Finding Paradise in Hungry Horse

After our two weeks were up at Whitefish State Park Campground, we headed out towards Swan Lake and Big Fork. Both are towns near Whitefish and are known for incredible camping, rafting and the like. We found ourselves right smack dab in the middle of summer, which is heavy tourist season. We didn’t have any reservations. As we pulled into campground after campground, talking with the host at the gate asking if anything was open, we started to realize that our options were thinning.

We had both kids, two dogs, our van and car packed tight with clothing, gear, food and water driving in tandem. Hours went by and our window to finding a site was closing.

It was approaching 4pm, which is the latest we would normally shoot to set up camp. The kids would start getting tired soon and hungry! So we decided we needed to switch gears and head back towards Whitefish over towards Glacier National Park to a place also know for epic camping, Hungry Horse Reservoir.

As we drove along we realized we were heading somewhere very special. We crossed this incredible dam. It’s one of the top ten tallest in the U.S. at an impressive 564 feet. We saw an enormous Osprey’s nest with the huge bird perched inside of it overlooking the beautiful and expansive view of the lake.

We stopped into a few campgrounds along the way. Of course, they were completely full. We thought we should find a place along the road to pitch our tent in hopes of finding a better spot in the morning.

We pulled our cars down this heavily rutted dirt road that appeared to lead us into the woods to nowhere.

As we drove slowly through the entrance, we realized that there was a small campsite vacant right next to the river. We pulled in and plopped out gear down, relieved we had something. Then, decided to check the rest of the area out. We started walking down the dirt road towards the end to see what else was there. After a few minutes, the area opened wide with the most incredible view of the water and mountains I had ever seen. We saw a few tents pitched next to the beach and saw someone sitting there in the water drinking a beer. As we walked up to him, he turned his head with this beaming smile. With his arms raised, he exclaimed, “isn’t this paradise?”

Ryan and I were wide eyed and just in aw over this place we found. We could only respond dumbfounded and in shock saying something like, “oh my god!! We cannot believe you have this all to yourself!”

He replied, “I know!! There are only two other guys staying down here and we have had this private oasis with the most beautiful weather. It’s unreal!!”

Then he said, “we are all leaving tomorrow. If you want to take our spot right here on the beach, it’s all yours.”

We were giddy to say the least. Let me put it this way, you know that movie with Leonardo Di Caprio, The Beach? This place was just like that private island in the movie. It’s this perfect lagoon cut into the mountains with the most calming water that went out for miles and the best part is you could kayak for hours and not see another person. This rushing river ran through our site towards the opening providing us with a breathtaking view and fresh clean water to wash in and even drink! Yes, locals actually drink straight from this source without filtering!

After the guys all left, we quickly set up our camp and we immediately went into super psyched vacation mode. Luckily, we brought a really nice inflatable kayak and paddles with us. The guys left us some large flotation devices too. They said they couldn’t take them back with on their flights. Score!!!

Over the next fourteen days, the maximum we were allowed to stay, we kayaked, cooked right on the beach, swam, fished, lounged and enjoyed this magical place. I had never felt so free and one with nature as I did in these two weeks.

We saw beaver, bear, deer and lots of fish. There were two bald eagles that nested right near us and everyday we watched them soaring the area. One night I even caught one of them chasing after another large bird for a long time. They flew in circles in the sky for about fifteen minutes, screaming at each other. Both were so incredibly exhausted that eventually the eagle gave up and flew back to it’s nest. I watched bats swooping down in broad daylight to drink up some lake water. I saw Dylan learn to paddle board on his very first try. He loved it!

Caleb often walked around without clothes on. The boys threw rocks endlessly in the water and played with sticks and mud. They woke up with the water and fell asleep to the sounds of it crashing around us. It was a dream. Even our two huskies had the chance to run free off leash with no other dogs around to bother them. Frankie hates other dogs, so he has never really been able to do this. It was total bliss.

One evening there was a huge storm. For two days, we had received warnings about flash floods and lightening storms that threatened the area. Lucky for us, a couple of locals staying in RV’s ended up camping just up the road. It was the first time we had people close by in a while and we were pretty happy to have their company. Besides the fact that they knew about this storm coming, they were so incredibly nice and thoughtful. They suggested that we stay with them inside their RV while the storm passed. Caleb was already asleep in the tent and to wake him now would mean none of us were going to get any sleep for the night. Plus, we had our two dogs who could not be left alone in the tent. We decided to risk it and stay put. The rain was intense, the lightening was booming just above us and winds were howling at like 30-40 miles per hour. It was scary! Caleb did end up waking up and the kids seemed pretty frightened. Honestly, so were we.

We heard someone calling to us just outside our tent. It was our friendly neighbors. They were begging us to come back to their RV. They had just seen really big pine trees falling over around us. We definitely considered it and we probably should have. The only reason I can come up with for why we didn’t was that we just couldn’t see how we could bring our wet and muddy dogs and kids into their RV and make it work. Who didn’t know how long the storm would last. We didn’t know how long our tent and gear would either. But we waited it out some more.

Eventually things calmed down, after a couple of hours. In the morning, we could see the fallen trees, the higher water level and that our gear was pretty soaked. I pulled everything out to dry it in the overcast sky. Fingers crossed that it would work.

I thought I should go bike a few miles up the road to check my cell phone for any messages. It had been days since any news on our B&B business plan or our house sale. When I finally reached the area where I knew there was signal, I pulled over checked my phone and there was a message from one of our realtors. She said we had an offer on the house back in Oakland. It was a great offer in fact. Overly excited but also relieved for a number of reasons, I headed back down to our little slice of paradise and gave Ryan the good news. Things were starting to move along!!

(to be continued…..)

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