Glacier National Park: Playing Chicken With a Moose

Bull Moose Glacier National Park

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Glacier National Park has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I first planned to explore the park on a long road trip from Wyoming all the way to Oregon. However, there was a rental car shortage at the time and renting a one-way car was virtually impossible. Strike one. No problem. I switched my plans around and planned to make a separate trip of it.

When the day came, I arrived at the airport two hours early, and it was the most packed I had ever seen it (Fourth of July weekend with Covid restrictions recently lifted). That, combined with some issue with the baggage check, made everything move like molasses. I normally never check a bag, but since I had all of my hiking gear, which included a large knife, that was my only option. I was still in line to check my bag when my flight was about to board. There was no way I would make it, so I hopped online to see if I could reschedule. The next flight out to Kalispell, Montana was about 7 hours later. Not ideal, but better than nothing. So I booked the later flight instead.

Try, Try, Try Again

I hung around in the airport for several hours before boarding my flight. Although my first flight was direct, this one unfortunately had a layover in Salt Lake City. No Problem. I got into Salt Lake City, Utah, and had a one hour layover. Just as I was about to board, the screen suddenly flashed “Delayed.” Then it was delayed again. And then it was canceled.

At this point, if I tried to find another flight to Montana, I wouldn’t have time to do half of the things I wanted to do in Glacier National Park. So I ended up catching up with some friends in Park City, Utah before heading back to Los Angeles. Strike two.

Once I got home, I looked into all of the options for salvaging my flight. Luckily I was given an airline credit and booked another flight out to Montana the following month. Hopefully it would be “third time is the charm” and not “three strikes, you’re out!” Thankfully everything went off without a hitch the third time around.

The Early Bird Gets The Worm

Because I rescheduled my trip so many times, the options for accommodations were limited. Every hotel inside Glacier National Park was booked solid. I ended up booking a lovely little airbnb in Whitefish, Montana. At the time, the park service was also limiting the amount of vehicles that were allowed to enter the park. There was a terrible online system set in place to access Going-To-The-Sun-Road, and buying a pass was incredibly inefficient and nearly impossible (equivalent to refreshing the webpage like a psycho at an inconvenient hour, trying to get into a college course before it fills up — if you know, you know).

The bad news is I didn’t get a pass, and Going-To-The-Sun-Road is the main artery through the park. The good news is I was able to access the road anyway because I arrived before 6am. Since I like to begin my hikes super early, it wasn’t even an issue, and I was able to enjoy the park without a problem.

Hidden Lake Trail Glacier National Park Sunita Bendale
Hidden Lake Trail . Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier

There is so much beauty to explore in Glacier National Park. If I were to write about all of the beautiful trails I hiked, this blog would go on forever. Some of my favorites were Hidden Lake, Avalanche Lake, and Logan Pass. However, I thought the Grinnell Glacier trail was definitely the most scenic and most beautiful of all the hikes.

Hidden Lake Trail Glacier National Park wildflowers Sunita Bendale
Wildflowers throughout Glacier National Park

Move It Or Lose It, Buddy

I set out early in order to get through the west entrance of Glacier National Park before 6am. This is actually the best time of day to drive, as crowds begin to build as early as 6:30am. I drove along the iconic Going-To-The-Sun-Road, which is regarded as one of the most picturesque drives in the country. Gentle waterfalls cascade along the lush greenery and mountains, making for an impossibly pretty scene.

going-to-the-sun-road Glacier National Park Montana
Going-To-The-Sun-Road . Glacier National Park

The road is one lane in either direction, and I ended up getting stuck behind someone that was literally going 10 miles per hour. The speed limit is a cautious 25 miles per hour, as it should be, due to the fact that the road can be curvy and, in some sections, has no barriers to prevent someone from driving straight off of the cliff. But 10 miles per hour?! C’mon man! The line of cars was slowly building behind the driver and there were about 10 lookout spots that (s)he could have pulled over on, but didn’t. At first I was irritated, because I was in a rush to get to the trail before parking spots filled up, but then decided to cool my jets and just take in the beauty of all that surrounded me.

This . Sun Is On Fiyahhhhhh

It turns out that the slow driver was a blessing in disguise. After the cliff sections of Going-To-The-Sun-Road, you turn onto a highway in the direction of the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead. This one lane highway is enclosed by wooded areas on either side, with only one small section where the road opens up to a view of the water. Luck would have it that I was driving by the water just in time for one of the most magnificently saturated red sunrises I have ever seen. During this time, wildfires were burning out of control in California, and the smoke slowly creeped all the way over to Montana. Terrible for the air quality, but amazing for the sunrises!

Are You Flashing Me?!

The day had just begun, and my heart was already full. After capturing a nice little time lapse of the amazing red sunrise, I hopped back into my car and continued on my way. At this time of day, there was no one else on the highway. In the very far distance, I saw a car approaching from the oncoming lane.

Is that car flashing me?!

It was difficult to tell whether the car was flashing me, or if the headlights were on and the uneven pavement just made it seem that way.

The sun just rose. My automatic headlights are not on. That car’s headlights are probably not on, I think that car is flashing me. WHY?

What The Heck Is That?

I’m not going to lie. The speed limit was 65 miles per hour. It was a straight, open road – I was doing about 80 miles per hour. It really looked like that car was flashing me, so I slowed down to the speed limit as I tried to figure out if and why the car was high-beaming me. As I kept driving, I saw something in the middle of the road in the far distance.

Is there a PERSON standing in the middle of the road?!

I slowed down even more as I tried to figure out what was up ahead. Whatever it was, as I drove slowly, the gap between me and the unidentified object seemed to narrow at a ridiculously fast pace. Once I realized what it actually was, my jaw dropped and I stopped dead in my tracks…

Oh Shit !!

I was now completely stopped. Sitting in my car, I stared in disbelief as a fully grown bull moose was charging full speed down the center of my lane, heading straight for my car! Never in a million years would I have ever thought I’d be playing chicken with a massive moose! For the record, I was definitely the one that chickened out! In that moment, three thoughts ran through my head:

  1. Is this how it happens? Is this how I go out? RIP Sunita Bendale: charged by a bull moose!
  2. Dammit, I knew I should have purchased that rental car insurance!
  3. I’m stopped. This moose is not dumb; there is no way he is going to run straight into a stationary object. Right? …Right…?!

Distracted Driving

In either case, I reached for my phone to film what would either be a glimpse into my last moments, or just a really freakin’ awesome video! There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is I was not a distracted driver, was able to see the other driver’s warning, and did not plow straight into the moose. The bad news is I was not a distracted driver, my phone wasn’t in easy reach, and I didn’t get an epic video of this bull moose running head on at me! The moose broke his stride and trailed off into the woods about 10 feet away from hitting my car.

Phew!!

Although I wasn’t quick enough to get a video, that footage has been burned into my memories, and is something I will never forget.

Thanks For Saving My Life, Lady

Once the moose ducked into the woods, both I and the driver that flashed me were side by side in our cars, peering into the woods to see if we could get a glimpse of the massive animal. It was long gone, and as she and I looked over at one another in disbelief, I gave her a little “thanks for flashing your lights and saving my life, lady” wave. I continued on my way and soon made it to the start of the trailhead.

Straight Out Of A Bob Ross Painting

The Grinnell Glacier trail is a popular 11.6 mile out and back hike, and arguably the prettiest hike in Glacier National Park. When does it start to get pretty…? Literally the moment you set foot on the trail. About 1/4 of a mile in, the trail opens up to stunning views of Swiftcurrent Lake, and the scenery just grows exponentially in its beauty with every step you take. “Happy little trees” and “majestic mountains” line the trail, and the entire scene looks like something straight out of a Bob Ross painting!

Grinnell Glacier Trail Sunita Bendale Glacier National Park Montana
Halfway point on the Grinnell Glacier Trail . Glacier National Park

Ice, Ice, Baby

The hike is dotted with postcard-worthy scenes all along the trail, and you literally get to walk through a waterfall! The very end of the trail opens up to Grinnell Glacier, and its amazing ice blue glacier-fed waters. I considered jumping in, just for the sake of jumping into a glacial lake. Before I did, I dipped my hand in just to get a feel for exactly how cold the water was. The verdict on jumping in…?

“It’s gonna be a no for me, dawg!”

After three seconds, my hand went numb. If I had a change of clothes or didn’t have to hike six miles back, I would have jumped in for a second or two… maybe. Maybe next time.

Grinnell Glacier Sunita Bendale Glacier National Park Montana
Grinnell Glacier . Glacier National Park

Three Boys From Utah

During the entire hike to the glacier, I was leapfrogging with a group of three guys. We seemed to be hiking at a similar pace, and took turns passing each other often throughout the trail. During each encounter, we greeted one another with a friendly smile or a “hah, you again!” but nothing more. On the way back, I stopped to take some photos, and they offered to help. We started chatting and they were some of the nicest and friendliest guys I’d ever met — Spencer, Corey, and Tyson.

We hiked the last several miles back to the parking lot together. On the way, we ran into tons of wildlife. We saw a bunch of mountain goats, a black bear, and… you guessed it… a massive bull moose! We were actually pretty close to that moose (maybe 20 feet), and we stared at him as he stared at us. The second he started making his way toward us, we were outta there! I already had one way too close encounter with a moose earlier that day, I wasn’t trying to test my luck! We made it to the parking lot and went our separate ways. Utah boys, if you’re reading this, thank you for making those last six miles a fun and easy walk in the park!

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For…

ICE CREAM! What a perfect little reward after a 12 mile hike. During my long conversation with the Utah boys, the topic of ice cream came up about three or four times. Surprisingly, I wasn’t even the one that suggested it, but I was definitely on board. After all that talk of ice cream, I had to stop when I saw a little ice cream parlor near Saint Mary Lake. What flavor did I choose…?

Wait for it…

Wait . for . it . . .

moose tracks ice cream
Well deserved ice cream after my 12 mile hike

MOOSE TRACKS, of course! After some close encounters with two different bull moose, it was the only logical choice. Also, I love all things cheesy and corny!

Fruity Pebbles

I spent the rest of the day exploring other beautiful parts of the park before heading back to my airbnb. The timing for my drive back couldn’t have worked out better. I happened to pass by Lake McDonald just as the sun was setting. I pulled off on the side of the road to have a look, and am so glad I did! What a gorgeous sight it was; combined with the colorful “fruity pebbles” rocks, it was definitely a perfect way to end the evening.

Lake McDonald sunset Glacier National Park Sunita Bendale Montana

Happy Travels!!

If you enjoyed reading this blog, you might also enjoy reading about the time I Experienced Winter and Spring in the SAME Day at Yellowstone!

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solofemaleexplorer

Hello! My name is Sunita Bendale and I have been an avid solo traveler for the past twelve years. I grew up with the values of a traditional Indian family, and lived a very sheltered life. After becoming a registered nurse, I made the very difficult decision to challenge my cultural and familial norms, and moved clear across the country to sunny California.

Best . Decision . Of . My . Life!

I didn't know anyone within a several thousand mile radius; my friends and family were back home in New Jersey, but I was not going to let that minor inconvenience deter me. My adventure had just begun, was absolutely thrilling, and I welcomed the challenge to create a new life for myself.

With an innate passion for dance, I quickly found myself immersed in the Los Angeles Argentine Tango dance scene. I was a young woman with big dreams and stars in my eyes. One day, on a whim, I decided that I wanted to see the world and dance in Paris. It was a spontaneous last-minute trip, booked only for four days, but I was determined to see and experience as much as I could. I spent those days running up the steps of the Eiffel Tower, taking in the views during the day and night, wandering through the Louvre, staring straight into the eyes of the Mona Lisa, stuffing my face with the most exquisite macarons and every delicious pastry you could imagine, making friends with the taxi cab driver that drove me all over the city, catching the 1am last sparkle of the Eiffel Tower, and dancing the nights away. I didn't sleep. I wanted to soak it all in. The experience was immensely liberating, and jump-started my obsession with travel.

Since that glorious trip, I have made it my life's goal to dance all over the world. It is wildly invigorating walking onto a dance floor in a foreign place, not knowing a single soul or speaking the language, yet being able to dance flawlessly with any random person in the room. To be able to detect the slightest, most subtle shift in weight and move perfectly in unison without so much as breathing a single word - it's enthralling.

Every successive trip since then has fueled my addiction. For the past several years, I have been working as a Nurse Anesthetist, which has been fulfilling in so many different ways. Not only do I absolutely love my career, it also affords me the financial independence and flexibility in scheduling to pick up at a moment's notice and travel the world. 

Many people find the thought of traveling alone a daunting experience, especially as a solo female. However, I am here to share my experiences and safety tips, and assure you that it is not only possible, but can be very cathartic. My goal is to empower women (and all travelers) by providing them with tools and resources that will bolster the confidence to travel solo.
I'm just a girl dancing through life, and enjoying every step along the way.

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