Lee Ridge and the Belly
On the way to Many Glacier Backcountry Office, we stopped at Two Sisters Café near Babb. They had good French fries but not much else in the way of vegan food despite the outward appearance of “a vegan joint plucked straight out of San Francisco” as our guidebook put it. They did, however, have a decent selection of Montana beer. I had my first Huckleberry Lager and it was delicious. Luke had a Going-To-The-Sun IPA, also wonderful. Gotta love the Montana brewmasters! We shouldn’t have expected any less from a state with the largest per-capita density of breweries in the country.
We then settled in for the night at the busy campground of St. Mary, where we drank and I showered before heading to the Lee Ridge Trailhead. On the way we thought we were vindicated with a wolf sighting, but a closer look revealed no more than a coyote ducking behind a tree.
The trailhead was a small, easy to miss sign hidden in the bushes. It is a quarter mile from the Canadian border and parking is in a pullout. The first several miles are through a dense, mosquito-filled forest. After leaving the canopy, Lee Ridge was very rewarding. The ridge provides massive views of the surrounding mountains but absolutely no shade, which was unfortunate for us given the heat wave scorching the hillsides.
A trail crew passed us on the way up the ridge, heading to Gable Pass to clear the trail down to Slide Lake. We were impressed by one of the workers passing us carrying a chainsaw. Those things are not light. Given that we were headed in the same direction, we decided to poke around in the other direction for a while and let them do their thing. We dumped our gear at the Gable Pass Junction and walked down the ridge toward the Belly Ranger Station. The views weren’t exactly what we were expecting but we still enjoyed the rugged scenery.
The hike from the trailhead to ridge was steep but nothing compared to the grade heading down to Slide Lake. Luke glissaded the snow field right past the trail junction, but failing to apply any breaking, was only slowed by butt on dirt friction. He recounts this being not the most pleasant experience of the trip. The extreme downhill made me weary of my ability to hike back up it in the morning (obviously, I made it out). We passed the trail crew again as they were wrapping up and thanked them for the tree-free trail. Mad props to the Glacier NP Trail Crew, you rocked our hiking socks off.
Slide Lake had moose tracks all around it. In an attempt to catch a glimpse of the goofy animal (and get away from the camp mosquitoes) we sat lakeside for 2 hours with our binoculars, splitting our time between the upper and lower lakes. We saw loons and lots of rocks and logs which looked very much like bears.
We shared camp with an off-duty ranger and her friend who informed us about possible Alaska style Aurora Borealis in the night sky. In hopes of fulfilling a dream, we set the alarm to wake us up every hour but we saw nothing but clear skies. By the time morning came, we were sleep deprived and dreading the climb back up to Gable Pass.
We made it past Gable Pass and up the small snowfield to the junction with the Lee Ridge Trail at 8:30 AM. Rather than get to the car at 10 AM, we decided to take the long way back. We headed down to the Bell Ranger Station. This was arguably, the most beautiful area we have seen in all our travels. The Belly Ranger Station looked like a postcard we couldn’t afford.
We stopped for lunch at the station and started up a conversation with the volunteer ranger. He seemed to know everything about the park and we would later find out that he used to be the Resource Manager for a few decades. He was telling us about all the wildlife in the area and trail conditions. Then I asked him about the moose. As he was telling us that we probably wouldn’t see one since they usually come out at dawn and dusk, we saw one run across the meadow and hop the fence. As the ranger said, it was serendipitous.
The rest of the hike out to Chief Mountain Trailhead, we kept turning around to take in the striking views and documenting the variety of wildflowers with the camera. The trail was mostly flat until the last couple of miles, which required some slight thigh burning. Back at the trailhead, we used the toilet, took off our boots, and hiked up the road to our car. Another successful backcountry adventure behind us, we ate a scrumptious dinner at Park Café in St. Mary (Luke ordered 2 main courses).
Other Glacier National Park Adventures
For more national park adventure, visit our National Park Service Guide.