Room with a view

Author Aaron Theisen takes in the view at one of 125 hiking destinations in his Day Hiking book.

Fall is a fine time for hiking as well as planning next season’s trips. New guidebooks devoted to trails and adventuring published this season feature expert insight on getting to some of the Northwest’s top wild outdoor attractions.

Two well-researched guides, published by Mountaineers Books of Seattle, pave the way to day hiking in Western Montana and family adventuring in Glacier National park. 

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Day hiking book

“Day Hiking: Glacier National Park and Western Montana” ($18.95) by Aaron Theisen. Website: aarontheisen.com

For more than two years, Spokane author-photographer Aaron Theisen recruited friends and dodged wildfires as he logged thousands of miles by vehicle and hundreds by foot to research roughly 175 choice walking routes in Western Montana.

Then he had another problem. Beyond the time commitment and physical challenges, the hardest single task was narrowing his treks to the 125 trips he’d include in his new book that emphasizes Glacier National Park and beyond.

“Of all the hikes I checked out, there’s only one that I wouldn’t recommend,” he said, noting that the region is rich with trails, scenery, wildlife and wildness. “It’s no wonder Western Montana is a hot commodity in the recreation world.”

Theisen, 38, chose to highlight trips from the Lookout Pass area off Interstate 90 and ranging as far as Nez Perce Pass off US 93 at the southern end of the Bitterroots. He highlights the Mission and Swan ranges and the Cabinet Mountains, plus a core of more than 20 delectable hikes in Glacier Park.

The “At a glance” chart at the front of the book helps readers sort out the easy hikes from the thigh-burners and seek out other attractions such as fishing, waterfalls and pet-friendly treks. Maps with GPS-generated tracks detail each route.

Hiking in grizzly bear country factored into the former science writer’s research logistics.

“When I had to go alone, I picked areas where I felt comfortable hiking solo, places like the northern Bitterroot Mountains and southern Cabinets where the likelihood of running into a grizzly are lower than in some areas,” he said.

On the other hand, it’s not difficult in Glacier Park to heed expert advice to hike with a group.

“Turns out, it’s really easy to recruit someone to hike with you in Glacier, so I rarely went solo there,” he said. “Nobody has to be alone on some of the popular trails. Avalanche Lake, Hidden Lake overlook and the Highline Trail are going to have people on them. It wasn’t uncommon to meet a solo hiker, strike up a conversation, and become a duo on the trail.”

Day hiking precludes the need of competing for coveted backcountry campsites in Glacier. Getting reservations for campground base camps within the park is a good idea, although options can be found for spontaneous camping that don’t require idling outside a campground waiting for someone to leave a space.

“Bowman Lake and Two Medicine areas still aren’t terribly crowded,” he said. “And there are camping and accommodation alternatives immediately outside the park, such as Hungry Horse Reservoir and the Whitefish Range.”

Jesse Hansen of Whitefish, one of the many friends Theisen tapped as hiking companions and models, adds a flair to several otherwise standard scenes in the book’s great photos.

One of the most eye catching is her high-flying kung fu fighter pose for a snowy late-autumn shot at Link Lake.

“But I’ve probably got the most response to my photo of Jesse sitting partly submerged on ice at Iceberg Lake,” he said. “People say it was cruel and she must have been so cold. But, hey, I was up to my chest in that ice water to get the photo.

“A lot of times, people are very serious; they get to a viewpoint and pose reverently eating a granola bar and looking out over the scenery. That’s cool, but I also like to point out that hiking is fun, and when you spend as many days on the trail as I do, it’s refreshing to let it out a little. I often have Bota Box wine to share a toast on a summit with friends who join me.”

Missoula and Kalispell are likely the biggest markets for this book, but the trails covered are worthy destinations for hikers farther away.

“I never felt it was a waste of time to travel from Spokane to knock off a few of these hikes in a trip,” Theisen said. “We’re so spoiled in the places we can reach in three or four hours. I make ends meet by tenting or sleeping in my car.”

The Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness is among the least-visited special places he discovered in his research.

“Take Terrace Lake,” he said. “It blew us away, yet there’s virtually nothing online or in print about the wilderness,” which is managed in a low-key way by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “The drive up the road almost blew up our car, too.”

This summer was the first in six years that Theisen hadn’t been working on a book project.

“But I tend to live the same lifestyle regardless,” he said, noting that he’s found hiking to be, above all, therapeutic. “I’m heading into the Swan Range — again — tomorrow.”

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McAllister family

The McAllister family has visited several national parks to provide information on traveling with families.

“Adventuring with Kids: Glacier National Park” ($16.95) by Harley and Abby McAllister. Website: our4outdoors.com

Harley and Abby McAllister of Spokane have walked the walk with their four boys over the past 17 years. Now they’re helping other families get kids outdoors. Their expertise at researching, compiling and presenting useful information is outstanding, as displayed in their entire Adventuring with Kids guidebook series.

“When a family goes to a national park, it’s a big investment in time and money,” Harley said. “The books help get the most of it.”

Having already published Adventuring with Kids guidebooks for Yellowstone and Utah’s “big five” national parks, the new Glacier Park edition clearly sorts out the park’s offerings and best bets.

Travelers can benefit from checklists and sample itineraries to get the most out of one-day or multiday visits. The McAllisters filter out the best of the Park Service offerings and the most interesting activities an active family can do on its own.

They don’t just tell you to get the family out of the car. They explain why, where and how to maximize the chance to be involved with nature and critters during physical and educational activities.

Have a plan before you go, and also go with a Plan B, they say. Bring the essentials. Start easy and leave extra time. Those are just the starting points they flesh out.

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Glacier book

The McAllisters launched into the Adventuring with Kids guidebook series in 2014 after they’d returned from years of teaching at a Christian school in the Dominican Republic.

“Being away made us appreciate public lands we’d taken for granted growing up in the West,” Harley said.

The couple’s welcome-home gift to their family of four boys upon returning to the states was six weeks of touring Yellowstone and Utah national parks.

But they found a dearth of info for families.

“We figured that if we were having so much trouble researching our trip, other families must be in the same boat,” he said.

They rolled up their sleeves and dug into it, online and in person.

“After doing all that research for ourselves, we wanted to share it with others,” Abby said.

The best thing they can do for the future of national parks is to encourage the next generation to visit, value and protect public lands, Harley said.

Many basic tips and checklists they lay out are applicable to taking kids to any outdoor destination, but each national park has its unique virtues and challenges. For Glacier, as well as Yellowstone, their books divide the parks into four regions, focusing camping and activities to minimize driving.

“Otherwise, you can spend too much of your time in a car,” Harley said.

Having kids spread in age from a toddler to a teen was no problem in Glacier Park, Abby said, noting several strategies. They sometimes split up.

“At Grinnell, for example, we all took the boat ride across the lake,” she said. “While dad and the oldest hiked up to the glacier, mom and the youngest poked around the lake trails.

“Our books point out things that are especially interesting to younger kids and so on, but our kids find something on each trail to challenge and interest them despite their age differences, so we don’t split up often.”

Traveling with kids is more about the journey than about the destination, she said.

In Glacier Park, the McAllister boys were captivated by things like waterfalls and wildflowers. In the five parks in Utah, they were especially attracted to the open spaces and rocks where they could climb and scramble.

After publishing their first parks book, Abby said she worried that she wouldn’t have anything new to put in the following books.

“But as I researched, I was surprised at how different each park is and how different the planning needs to be,” she said, noting that the family has just finished two years of research on an “Adventuring with Kids: Yosemite” guidebook.

“You can read stuff online, but you realize how little you know when you get there and start researching in person,” Abby said.

The National Park Service Junior Ranger Program has been a hit with the McAllister boys, “but the parks don’t do much else specifically for kids, or at least you have to dig to find it,” Harley said.

By word of mouth, they discovered an unadvertised, ranger-led star-watching program to take advantage of clear skies in the Utah parks.

A campground host, not a visitor center staffer, tipped them to a bat monitoring research outing.

“The kids thought it was really exciting to be involved in bat research. But we had to ask specific questions based on our research in order to be involved,” Abby said.

Although growing teens will soon be leaving the McAllister nest, there’s hope for more Adventuring with Kids books to come.

“We’re in the process of adopting four more kids from Colombia, ages 6 to 10, including a girl,” Harley said. “That’s how dedicated we are to this book project.

“We want to provide resources for planning memorable family experiences that help connect kids to the outdoors.”

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