In the September 2023 issue of The Trail Journal, William & Christine Dean share their amazing ride to the Ptarmigan Tunnel in Glacier National Park, Montana. If you're planning your own adventure, they have some extra tips to help you stay safe. Keep reading and enjoy the amazing photos taken by William on their ride.
A few words of advice for those who wish to experience this ride. Please have your horse legged up and in reasonable condition. This is for the well-being of both you and your horse. It’s a lot more comfortable for your mount if they’re not busting their lungs on the uphill pulls and staggering around trying to get relief from aching legs. A rider was killed on the Belly River side of the tunnel in 1998 when her horse staggered into her as she was photographing Elizabeth Lake. The horse tripped into her, knocking both of them over the parapet wall.
This is a serious ride in steep country that’s unforgiving. When tacking up the horses, we include “Bear Bells” on them and bear spray on our belts. The bells are to make your presence known to the grizzlies so as not to surprise them, which can lead to a bear encounter. The bells make for a nice jingle bell sound as you ride along, and they must work. We only saw two grizzlies on our entire Glacier 88-mile horseback adventure, and they were a half mile away, running for cover well before we got close. The bear spray is a very powerful pepper spray deterrent that all should carry as we’re riding into their home, and the bears are there! The spray is easy to use and has proven effective in most situations when used correctly. Plus, with the spray, the bear will hopefully stay alive by learning to avoid humans.
Lastly, our personal choice is to carry a last-resort firearm backup. If you choose to carry a firearm, please learn how to use it properly beforehand, as a bear attack is a very poor place to learn. Please note that a grizzly attack on a horse is much rarer than on a person walking. In our saddlebags, we also carry lunch, basic first aid for our horses and us, including tools to remove or straighten a twisted shoe, and Bute to help an injured horse if needed. We recommend shoes or boots for this terrain, and we’ve been known to carry a boot in the event of a shoe pulled off in the rocks. Go early in the day.
Glacier has put a timed entry reservation system in place. The reservation isn’t difficult to get, and the cost is minimal. It’s horse-trailer parking that can be an issue. You don't need the reservation if you enter the park before 6:ooam. You still need a pass for your vehicle, and Mike, Susie, and we all have our America the Beautiful Pass, which counts for your vehicle. It may seem inconvenient, but we’ve found that the rewards of being early in the saddle at sunrise far outweigh being pressed for parking and reservation systems. We went through the park gates at 5:30 a.m.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this ride into Glacier National Park. In sharing this, we wish to inspire our fellow riders to see this country from their own horse. The Horse is one of God’s most magnificent creations, and we would never have experienced Glacier as we did on this horseback adventure without them.
Ride On! Bill & Christine