Two Medicine: Boat Ride, Hike to Twin Falls

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The Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park is well worth the effort it takes to get there. And once you’re there, you should take the relaxing cruise across the lake to the far end, where an easy hike to a nice double-waterfall awaits.

My Visit

The road that takes you into the Two Medicine section of Glacier National Park ends with this beautiful view.  Okay, the crowd of people is not especially beautiful, especially if you’re hoping to grab a standby seat on the Sinopah, like I was.  Fortunately, there were a few extra seats, and that meant that I could take the short cruise out to the Twin Falls trailhead.

It was even better news, because there wasn’t much else I could do at Two Medicine.  Because of a storm that hit the area just a few days earlier (a snowstorm at the higher elevations, and lots of rain in lower areas), water levels were higher than usual.  That meant many of the trails were either snowy, muddy, or completely flooded.

The Sinopah departs from this spot at 9am, 10:30am, 1pm, 3pm, and 5pm (as of June, 2014 — double-check the departure times for your arrival date).  Adults and teenagers are $12.25, kids ages 4-12 are $6 (again, as of 2014).  You can, and should, make reservations, if your travel abilities allow it.

The Glacier Park Boat Company dates back to 1938, but the boat is even older than that.  The Sinopah was built in 1924, which means it was 90 years old when I took a ride.  Other boats, only slightly newer, operate on some of Glacier’s other lakes.

Onboard the boat, you can gaze out the window at the beautiful scenery, right next to your seat.

The windows slide open and closed, just in case it’s too breezy for you.

There’s enough room at the front of the boat …

…to allow a few passengers to rotate in and out, enjoying a brief view of the mountains ahead.

The dock is located around the other side of the base of the mountain on the right.  It’s just enough of a curve that you can’t see the whole lake from the dock.

As soon as we landed, I couldn’t figure out why everyone seemed to be sitting down on the dock, and taking off their shoes.  Because of the flooding, we would all have to wade through some very cold water for a few yards, to get from the dock to the boardwalk.

This view looks back towards the lake and the dock, from the upper end.  That shelter is next to the dock — but it was flooded, just like all the other land around it.  Fortunately, that one gap in the boardwalk was the only place that would require any wading.

The hike from the dock to Twin Falls is about one mile.

Along the way, there are a couple of creek crossings.  This one was three logs wide, which was a luxury…

… compared to this one, which was obviously still under construction.  Wide or narrow, I was lucky it was there, otherwise the trail would be impassable.

The path up to Twin Falls is pretty, but not extraordinary.  You’ll see some mountain peaks poking up above the trees in some spots (including Pumpelly Pillar, elevation 7,620 feet), but the rest of the time, you’re in the forest.

For a longer hike, you can skip the side-trail to Twin Falls and continue to Upper Two Medicine Lake Trail.

I gave it some serious consideration, but decided not to try it, because the trail looked like this.  Winter sticks around for quite a while in Glacier National Park.  This slushy mess would have been very difficult to hike on.

So, I went on to Twin Falls.

If you managed to separate from the pack of people who shared the boat ride with you, you’ll meet back up with them here.  Maneuver through the crowd and find your spot along the edge of the river.  The creek, which originates upstream at No Name Lake, splits briefly as it tumbles down the mountainside, then combines again, right below your feet.

This is about the best view you can get of both cascades at once.  They are so close, it can be tough to take a good picture of them both at the same time, without a very wide-angle lens.

It’s much easier to get some pretty photos of the colorful rocks in the stream bed…

… as well as some of the nearby plant life.

On the hike back, you’ll be looking towards Rising Wolf Mountain, on the north side of the lake.

If you didn’t want to take the boat back, or if you missed the boat, you could take trails on either the north or south side of the lake.  The north side is shorter, but it begins and ends at the campground, not the parking area, so you’d need to add some extra distance.  Also, once you’re at the boat dock, the south side trail is closer — you’d have to backtrack towards the falls to reach the north shore trail.

I had no intention of hiking farther than I needed to — but when I arrived back at the boat dock, I was far from alone. Dozens of people had already taken off their socks, waded out to the dock, and put their shoes back on.  All those people filled the boat to capacity (remember, some people don’t disembark here, so some of the seats aren’t available).

Everyone made it aboard… except for me, and two women.  The crew promised to make a special run, just for us, and said they’d be back as quickly as possible.  But how fast can a 90-year-old boat go?

I thought about hiking back, but I had heard another hiker talk about flooded conditions on one of the routes.  He said the water was chest-high, and he had to find alternate routes on higher ground, making the trip take much longer.  No matter how long the boat took, I figured, the hike back would be longer.

And I must admit, there are worse places to be stranded than on a sunny boat dock, over a peaceful, reflective lake, surrounded by the spectacular mountains of Glacier National Park.  Getting stranded here was actually a great thing — especially since one of the two ladies waiting with me was a Montana resident with plenty of hiking trail suggestions.

The return of the Sinopah took 40 minutes.  As I boarded, I realized, not only had the delay given me some relaxing time on the dock, it also gave me the entire boat, almost to myself.

And that gave me the freedom to take some pictures out the back…

… and off the front of the boat, as it made its way back to the parking area.

Two Medicine Lake looked much different on this day in late June, than it did on my previous visit in mid-September, 2006.

Back then, I was just late enough in the season that all the businesses (including this gift shop/store) had shut down and boarded up for the winter.

It was a gritty day, with a cloud-covered sky and a bracing wind blowing off the lake.  That time, I stayed for about five minutes, before retreating.  Of course, in this area, you can get a nasty day (and even snow) anytime, so plan accordingly.  You can read about my 2006 visit to Two Medicine Lake here.

The Bottom Line

The boat ride across Two Medicine Lake will be the highlight of your visit to the lake.  The hike to Twin Falls is relatively easy and pretty, but it lacks the “wow” moments of other Glacier hikes.  Arriving earlier in the day could allow you more time to hike to the upper lake and back, before the last boat departs.  Just make sure the trail is clear of snow (talk to a park ranger).

Location

The Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park is located on the southeast side. From US 2 at East Glacier Park Village, take Montana Route 49 north to the Two Medicine entrance. From Going-To-The-Sun’s east end, take US 89 south to MT 49 south, then watch for the Two Medicine entrance (going this direction, you will need to make a very sharp turn onto the park road).

Follow the park road to the end. The boat dock is located next to the parking area. You can’t miss it.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from East Glacier Park Village into Two Medicine, via Montana 49:

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