Fire Season Update

In Montana, we like to say that if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. What we’re usually joking about is Montana’s tendency — particularly in the spring and the fall — to go from sun to snow to hail to wind to sun to calm to storming all over the course of an afternoon. This time of year, during fire season, we like to say that if you don’t like the current smoke conditions, wait 5 minutes. The winds that sweep down from the Continental Divide have a tendency to move smoke in and out of areas as quickly as the weather conditions change in the shoulder seasons. Currently, we have strong winds and a chance of rain in the forecast. So, our fingers are crossed that we will be moving on from fire season to fabulous fall very soon.

Sprague Fire

But it’s true that this year, Montana fire season is definitely putting the adventure in Adventure Travel. We wrote about the Sprague Fire, located in Glacier National Park, when it first got going and closed Sperry Chalet. Today, Lake McDonald Lodge, located just down the drainage from Sperry Chalet, also closed due to air quality concerns resulting from the smoke. No people or structures are threatened by the fire. Because of the thermal belt that drops into the mountains each night, air quality in the evenings and early morning hours has recently been measured as hazardous at night. That isn’t great for overnight employees or guests, which is why the Lodge is closing.

Lake McDonald Lodge, before fire season. NPS Photo.

Lake McDonald Lodge, before fire season. NPS Photo.

The park also has an air quality monitoring station in Apgar, which is 9 miles down the road from Lake McDonald Lodge. The Apgar readings have recently fluctuated between “good” and “moderate,” which underlines that poor air quality appears to be concentrated in a very small geographic area of the park near the Lake McDonald Lodge area. The Sprague Fire itself is currently 2,097 acres.  Glacier National Park is 1,013,322 acres in size.

Adventuring As Usual

During the day, air quality levels have generally improved in the Lake McDonald Lodge area. Because of that, the Park Service has not asked Swan Mountain Outfitters, which offers trail rides in the Lake McDonald area, to close, and they are operating as usual. Horseback riding is a classic Montana experience, and their guides and stock are top notch. We love partnering with Swan Mountain on our combination Saddle and Paddle adventure, too.

Horseback Rides in Glacier Park

Horseback riding with Swan Mountain Outfitters, near Lake McDonald.

Glacier Park Boat Co., which offers unique tours of Lake McDonald on the historic DeSmet, is also operating from the Lake McDonald Lodge dock. In response to the air quality measurements, the Boat Company is adjusting its tour schedule. Tours will leave today through September 24th at 1:30pm, 3:00pm, and 5:00pm, in order to take advantage of the best air quality throughout the day. Last day of rentals and tours for their Apgar and Rising Sun locations is Labor Day; Two Medicine is Sept. 9; and Many Glacier Sept. 17.

The DeSmet on Lake McDonald before fire season.

The DeSmet on Lake McDonald. Photo courtesy Glacier Park Boat Co.

Classic Red Bus tours of the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, which remains fully open, are also carrying on as normal. However, if you were scheduled for pickup or drop off on a Red Bus tour at Lake McDonald, you’ll now be departing from the Apgar Transit Center.

West Glacier Activities

Glacier Guides and Montana Raft is located just outside of West Glacier, about 15 miles from Lake McDonald Lodge, and we are also carrying on with adventuring! Fire season is part of living in the American West, and very few of our trips leave from the Lake McDonald area. For the ones that do, we have a good Plan B. Most of our hiking and backpacking happens on the east side of Glacier National Park. Our fishing and rafting trips are located on the Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River, and the fishing’s been great.

Celebrating a smoke free day in Glacier National Park fire season.

Happy guests celebrating a recent smoke free day on the Highline Trail. Photo by Guide Melissa Scott.

We’re sad that Sperry and Lake McDonald Lodge are closed due to fire season, but we’re still looking forward to September, which is traditionally our favorite month of the year in the park. Fire season never lasts forever, but you can keep up with the Sprague Fire news here.  If you’re looking for gorgeous fall hikes, check out our recent recommendations. If you need help planning or rearranging your September trip to Glacier National Park, give us a call — we’re always happy to help. 406-387-5555. See you on the rivers and the trails!