Glacier National Park boasts soaring snow-capped mountains, crystal clear alpine lakes, meadows strewn with wild flowers and wildlife galore!
Established in 1910 under President Taft, this Montana park covers over a million acres, its northern border adjoining Canada’s Waterton National Park. The two parks were officially named the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in 1932, a biosphere reserve in 1976, a World Heritage site in 1995, and a dark sky park in 2017. The park is home to 175 mountains (the tallest being Mt. Cleveland at 10,448 feet), 26 glaciers, 563 streams and 762 alpine lakes.
Fortunate are those who get to experience the park’s popular Going-to-the-Sun Road, open late-June through mid-October, weather-permitting. You can drive the road on your own or sign up for a Red Bus Tour in a vintage 1930s open-air car and let the drivers do the work — as they’ve been doing since 1914. The park has a fleet of 33 buses, each of which accommodates 17 passengers. Our Red Bus Tour was cut short last summer because Logan Pass (elevation 6,645 feet) was still blocked by ice and snow. However, what we did see on our tour was so awe-inspiring that no camera could fully capture the actual splendor. Varied tours depart from West Glacier and two from St. Mary’s, ranging from about two and a half to nine hours in length.
On the Water
Boat tours of Lake McDonald, the park’s largest body of water (over nine miles long by one and a half miles wide), are just as exciting. Lake McDonald Lodge, a treasure trove of history that dates to 1913 and sits on the edge of the lake, welcomes overnight and daytime guests. Securing a room in any of the park’s historic lodges, including Belton Chalet (1910) in West Glacier and Glacier Park Lodge (1913) in East Glacier Park, requires booking in advance. The historic lodges offer unique lodging and dining, plus fantastic views of the park in almost every direction. A variety of other hotels, motels and campgrounds are also available, and reservations are a must — especially during the summer. There are restaurants both inside and outside the park, many known for their local cuisine. We got hooked on fresh blueberry pie and ice cream. With blueberries growing wild in the summer season, pie was not the only recipe containing the delicious fruit!
In addition to its stunning scenery, Glacier National Park is a great place to camp, hike, bike and picnic. The park shelters thousands of species of plants and hundreds of species of animals. The park is home to a thriving population of black bears and grizzly bears. They often wander into campgrounds, on nature trails and alongside the road. Visitors are warned to keep a safe distance and exercise caution at all times.
Expect the unexpected in a park that welcomes over three million visitors each year. Sometimes roads and certain areas close for repairs and weather. Last summer, thousands of acres fell victim to raging forest fires, and some sites closed early. Also, keep in mind that the park’s glaciers are receding at an alarming rate and may disappear altogether in a few decades.
You can reach Glacier National Park by car, plane or train. If you’re embarking on a cross country road trip, include the park on your itinerary. You can also fly to Kalispell, a 35-mile drive to the West Glacier entrance. In addition, Amtrak Vacations, a AAA preferred partner, provides varied rail itineraries that include Glacier National Park.
Exclusive benefits alert! AAA Members save $50 per booking on 5-night (or longer) Amtrak Vacations packages. Call 800-398-0379 for details!
(Photos courtesy of Xanterra Travel Collection)
(Go Magazine May/June 2018)