A Travellerspoint blog

An Impromptu Fall Road Trip

Sometimes you just need to pack up and go. No plans, no reservations, just pure spontaneity.

Nothing can make this happen faster than having plans to go somewhere else that fall through at the last minute.

That's what happened to us in October. We had planned a trip down to Abaco to soak in the last of the sun's rays before the chill season set in. Unfortunately, the day before our trip, we realized the weather down there was going to be crap. Rain, storms, rain, more storms, and then some rain.

After being stuck inside for 3 days thanks to Tropical Storm Arthur in July....I said "no thank you" to this repeat possibility.

Sure, we could have just cancelled and gone to work instead. But why the hell would we do that????? We had a few days off. I had to go somewhere.

It was a little past peak color season, but we decided to pack up the pooches and head to the mountains of NC. It's quick, it's easy, and I scored an amazing last minute deal on an absolute PALACE of a house.

First order of business is to introduce you to the newest member of the family. In order to do that, we must say goodbye to my absolute sweetheart, the best dog in the whole wide world, my favorite travel buddy Zoey who we lost in September.

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When we found out she was sick, we worried about Bella, so we got her a friend to help her transition. Best. Decision. Ever. This little bundle of sunshine saved us all. Say "hello" to Rooby:

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She's Shihtzu and Yorkie. I call that a shittie.

So, with no plans at all, we packed up Bella and her puppy. We were off to the mountains!!!!

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On the way, we stopped at the best hole-in-the-wall pizza place I have discovered to date. Hidden in the middle-of-nowhere, Smoky Mountain Bakers makes some of the most amazing artisanal pizzas and breads in their wood fired oven. And they do it all in what is a glorified garden shed.

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Bellies full of dough and cheese, we headed up winding mountain roads to find our home for the weekend. And what a home it was. This place was AMAZING. HUGE. GORGEOUS.

I wanted to live here forever.

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Two living rooms. A study. A huge deck with amazing views to forever.

Trying to choose from the FIVE gorgeous bedrooms was nearly impossible. I was tempted to sleep in a different room every night. I wanted to sleep in them all.

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We settled on the upstairs master. Not only because it was beautiful, but because it was the only bedroom on the main level. Little Rooby had not yet mastered the art of stairs. She was only 6 inches tall, after all.

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We got settled in and made sure we had the essentials. Yep. Booze and candy. We were set.

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The house was on a golf course and, despite the fact that it was a beautiful day, no one was playing, so we let the dogs run loose. Bella quickly let us know that she loves golf course grass and wants us to move.

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Rooby agreed.

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When you are surrounded by this much pure dog joy, how can you not feel happy?

All that golf course dashing worked off our pizza, so it was time to search out some dinner. In the 24 hours that I had to actually put this trip together, I had discovered that the Switzerland Inn, a cozy old fashioned mountain motel not far from where we were staying, had a Friday night seafood buffet with all you can eat crab legs.

All you can eat crab legs is the only thing Matt loves more than 50 cent Happy Hour Oysters.

The drive down was on the winding Blue Ridge Parkway. The peak color was past, but there was still some beautiful color left.

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When we found the Switzerland Inn, it took me back to my childhood. It was exactly the kind of place we would have stayed on a road trip with my parents, right after we had lunch at the Waffle House and stopped 7 times along the interstate so that my parents could threaten my brothers and I with severe bodily harm if we didn't stop fighting in the backseat.

It was quaint and homey and had a view that stretched across the mountains. The dining room was set up with a variety of stations that had large peel-and-eat gulf shrimp, several fish specialties, a prime rib carving station, various salads....but the belle of this ball was definitely the crab leg station.

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No one went to bed hungry that night.

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We woke up the next day to beautiful weather and decided to do nothing more than drive a scenic portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking in the Linville Viaduct and Moses Cone Park along the way.

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Then it was on to a boozy lunch at Bistro Roca in Blowing Rock. It had become a favorite stop of ours on previous trips. Lunch cocktails were followed by mussels and a spicy habi burger. Delish!

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The only proper way to follow a boozy lunch is to do some shopping. The quaint shops of Blowing Rock provided the perfect place to do just that.

I was grossly disappointed that no one told me it was costume day, though. A Wonder Woman costume would have rounded out the day nicely.

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We spent the afternoon relaxing by the fire at the house, letting Bella bounce on the golf course turf, and catching naps. It was a wonderfully lazy day.

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Dinner that night was at another of our favorite places in the area, Artisanal Restaurant in Banner Elk. The restaurant is not only beautiful, but the food is heavenly.

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We started things off with a couple of their house cocktails and a cast iron pan of deliciously buttery rolls.

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For a small plate I had the house made gnocchi.

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Next up for me was the quail. I love quail, but I hate the presentation of it. It just looks too much like....well....like a LITTLE BITTY BIRD. ON A PLATE.

But that didn't stop me from sucking the bones clean.

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Of course we had to have dessert.

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The next morning, we found ourselves faced with another beautiful day with absolutely no agenda.

We drove.

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We ended up at the Daniel Boone Inn. The huge line coming out the door and wrapping around the building told us the food inside must be good. We had nothing else to do, so we got in line.

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After about 45 minutes, we were ushered inside the old farmhouse and seated at a table. Bowls of food were brought out and covered the table. Fried chicken, biscuits with country ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, banana pudding, fried apples.....I now knew what that whole line thing had been about. We set about the business of stuffing our faces with country goodness.

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We waddled out of the Daniel Boone Inn fat and happy and full of mashed potatoes.

And we drove some more.

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When we found this pumpkin patch, I just had to get out for a photo.

I look insane here.

I blame in on all the mashed potatoes. I was high on carbohydrates.

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We kept driving.

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Before we knew it, we found ourselves at the Banner Elk Winery. Okay, it was no accident. We were in need a wine down afternoon. We grabbed a couple of bottles and sat outside in the glorious sunshine.

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After that, we all lapsed into a mashed potato and wine induced coma and napped the afternoon away.

We woke up in time for dinner. Yay!

We had reservations at the Gamekeeper Restaurant and were not sure where to find it. After driving an eternity into the pitch black darkness of nowhere, NC and winding forever and ever and ever up a lonely mountain road, we were certain the GPS was WRONG. Instead, we found ourselves at the coziest restaurant imaginable.

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The atmosphere was rustic and warm and the food was delicious. They specialize in game, so the boys were able to eat all the wild beasty things they wanted. They ordered a mixed game grill. Then they had some emu, bison, elk chops and god knows what else. I went tame with the cornmeal crusted rainbow trout with polenta and a caper salsa.

You know how sometimes things look a lot better in person than in a photo? Sometimes a food photo just doesn't work out. Blame it on the lighting, the four glasses of wine you had before trying to take a picture in the dark by lighting it up with your cell phone, what have you, but sometimes it's simply a FAIL. Despite the appearance of these photos, I did not, in fact, eat a plate of vomit, a bloody pile of grits and a tapeworm salad.

FOOD PHOTO FAIL

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It was time to head home, so we took the very scenic route home.

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Because this was a fantastically uneventful trip, but you, dear reader, have persevered through my blog nonetheless, I will reward you with the delightfulness of puppies running through leaves and baby cows, because really, what's better than that?

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Posted by vicki_h 12:33 Archived in USA Tagged fall autumn boone blue_ridge_parkway north_carolina banner_elk blowing_rock linville banner_elk_winery Comments (0)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park

Bonus! Video!

Posted by vicki_h 10:15 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 8

Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Day Eight: Y'all come back now, ya hear?

It was our final day. We love the town of Whitefish but never get a chance to spend any time there on our trips to Glacier National Park, so we had opted to spend our very last day soaking in some luxury at the Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish.

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Incredibly, it was another gorgeous day. We had been so lucky with the weather.

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We stopped in Columbia Falls for carbs and caffeine at Montana Coffee Traders.

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Then it was on to Whitefish. Whitefish is a quaint little mountain town. You can see the mountains towering in the distance, and it is filled with great little shops and restaurants.

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Like Loula’s where you can get the best pie in the known universe.

Montana. It’s all about the pie.

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Matt and I headed back to the lodge for afternoon massages which, after 60 miles of hiking and 7 nights of alternating between sleeping on the ground and sleeping on the world’s hardest beds in the historic lodges, was exactly what we needed.

Ahhhhhh……..

I’d like to say we ended with a bang – roping a grizzly in the parking lot or riding a bucking bronco into the sunset – but we did nothing more than have one final, quiet, fat loaded dinner.

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Tupelo Grill in Whitefish was just the place to have it. We started off with a hummus plate and fried catfish nuggets. I followed that with the panzanella salad: heirloom tomatoes, blue corn croutons, queso fresco, roasted corn, avocado, and a cilantro vinaigrette. As a finale, just to make sure I wasn’t cheating my body of needed carbohydrates, I had the almost famous baked mac & cheese with prosciutto, quattro formaggio, and a panko parmesan crust.

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We wrapped up the night with drinks on the rooftop at Casey’s.

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Yee-Haw!

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Dear Friends, I know I make Montana sound amazing, but it’s not all that great. Really. It’s not. You shouldn’t ever go there.

In an effort to consider your welfare, I am giving you several reasons you should never go to Montana:

Your boss can’t text you here. It’s a wireless dead zone. You know when Verizon shows that map? It’s one of the white spots. Pretty much the whole state. I think most internet still comes on a dial up. Seriously. Your boss, your nagging family members, that telemarketer that always calls you at dinner….they can’t reach you here. Why would you subject yourself to all that peace and quiet? Just crazy.

If you die there, they won’t find your body until July. There is simply too much space. What are you supposed to do with all that room? Go somewhere small. Like Rhode Island.

It’s cold. I mean, summer is only 2 months and winter is 19. You need a parka in July. And where else can you make a snow angel in August? Take my word for it, head south. It’s warmer down there.

There’s just too much beer. They drink it for breakfast. It’s everywhere. You’d exhaust yourself just trying to drink it all. And I’m pretty sure “open container law” means you are required to have an open container at all times. No one needs that kind of pressure.

One word: Glaciers. I mean, with all the global warming, one of those things could break loose and take you out at any moment. And they wouldn’t find your body until July.

You can’t escape the wildlife. If you like bears, wolves, wolverines, bighorn sheep, marmots, mountain goats, elk, moose, deer, beavers, ducks, and the biggest damn cows you’ve ever seen, and you like seeing them all in one day, this place is for you. Really, who needs the stress of a free range cow?

There is nothing up there but crazy, gun toting outlaws. Everyone is packing. And drinking all that beer. And eating beef jerky. That can’t be good.

You might get eaten by a bear. They say that, when hiking, always carry pepper spray and wear a bell. If you see bear scat, you can tell what kind of bear it is by looking at the contents. Black bear scat has berries in it. Grizzly scat smells like pepper and has little bells in it. A person in a sleeping bag? Pretty much a soft taco.

All that steak. I mean, who wants steak all the time? You should go where the broccoli is. It’s very high in lots of nutrients that are hard to pronounce, so that’s good. And studies have shown broccoli helps protect you from colon cancer. Go to California instead. Your colon will thank you.

The Unabomber is from Montana. Enough said. There could be more of them up there. Hiding. With guns. And beef jerky.

So much big sky and fresh air will just mess up your allergies. I mean, if you can actually breathe clean air for a week, what do you think that will do to you when you get back home to the pollution that you are used to? Better keep your lungs sucking on what it knows.

Seriously. Montana sucks. Go tell your friends.

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Posted by vicki_h 06:15 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (3)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 7

MMMmmmm.......SPAM. Said no one ever.

Day Seven: MMMmmmm.......SPAM. Said no one ever.

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Without electricity, waking up in a room at the chalet can be a cold, dark experience. We got dressed inside our sleeping bags, groomed ourselves out of a Ziploc bag, and ran to the warmth of the common building where we could sip coffee by the fire inside and make breakfast.

It was another beautiful day.

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I made us a breakfast of hashbrowns topped with cheddar cheese, sundried tomatoes.....and ......spam.

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Yes. Spam. I am not ashamed. Spam travels well. Any food that has a shelf life of "indefinite" is a food you want in your backpack. Maybe not in your stomach, certainly not in your intestines, but definitely in your backpack.

The horse disagrees.

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We managed to hang around long enough to see the mule train arrive with supplies. Since the chalet is inaccessible by roads, supplies must be brought up a steep, winding 4 mile trail called The Loop. I would hate to be the guy that got to carry the mattresses.

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It was our final hike of the trip, so we wanted to make it a good one. The first part of the trail took us up and over Swiftcurrent Pass where you can see forever.

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Our hike would take us past the farthest lake. Really. And I mean that one waaaaaaay in the back.

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After the pass, there is a steep descent on a narrow ledge. This seemed to be the trip for ledges. You’re welcome, Matt.

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As we dropped into the valley below, we found a plethora of juicy, ripe huckleberries just waiting to be picked.

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Did you know that Montana has the largest grizzly population in the lower 48? It’s a well-known fact that they mostly eat roots and huckleberries. A lesser known fact is that they berries generally come from inside humans who at the berries earlier.

We stopped for lunch at the lake: Peanut butter and jelly bagels with dried bananas and Snickers.

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The last time I did this hike, I was wearing flip-flops duct taped to my feet because of some serious blisters. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was in ACTUAL BOOTS.

The end of the hike took us through the valley, through forests, wildflowers, waterfalls, lakes, and streams.

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And dangling chipmunks.

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And a moose! All my years of trying to see a moose out here and I manage to see two in one trip.

Apparently, all they do is stand in the water and eat.

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Our reward was a giant cup of huckleberry soft serve at the Swiftcurrent store.

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As we made the drive back to the west side of the park, I was still in awe of the beauty of this place.

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We checked in to the Belton Chalet, just outside the west entrance to the park. We had never stayed here before, and I was immediately enamored with the quaint, historic inn.

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Until they left a note on my car.

My very dirty car.

Oh, the shame.

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But it was time to celebrate! We had hiked about 60 miles, climbed sheer rock faces (okay, with cables, but still….it was scary), teetered on narrow ledges, and narrowly escaped death at the jaws of ferocious wildlife. What? Those ground squirrels can be aggressive with the Fig Newtons, I’ll have you know.

We started off with drinks at the chalet lounge.

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Then it was onto dinner at their world class restaurant. We started off with more cocktails. Of course. Then it was on to steamed Mussels served in a lager beer broth with jalapeno, chorizo, roasted cherry tomatoes, farm fresh greens & grilled toast. Next up was their southern mac and cheese, locally made penne in a pimento cheese sauce topped with sliced chorizo and crumbled pork rinds. Who doesn’t love a good pork rind? That was followed by a hot bowl of their savory potato soup. Finally, we shared the Montana Wagyu Delmonico Steak with scallion bacon cheddar mashed potatoes topped with smoked paprika chili butter and the Montana buffalo meatloaf wrapped in hickory-smoked bacon and served with a port wine mushroom demi and roasted shallot mashed potatoes with savory creamed corn.

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THAT, my friends, was worth hiking 60 miles for.

Posted by vicki_h 10:32 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

Stepping Out of Bounds in Glacier National Park: Day 6

There are no shortcuts to any place worthwhile.

Day Six: There are no shortcuts to any place worthwhile.

Our destination of the day was Granite Park Chalet and the only way to get to it was to hike 7+ miles. We had a 7:30 a.m. shuttle to catch, so we only got to see the first rays of the sun as they peeked over Many Glacier.

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The shuttle took us to St. Mary, where we waited for 45 minutes in the freezing cold for a very late shuttle to Logan Pass. There were about 8 of us that had gotten there at 8:00 am and had been waiting for a very long time in the cold when the shuttle finally arrived. Apparently, someone had not shown up for work so the early shuttle didn’t run. As we all wrestled with our large backpacks and headed toward the van, a slick couple in brand new shiny hiking suits that had just shown up practically knocked us down as they ran in front of us all and jumped on the shuttle.

Oh hell to the no.

You see, the shuttle didn’t have enough seats for everyone who was waiting. God bless the shuttle operator who escorted them off, as they cussed and made faces, and made sure everyone that had arrived on the 7:30 shuttle was seated first. She then filled in the few remaining seats with others who had been waiting longer than Mr. and Mrs. Slick Pants. They were left on the sidewalk scowling.

I am always amazed how some people can be so self-absorbed that they give no thought to common courtesy.

No matter. It was a beautiful day to do the Highline Trail from Logan Pass to the Granite Park Chalet.

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As we made our way across the ledge that starts the trail, I couldn’t help but think of the headline from just a few weeks earlier:

CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF A GRIZZLY KIND ON THE HIGHLINE TRAIL

The narrow ledge drops 15 stories to the highway below. It’s only wide enough for single file and it stretches for just over a quarter of a mile.

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Now imagine if you were THIS guy:

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That’s him going in one direction and a bear coming in the other direction.

See. It can always be worse.

I’m pretty sure thinking about ice cream did not help in that particular circumstance.

The Highline is a hike that we have done several times, but it never gets old. Our favorite way to do the hike is to hike 7 miles from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet, stay overnight, and hike 8 miles out over Swiftcurrent Pass into the Many Glacier valley where our car would be waiting.

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We saw marmots. We saw bighorn sheep. We saw fat ground squirrels. We saw incredible views stretching in every direction.

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We also saw Mr. and Mrs. Slick Pants. Apparently, another shuttle had arrived about 10 minutes later, and without any packs, these two were making time. Probably trying to outhike everyone with backpacks so that they could get to the Chalet first and drink all the chocolate milk and get the best seats by the fire.

We scowled at them as they went by and I secretly hoped that trail karma would bite her on the butt. Maybe she’d break a nail or get her shiny new suit dirty.

We stopped for lunch in an area I like to call the “valley of the boulders.” Giant rocks are strewn everywhere and it’s easy to find one with a spectacular view. At this restaurant, every seat is the best seat in the house.

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Summer sausage with cheddar cheese and wheat thins, a granny smith apple, and a fig bar never tasted so good.

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We continued on with more marmots, more bighorn sheep, and more amazing views. We even treated ourselves to a few huckleberries.

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We reached the Granite Park Chalet in the early afternoon. That left plenty of time to simply enjoy being there.

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The chalet is hike-in only and there is no greater experience than getting to spend the night. After all the day hikers pack up their lunches and leave, it is a mountain refuge, quiet and calm, with views that take your breath away.

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Each group signs up for a turn in the kitchen. Since we didn’t have to carry cookware or our propane stoves, we carried more food!

Yay! Food! In case it’s not obvious by now, I hike for the food.

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Dinner was easy but delicious: angel hair pasta with pre-cooked meatballs, marinara, and parmesan cheese, an Italian salad, and tiramisu in a cup!

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As we ate, an incredibly thick fog rolled in on top of us. It was eerie. You couldn’t see the tree line from the Chalet.

We ended the day hanging out in the chalet’s common room by the fire with hot tea and cocoa listening to the staff tell stories of the chalet’s history as the fog crept in around us.

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Posted by vicki_h 13:36 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

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