We arrived to Apgar Visitor Center thirty minutes prior to our departure on the Crown of the Continent Tour. We checked in with the friendly staff and were quickly introduce to our driver, Karl. Karl made a point to introduce each party to the rest of the group, helping to spark conversations between many of the 17 passengers on board. As the only locals on board, we thoroughly enjoyed hearing everyone’s unique perspectives on why they were visiting Glacier and their thoughts on travel in Montana.
After departing Apgar Visitor Center, our first stop was only about five minutes down the road, at Lake McDonald in Apgar Village. The views of Lake McDonald were truly epic, and we had enough time to hop out of the bus and snap a few pictures as Karl shared history from the early days in the park. Along the road to our second top, Karl pointed out some less obvious features of the park, including evidence of avalanches and wildfires. Within about fifteen minutes, we arrived at Lake McDonald Lodge, one of the park’s most recognizable buildings. We again had plenty of time to get out of the bus and stretch our legs, take a few pictures, and even do a little shopping.
As we were coming back to the bus, Karl was making our bus into a convertible, taking off the canvas roof. Taking the cover off the bus made it rather windy, but worthwhile because everyone had an amazing view, no matter where they were sitting! The bus had enough blankets for everyone, but we were glad we packed windbreakers, caps and sunglasses. Temperatures along the Going-To-The-Sun Road can vary drastically depending on the shade from the trees, the wind and of course, the elevation.
During our gradual climb up the Going-To-The-Sun Road, Karl took plenty of opportunities to pull off the side of the road, so we could stand up and take pictures of the stunning surroundings. Karl kept us laughing the whole way up with his quirky jokes while also educating us about Glacier. He talked about the glaciers remaining in the park, and we were able to spot and identify at least 10 of the 28 remaining glaciers. As we reached the summit and entered the Logan Pass Visitor Center, we spotted a family of mountain goats foraging for food. At the pass, we had an hour to explore the visitor center and eat a few snacks we had packed. Since it was June, we took advantage of the plentiful snow that was still at the pass and had a snowball fight while watching people hike and ski down some of the hills along the pass.
From Logan Pass we set our sights on the east side of the park. The views heading into Saint Mary Lake were absolutely spectacular, despite the signs of the wildfires that occurred along the lake in the summer of 2015. We saw firsthand the rebirth and started to identify numerous wildflower species including Beargrass, which Karl explained, only blooms once every five years. We stopped off at the most photographed spot in Glacier National Park and snapped photos a few poster-worthy shots along with a few selfies.
Once we were past Saint Mary, we took the highway to Many Glacier. This was certainly the windiest part of our ride! As we entered Many Glacier, we were reminded that the east side of the park is generally less crowded, making the chance of seeing wildlife greater than the West side. Within minutes, we spotted a bear about 200 yards from the bus! While we were completely safe in the bus, Karl used the opportunity to educate us about identifying different bear species and provided vital information about hiking and camping safety.
Shortly thereafter we arrived to Many Glacier Hotel and enjoyed a delicious lunch with phenomenal views. Our group was all pretty hungry from our journey, and we enjoyed everything from the Iceberg Burger to the Lentil Veggie Burger. We filled up our water bottles and jumped back on the bus to head towards Rising Sun Motor Inn. The bear was still along the road on our way out of the park, so we enjoyed standing up in the bus and taking a second round of photos.
While the temperature had risen from the morning, the wind on the east side was consistent, and we all wished someone had remembered some sunscreen!
In the afternoon, Karl’s jokes continued to keep us entertained and engaged in his narrated tour of the park. He explained the history of the Red Buses and seemed to know every other driver we passed, waving or saying “hello” along the way. Karl was so personable, remembering each guest’s name throughout the day but also allowing for some quiet time to let us soak in the beauty of the views. He ended the tour with a song and a poem that he wrote, an endearing way to show how much he enjoys sharing his knowledge of the park with others.
There was a calm sense of awe as the tour ended. Everyone seemed a little tired from a full day, but also a deep sense of appreciation for everything we had just experienced.
Our group agreed the Red Bus Tour is the best way to learn about the history of the park while also experiencing the highlights. By letting your driver take care of planning where to go, finding parking at all of the best scenic points, and most importantly, driving the very narrow Going-To-The-Sun Road, we were able to sit back and enjoy the wonders of the park. It was certainly a highlight of the summer and we are confident it would be a positive experience for our guests!
For those considering a Red Bus Tour, we would recommend the Crown of the Continent Tour for guests looking to see as much of the park as possible. It is an eight-hour commitment; however, there are plenty of opportunities to use restrooms, stretch your legs, and take pictures along the way. Each member of your group should pack a water bottle and a couple snacks. We recommend bringing a few layers of clothing, including a windbreaker, hat, sunglasses and potentially light gloves depending on the time of year. We would also recommend sunscreen and sunglasses as the bus is essentially a convertible, and you won’t want it any other way so you can see all around you! Pack smart as you don’t have very much leg or storage room on board. Most importantly, be ready to be stunned by the beauty of Glacier National Park!