It was the long-awaited and much anticipated vacation of a life-time for us. We were going to travel for 21 days and visit northwestern states where we’d never been before. In my memory I heard words from a movie script of long ago, “go west young man, go west.” And so we did – further than we’d ever been before. Our journey took us to the Glacier National Park Boat Tours where we would begin our tour with a ride on the historic Little Chief Boat on the St Mary’s Lake. We were hoping to see the incredibly brilliant blue skies reflected off the cobalt blue waters, dotted with stark white clouds. Instead, we arrived while the whole region was going up in out-of-control forest fires. Even this did not dull our expectancy and joy in the adventure – though it did somewhat dull our photography with all the smoke and haze in the atmosphere.
Glacier National Park Boat Tours
When planning to visit the Glacier National Park it is important to identify what it is you’ll want to see. We knew we wanted to drive the Road to the Sun, see the wildlife, wade in mountain streams, and hike through dense forest – but we didn’t know about the boat tours. We were delighted when the night before entering the park, we discovered the Historic Little Chief Boat Tour on St Mary’s Lake, still had a few vacancies for the morning tour.
The Little Chief is the oldest wooden vessel to tour St. Mary’s Lake, having been in service since 1925. There are four such vessels and they have been placed in the National Park Services National Register of Historic Places. These little boats were for many years the only method of transportation into the Glacier National Park. These pieces of national history are often overlooked by tourists, but will be shared by the knowledgeable boat captain.
The Little Chief is 45′ in length and carries 49 passengers. There is an all-weather cabin with windows that can be lifted or lowered according to the weather. It was overcast with haze from the fires, and the wind was brisk and cool on the morning of our tour. Against the Captains advice, I stepped out onto bow once we were underway. Closing the glass door behind me, the brisk wet spray slammed me against the door I had just closed. I planted my feet solidly to avoid a dip in the lake and began snapping my pictures. About the time I was ready to step back into the protection of the cabin, the boat hit a wind-chopped wave and dumped water over my body. Forget my well-manicured hair style. I was now a dripping, drooping rag doll. The passengers witnessed my demise through the front windows, and were ready for me when I stepped back into the cabin. Applause broke out. The captain in an all-knowing, but teasing voice announced, “and that is why we post a warning next to the door about what happens outside the cabin.” It was all good-natured, but I was certainly wet and cold.
Pictures Taken from the Bow of the Boat
Though I had been warned, I desired more than anything to be alone in the front of the boat. I wanted no obstruction between my eyes and the beauty set before me. This was my moment to feel the wind whip wildly through my hair, the water spray to heighten all my senses, and the solitude of being in this beautiful place for just a few moments to reflect upon the beauty of God’s creation. My mind raced through mentally transcribed pages of memory verses that seemed appropriate in these brief moments of worship. “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy” (Psalm 65:8 NIV).
Just a few miles after entering the park from the east gate you’ll discover the Rising Sun Boat Dock. Tickets may be purchased at the dock, but I strongly encourage reservations and a phone call before arrival. Once aboard, you’ll see Wild Goose Island and distant views of Sexton Glacier. Ticket prices seem reasonable for what you’ll experience. Adults currently will pay $26 and children 4-12 $13. There are some tours that make available debarkations along the route for you to take lengthy hikes and then pick you up at various times. These are different than the tour we took, but for the hiker and naturalist, this is something to consider. When we read about how to handle encounters with Grizzlies, we chose to remain in the boat. We were just not quite that adventuresome.
Have you been to Glacier National Park? Did you take a boat tour? I plan on going again when the fires aren’t burning – are there other boat tours that you’d recommend?