Travel Guide: Overview of Glacier National Park in Montana

Glacier National Park is a picturesque wild region in the northern Rocky Mountains of northwestern Montana, United States, bordering Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. The title “Crown of the Continent” fits this pair of parks, which include the best mountain views in North America. Glacier National Park in Montana and Watertown Lakes National Park in Alberta offers an adjacent high-country wonderland of rock, ice, water, and wood. They were merged around 1932 as the world’s first global harmony park.

Glacier National Park follows the Continental Divide, the incredible edge of the Rocky Mountains that marks the boundary between seepage frameworks to the west (to the Pacific Ocean) and seepage frameworks to the east (to Hudson Bay and the Mississippi River). It gets its name from the numerous glaciers and icy forces that shaped its rugged geology over 2,000,000 years.  In 1976, it was designated as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1995, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Get to know Glacier National Park

Tourism NPS
Source: Travel triangle

Glacier National Park, established in 1910, encompasses 1,583 square miles (4,101 square kilometers), 33 percent of which is above the tree line. The Flathead River and Flathead National Forest border it on the west and southwest, the Lewis and Clark National Forest on the southeast, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on the east. Salish and later Blackfoot Indians once lived in the area now occupied by the recreation area.

Although new settlers were primarily interested in earning enough money to pay the land’s rent during the 1800s and mid-to-late 1900s, appreciation for the land’s natural beauty grew as wellTraveler offices began to be built shortly after the turn of the century. The Great Northern Railway (whose rail line ran along the recreation area’s southern line) built several inns and small hotels (called chalets) throughout the recreation area, the majority of which were only accessible by climbing or horseback; only a few of them are still in use.

Travel guide to Glacier National Park

Rocky Mountains, Montana
Source: Unsplash

The east side of Glacier is bounded by the Blackfeet Nation and reservation towns such as East Glacier, which cater to park visitors. Right outside East Glacier is breathtaking but lesser-known, part of the recreation area: Two Medicine, where the Blackfeet once attempted holy soul-changing experiences. Trails wind around three lakes and along a rivulet to Running Eagle Falls, which spouts through a massive stone opening.

St. Mary is located at the eastern end of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Aside from a hotel, lodges, and a few restaurants, the village provides another public park visitor focus. Two Dog Flats, a large verdant area just past the recreation area entrance, is an excellent place to look for bears or elk. Boat trips through St. Mary Lake lasts about an hour and a half, and they depart from a drifting dock at Rising Sun Campground.

Places to see in Glacier National Park

Many Glaciers, another long valley, offers some of the recreation area’s most well-known climbs, including a 5.5-mile trail to the base of Grinnell Glacier and a moderately easy hike to Ptarmigan Falls (2.5 miles). Beautiful boat rides on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine include a quarter-mile climb between the two. Kayaks, kayaks, and rowboats can all be rented.

Two privately-owned companies operate mechanized visits within the recreation area. The incredible Red Bus Tours operates in one-of-a-kind, oak-outlined 1930s vehicles, and the Blackfeet-claimed and worked Sun Tours interpret the recreation area from a genuine Native American perspective. Guests should be aware that Glacier is bear country, with both black and grizzly bears.

In the winter, the public park is mostly covered. However, nearby Whitefish, Montana, is a hotspot for cold-weather sports, with a ski and snowboard resort ranked in the top ten in the United States by Ski Magazine. It also hosts a variety of other winter activities.

How to get to Glacier National Park?

Travel guide
Source: Glacier National Park Travel Guide

Glacier National Park is located between West Glacier and St. Mary in Montana’s northwest corner. While it may be a little out of the way on a cross-country trip, there are several ways to get to this Rocky Mountain park. The Glacier Park International Airport is located in Kalispell, Montana, about 30 miles from the recreation area’s West Entrance.¬† If you prefer to travel by train, the Amtrak Empire Builder rail line stops right in Glacier National Park at West Glacier, Essex, and East Glacier. Whitefish, to the west, and Browning, to the east, are both nearby stops.

If you’re driving, the main highways to Glacier National Park are Interstate 90 from east to west and Interstate 15 from north to south. US Highway 2 runs along the recreation area’s southern boundary, providing access to the West Glacier, Walton, and East Glacier passageways. On the east side of the recreation area, US Highway 89 connects with the Many Glacier, St. Mary, and Two Medicine passageways.

Things to do in Glacier National Park

When it comes to activities in Glacier National Park, the exercises and events vary depending on the season you visit. Glacier National Park is all about the landscape, no matter when you visit. The sharp pinnacles and steep valleys of this part of Montana, known as “The Crown of the Continent” and “The Backbone of the World,” combine with clear waters and wildflower-filled knolls to produce fantastic views. During your visit to the recreation area, you can see this incredible view from a scenic drive, a day climb, on a pony’s back, on a boat ride, on a bicycle, or while drifting down the Flathead River.

Climbing and hiking, observing wild animals, directed visits, officer-led programs, setting up camp, photography, trekking, fishing, sailing, and cross-country skiing are all examples of exercises.

Best Hikes and Trails in Glacier National Park

montana-glacier-national-park
Source: PlanetWare

Many visitors drive the grand circle around Glacier and never leave their vehicle, seeing only a minuscule portion of what Glacier National Park has to offer. With over 700 miles of climbing trails to explore, whether you’re looking for a daring day climb or total isolation in the backwoods, there are plenty of options.

Highline Trail: This 11-mile trail is regarded as one of the most impressive in the recreation area, embracing the Garden Wall and providing clear views of the valley below. It’s also simple to get to because you can leave from either the Logan Pass Visitor Center or the Loop right off the Going-to-the-Sun Road and then return to your vehicle.

Grinnell Glacier Trail: This 10-mile hike through Many Glacier passes by snow-capped lakes, open knolls, and the eponymous icy mass. The trail begins near the Many Glacier Hotel on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. To cut down on climbing time, take a ship from the inn across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, cutting 3 miles off the total excursion.

Meet the Wildlife

Things to do in Galcier National Park
Source: Great Falls Tribune

Many visitors who drive or hike through Glacier National Park enjoy looking for wildlife along the roads and trails. The National Parks Service even offers officer-led programs to help visitors identify the various types of vegetation that live in the Rocky Mountains. The enormous creatures are dangerous and should be appreciated safely, so make sure to review the NPS’ bear security rules before you go. Chipmunks, marmots, and Clark’s nutcrackers are more modest creatures that can be very entertaining and appreciated up close. Wild bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, dark wolves, elk, cougars, waterway otters, and ptarmigans are just a few of the animals you might see on your hike through the recreation area.

Fishing

Things to do in Glacier National Park
Source: POPSUGAR

Fishing is allowed in Glacier National Park without a permit, but there are strict rules about when, where, and what you can catch to protect the natural environment. The fishing season generally lasts from the third Saturday in May until the end of November, with a few areas closing when the fish are spawning. Fishermen, in particular, are simply permitted to keep invasive species. If you bring any local fish to the area, you are expected to return them to the water.

Trekking

Things to do in Glacier National Park
Source: Off the beaten path

From the seat of your bicycle, take in the scenery of Glacier National Park. The trekking season begins in April and continues throughout the spring as the snow melts and the streets are furrowed.¬†Trekking the Going-to-the-Sun Trail Sun Road includes some long uphill stretches with around 3,000 feet of elevation gain between the Avalanche Campground and Logan Pass, so plan your route ahead of time so you know exactly what you’re getting into. Plan your rides to start and end at transportation stops so that if you don’t want to ride back to your vehicle or campground, you can stack your bicycle on the van and catch a ride.

All streets in the recreation area, including the Going-to-the-Sun Road, are open to bicycles and vehicles, so ride cautiously and with a protective cap. Parts of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are closed to cyclists from mid-June to Labor Day weekend. This is to keep traffic moving. However, different streets with fewer vehicles are open. Most unpaved climbing trails are forbidden to bikers.

Cross-country Skiing

If Glacier National Park didn’t have cross-country skiing, it wouldn’t live up to its name. Winter is an especially enchanted time to visit Glacier, not just because it is completely different from what most visitors find in the hotter months, but also because you can explore the recreation area without crowds of travelers.

Upper Lake McDonald is one of the most well-known skiing areas in the recreation area because it has consistent snow and is surprisingly easy to access. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is open to vehicles in winter up to the Lake McDonald Lodge and then closes; however, the course can be completed on skis or snowshoes. McDonald Falls is only two miles away from the Lodge. If you’re visiting during the colder months and aren’t sure about hitting the trails alone, you can join officer-led snowshoe excursions to fully experience the frigid landscape.

Drive along beautiful scenic roads

shuttledriver travel
Source: NPS

While any drive through Glacier National Park promises to be breathtaking, the most popular route is inextricably linked to the park itself: the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This 50-mile route begins at the recreation area’s West Entrance in West Glacier, Montana, and crosses the Continental Divide before departing in St. Mary. It takes about two hours to complete if you go straight through, but factor in a couple of extra hours for effortlessly appealing perspectives, picture taking, and climbing.

Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road can be nerve-racking for a long time because it is a narrow, two-lane road with steep drop-offs. Similarly, traffic is frequently held up for summer street development or natural life, making progress across the recreation area slow and stopping at turnouts and visitor centers limited. As a result, to reduce traffic, Glacier National Park provides free transportation along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are no service stations along the course or within the recreation area, so fill up before entering. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most difficult snowplow routes in the country, and it takes months to complete each year.

Where to Stay in Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park is a three-hour drive from Missoula, which may be considered the closest large city. Regardless, there are numerous convenient options near the recreation area in nearby towns such as Whitefish or Kalispell.

Many Glacier Hotel: One of the inn options located within the recreation area boundaries, the Many Glacier Hotel has the feel of a European retreat set in the Swiss Alps. It’s a documented structure dating back to the 1910s railroad days, and the lodging clings to its underlying foundations by limiting modern conveniences like TV or cooling.

Cedar Creek Lodge: A popular choice for families, Cedar Creek Lodge has take-out beds in the rooms, WiFi to keep kids entertained, and a variety of food options nearby for picky eaters. It’s a short distance from the West Entrance in Columbia Falls.

Afterword

Glacier National Park northern lights
Source: Wallpaper flare

Montana’s Glacier, the country’s tenth public park, crams 1 million acres of land with ice sheet cut pinnacles and valleys, perfect turquoise lakes and streams, and thick antiquated timberlands for all to enjoy. For many people, late June to mid-September is the best time to visit Glacier, because they need to drive the Going to the Sun Road, pontoon and fish the waterways, climb the paths, visit the backwoods Chalets, and explore a few regions of the recreation area on both sides of the Continental Divide.

When can you expect to see the Northern Lights in Glacier National Park?
Polar lights can be seen in Glacier National Park at any time of year. Regardless, the longer evenings of pre-winter, winter, and late winter provide the best opportunities to witness a spectacular light show. The busiest times are from about an hour before 12 p.m. to about an hour later.

 

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