Photo courtesy of National Park Service
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, the 10th U.S. National Park, located in northwest Montana, is where the American and Canadian Rockies "shake hands," as they say. Bordering Alberta and British Columbia, it has over 1,000,000 acres and covers over 1,500 square miles. With over 700 miles of trails, 762 lakes and 175 mountains, it is truly a spectacular place for escaping from it all.
In the late 1800's, George Grinnell (one of the popular glacial trails is named after him) pushed for the creating of a national park here and President Taft eventually signed it into a bill. With evidence of human use dating back 10,000 years, it is truly a historical wonder.
Over 68 species of animals, from mice to moose inhabit Glacier National Park. You might even see some bighorn sheep by the side of the road or a black or grizzly bear in late summer. There is so much to take in, you can't do it all in one trip.
The park does offer a variety of tours – boat, bus, horseback and guided hiking and rafting trips. A popular one by far is the Red Bus tour, where one can see all the spectacular sites from a 1930's style convertible.
Known as the "Crown of the Continent" and the "Backbone of the World," it is disturbing to know that scientists predict that all of the park's glaciers could be gone by 2020, due to global warming. It is definitely a place of ongoing scientific study.
To view the park's namesakes, there are several popular sections of the park. It might be a good idea to peruse web cams of each area before going, to decide which places are a priority for you. There are several different visitor centers, which offer fee-based shuttles to the sites.
Many Glacier (where the two most popular trails are), North Fork and Goat Haunt are some preferred destinations. Massive mountains, lakes and glacier viewing will take your breath away.
Spanning 50 miles, and going through the main interior of the park, is the very popular Going-to-the-Sun Road. The main highlight, it takes you to Logan Pass, St. Mary Valley and the beautiful Lake McDonald Valley, carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago.
Lake McDonald, the largest at 500 feet deep and 10 miles long is where you will find the Lake McDonald Lodge. Here you can relax by its massive fireplace in the evenings, listening to a ranger-led evening program. Take a scenic boat tour on the DeSmet or hike to the beautiful waterfalls.
Logan Pass, with its bountiful wildflowers carpeting the landscape, is where you'll be at the highest elevation: 6,640 feet. Best to use the shuttle bus to get here, as parking is limited.
St. Mary Valley is home to the Blackfoot Reservation, the Blackfoot Glacier being the largest in the park. Tribal dancers and drummers perform here at this Visitors Center. Some of the best views in the park are here, looking out at Red Eagle Mountain.
Many different lodging options are available at the park – historic hotels from the 1900's to the more modern. There are rustic cabins and backcountry chalets to choose from, too. Dress in layers, as some places in the park could be in the high 90s, while other places are experiencing snow showers.
There are three park entrances. You can arrive by car or Amtrak, or the nearest airports are the Missoula International or even closer, the Glacier Park International at the west entrance and Great Falls International on the east side.
However you arrive, it will be hard to leave the beautiful vast wilderness of Glacier National Park.