast section of the park, reachable by following US Highway 89 to Kiowa, then taking Highway 49 to the Two Medicine Junction.

Like the other areas of the park, the Two Medicine Valley is lined with lakes. Unlike the other sections, however, the lakes here are named fairly uncreatively. There is Lower Two Medicine Lake, Two Medicine Lake, and Upper Two Medicine Lake.

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Two Medicine Valley – Glacier National Park, MT

The Two Medicine area was very sacred to many local Native American tribes, and was an area in which they would travel on vision quests. I assume the name Two Medicine is derived from one of these rituals, though I don’t know for sure.

Two Medicine is one of the lesser visited areas of the park, likely because getting there requires driving a long winding road with sheer drop offs on one side and crumbling asphalt pretty much everywhere. Montana roads go through a lot of freeze/thaw cycles in the winter that warp and crack the surfaces, and I can’t even imagine how they’d get construction equipment up there to fix it. Basically, be prepared to drive slowly.

Don’t let the state of the road deter you, though. The Two Medicine area has a lot to offer. Just inside the park boundary on the right is the trailhead to Pitamakan Pass, Pitamakan Lake, and Oldman Lake. I’ve not been to any of them, as they’re full day hikes, but someday I’d like to visit them all.

Further up, just as the road curves 90°, is the a trailhead for the 0.3-mile (0.5 km) nature trail to Running Eagle Falls. This waterfall is also known as Trick Falls because during the spring runoff, water flows over the top of the rock ledge and falls 40 feet (12 m), as well flowing as down through a hole in the rock and coming out through the middle, falling 20 feet (6 m). During low water, it only flows through the hole and out the middle.

That’s a terrible description but I’m not sure how else to explain it. It’s kind of like seeing two waterfalls in one, though I’ve never actually been there early enough in the year to see water falling over the top. My mom was kind enough to contribute the photo you see below!

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Running Eagle (Trick) Falls, with water flowing over only the bottom half – Glacier National Park, MT
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Running Eagle (Trick) Falls, with water flowing over both portions – Glacier National Park, MT (photo credit: Mom)
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Butterfly at Running Eagle Falls – Glacier National Park, MT
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The water of Two Medicine Creek is extremely clear!

Finally, the road ends at Two Medicine Lake, with a campground, camp store, ranger station, and the boat dock. A boat travels back and forth across Two Medicine Lake, which makes for a much shorter hike to the destinations beyond, including Upper Two Medicine Lake, Twin Falls, No Name Lake, and Dawson Pass.

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Two Medicine Lake – Glacier National Park, MT
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Two Medicine Lake – Glacier National Park, MT
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Two Medicine Lake – Glacier National Park, MT

I know we took the boat and hiked to Upper Two Medicine Lake and Twin Falls when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it and I didn’t have my own camera then so I also don’t have any pictures of it. Guess that means it’s time to go back. My mom hiked to Dawson Pass when she first visited Glacier in the ‘70s, and I’d love to do that hike as well. There are just too many hikes in Glacier and too little time to go there.

There are also a few waterfalls in the Two Medicine area. I’ve hiked to 2 of them: Appistoki Falls and Aster Falls.

Appistoki Falls is a 1.2-mile (2 km) round-trip hike that climbs part way up Appistoki Mountain to the southeast of Two Medicine Lake. Follow the Mount Henry Trail from the scenic point/trailhead parking lot. It’s a fairly easy hike with stellar views of the Two Medicine Valley. Unfortunately, Appistoki Falls is difficult to see due to the steep terrain.

The trail continues beyond the falls for 2.5 miles (4 km) up to a scenic point. We didn’t go that far, but my mom and I did climb at least half a mile above Appistoki Falls and were rewarded with excellent views.

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View from above Appistoki Falls – Glacier National Park, MT

The trail to Aster Falls and Aster Park provides equally excellent views of the valley. The Aster Park trail splits off from the South Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine Lake. About ¼ mile (0.4 km) from the South Shore Trailhead, a short spur trail leads out to the lake at Paradise Point. This is a small beach on the south shore of the lake with excellent views of the mountains and the possibility for a moose sighting.

Further along the trail is a marshy area with a large meadow and beaver ponds. When we hiked by, there was a moose standing in one of the ponds grazing.

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Moose in the beaver ponds along Aster Park trail – Glacier National Park, MT

From here, the trail continues on and crosses Aster Creek, then leads up to Aster Falls. There are two different locations to view the falls, as it’s a fairly long series of cascades that drop at least 100 feet (30 m).

Beyond the falls, the trail climbs very steeply for the final ¾ mile (1.2 km) to Aster Park. Our legs were very tired by the time we got there. Aster Park is an overlook that towers above Two Medicine Lake and provides views of the lake and Rising Wolf Mountain on the other side. You can also see Lower Two Medicine Lake way off in the distance.

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View from Aster Park – Glacier National Park, MT

For me, though, the Aster Park hike will always be the one where my mom stepped onto a rock in the middle of Aster Creek to take a better picture of Aster Falls…and fell into the water.

Before you gasp and freak out – she was okay. She got caught in the current a bit but it was shallow water and I was able to step in and grab her backpack to stop her.

On the list of things not to do in a crisis, I’m pretty sure jumping in the water after someone is pretty close to the top.

Oops.

We were both fine, just soaking wet from the waist down. After a week in a bag of rice, both of our cameras made full recoveries as well.

Moral of the story: when stepping out into the middle of a creek, be sure to put your foot on the dry portion of the rock.

Well, that concludes the saga of my favorite national park. I hope I’ve convinced you of Glacier’s beauty and inspired you to spend some time exploring the park. And if you’re planning a trip there any time soon, I’m happy to send you a whole long list of recommendations!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: the Two Medicine area is located in southeastern Glacier, about 30 mins SW of the tiny town of Kiowa
  • Fees & passes: $30 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
  • Camping: Two Medicine campground (100 sites, $20 per night, reservations NOT accepted) is the only option in this area of the park
  • Hiking: Appistoki Falls (1.2 miles/2 km round-trip, moderate) and Aster Park (4 miles/6.4 km round-trip, moderate) are two of the shorter hikes in this area; for more hiking information, click here
  • Other: the drive into Two Medicine is long and winding and slow going, so plan plenty of time to get there

4 thoughts on “An Impromptu Swim – Glacier National Park, Montana (part VII)”

  1. Never get tired of Glacier photos! It was especially cool to see the lesser-known Two Medicine area. I saw Running Eagle Falls but we were in a hurry to get back to our campsite so we missed all the other stuff. So beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

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