The drive out to Glacier National park was quick and cold. Traffic became dense as you neared the park. Your interactions with the rangers at the park access point were kept brief and the drive up Going to the Sun Road was a slow crawl behind the minivans and hatchbacks filled with more than most guests need out here. You’re out for a short day trip on a brisk Saturday. Not sure of what to do, you figure you’ll ask for a recommendation at Logan Pass Visitor Center.
The ground is is cold, but not too cold. The air is crisp and shakes you awake as you step out of the car. The parking lot is littered with people from all over the world taking photos, reading pamphlets and bickering about where to spend their day. The sun seems brighter than it should be, seeking to warm your skin through the chilled breeze. Mountain goats are feeding just over the ridge. They’re adorable.
Your phone buzzes.
All the other visitors are staying inside the lodge for some reason. Everyone who is outside is tripping on the hordes of resident gophers. A sign reads “Don’t feed the gophers,” but apparently no one has ever read that sign. A park ranger stands in front of a trailhead in the gopher gardens with a book of historic photos of the glaciers visible from the station. He’s discussing the visible effects of climate change on the park. He tells me the trail just behind him is a great starting point.
“It leads to Hidden Lake,” he tells me. Hidden Lake? I must be on track to a top secret spot! He reminds me to enjoy the park.
Someone is loudly calling the ranger a liar – a perjurer.
The trail looks friendly on approach. It’s wide, and lucky enough, you scored a low foot-traffic morning. It gently winds through a small canyon and fades into the wilderness. “Logan Pass,” the old, brown sign reads.
Another park visitor snaps at their little one for trying to catch a gopher.
One of the gophers follows you for the beginning of the hike. Walking in between the hills, the rocks are glowing. The heavy reds and deep blues feel dreamlike in comparison to the washed out concrete which led you here. All the ground cover begins to expose new brilliant color qualities. The gopher is running with you alongside the trail, stopping occasionally to sniff and look at you. Its strides are fast and short. It's chubby rear moves higher than the top of its head at peak stride. Eventually, it stops and watches as you continue on the journey. “Bye, buddy.”
About one mile into the trek, you reach for the water bottle in your pack. It’s made of a pretty blue polycarbonate and has a sticker of the proposed flag for the northwestern U.S. separatist movement, Cascadia. It lives in the elastic mesh pocket on the right side of your pack. It’s the only one you brought.
Reaching blindly, it’s knocked by your hand’s initial contact. It falls on the ground, down and away from the trail. It is bouncing over rocks, dirt and baby lodgepole pine trees. As it careens off the beaten path, it seems like a good idea to jump off with it and onto the tiny hill to catch up with it. After getting stuck with burs, kicking thorn-ridden bushes and reaching mach 6 speeds high speed, downhill pace – your legs seeming to flail 360 degrees in 360 directions – you trip and fall right into a patch of growth just dense enough with foliage to cushion your landing. Looking up you see the bottle is still being hurled down the hillside; one that started as a lofty plunge but near the bottom, couldn’t be steeper than the wheelchair ramp at the visitor’s station. After watching the bottle bounce higher and further with each tumble, it finally lands in a small pond.
Your water bottle is at the bottom of a pond.
Nearing the end of the trail, you can’t help but think about all the disobedient visitors at the station. The chill in the air has turned into more of a hot and heavy swelter. After the long, boring line of traffic on Going to the Sun Road, it seemed like maybe Glacier could finally provide the getaway you were promised. Maybe turning around would have been best, but the end is near and despite the noon sun, you know the walk back will go faster. Just as the hike starts to make itself known in your legs, you turn a corner on the trail to reveal the lake.
Hidden Lake lies nestled beneath Bearhat mountain. With several small islands and pristine blue glacial waters, it hits you and you only want to get closer. Bearhat’s namesake top-hat shape draws your eyes up to it with an awe-striking presence in its size and snow covered ridges up all sides. Immediately, all the minuscule concerns of your day vanish. All your boulder-sized hesitations shrink into pebbles staring at this vista. With a smile and a quick excited spin you find a clear spot in the grass, nestle in and dig into the snacks in your bag.
Feeling refreshed and given new energy, it’s easy to tell that Hidden Lake is the beginning of something new for you. As you lie basking, a gopher runs up around the corner which brought you here. He stands up tall and looks out to the mountain. It’s time to confidently make your way back for water, lunch and to start exploring in a new light.
Hidden Lake – Your trail starts here.