It’s a magical place that welcomed 3.3 million people in 2017, but still offers solitude. You’ll love the crystal-clear mountain lakes, picturesque Flathead River and waterfalls that beckon via beautiful trails. Your odds of spotting wildlife, including baby critters are excellent. In this article, you’ll find plenty inspiration and information that will help make your trip memorable.
Glacier Park Airport is surrounded by stunning mountains, which is your first clue to the beauty that awaits you. It’s relatively easy to get here, you can get direct flights from the West coast or two-stops from East coast airports. Stay in Columbia Falls, Whitefish or Kalispell to explore Glacier National Park from the West Glacier entrance. If you can stay two weeks, spend the second half of your trip on the East side near Many Glacier or St. Mary’s park entrances.
1. Avoid the Crowds
Summer is busiest time in U.S. national parks. That means you’ll want to plan your trip for September through mid-October to avoid the crowds. Fall offers cooler weather, blue skies and unique fall foliage like, Larch, Aspen and Barberry. Getting up early ensures less traffic and a parking spot at pull-outs, visitor centers, shuttle stops, and trailheads. Popular spots that will always have a few people, but most visitors do not go more than a few miles into the park. Explore trails that fit your skill level, but don’t let longer trails intimidate you. There is no prize for getting there faster, take your time and go as far as you’re comfortable.
2. Stunning Landscapes
Glacier’s vast wilderness offers a dramatic climatic range from plains of grass and sagebrush to the alpine. Low shrubs, herbs, moss, and rocks will mark the alpine zone, where snowy and windy conditions limit tree growth. Many trails take you through all these climates, including emerald forests full of pines, Douglas fir, Aspen, and Larch. Wildflowers are every where, including big beautiful meadows. All these landscapes make a perfect foreground for some of the best mountain views in the continental U.S.
3. Water is Life
There is a lot of water on the west side of the Rockies, which keeps the valleys green and supports life in all forms. There are over 200 waterfalls, some a quick walk, while others take more effort. The many falls, rivers and creeks may slow down in the fall, but provide opportunities to raft, fish or just enjoy the view all year. The 130 named lakes are beautiful settings to enjoy the beach, take a chilly swim or kayak trip.
“Historically Blackfeet view water as a distinct place — a sacred place. It was the home of divine beings and divine animals who taught the Blackfeet religious rituals and moral restrictions on human behavior. It can be compared to Mount Sinai of the Old Testament, which is viewed as “holy ground,” where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.” By Rosalyn R. LaPier on Mar 25, 2017.
Glacier offers a wide variety of trails to explore. You can find more information about our favorite trails in some of my other articles. Here are a few short trips to try (<5 miles): Hidden Lake Overlook, Fishercap Lake/Redrock Falls, St. Mary/Virginia Falls, Avalanche Lake, and Baring Falls. To venture a little farther out try (<10 miles): Iceberg Lake, Siyeh Pass, Bullhead Lake, Dawson Pass, and Piegan Pass. For the ultimate day hike, knowing you’ll need the proper supplies try (10-15 miles): Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier, Switftcurrent Pass, Firebrand Pass, and Numa Ridge Lookout. There are 734 miles of trails in Glacier and to help you narrow your options down, pick up Jake Bramante’s Day Hikes of Glacier National Park Map Guide at http://www.hike.734.com. If you’re hitting the trails, start early and fill a day pack with lunch, snacks, water, filter, toilet paper and zip lock bag. Don’t forget your bear spray! Dress in layers and wear a hat. Remember to leave no trace – Pack it in, Pack it out.
The mountains in Glacier National Park are part of the larger Rockies. There are 150 named mountain peaks over 8,000 feet in three mountain ranges–the Clark Range, Lewis Range, Livingston Range. Four over 10,000 feet with Mount Cleveland el. 10,479 feet being the highest peak in the park. In Glacier, the Continental Divide follows the crest of the Lewis Range from Marias Pass to Flattop Mountain and then swings west to the crest of the Livingston Range, which it follows into Canada. Many of the mountain valleys have a lake or river running through them, making them some of the most beautiful in the U.S.
The wild is what makes Glacier special. Let me tell you that Brown Bears are bigger than you can imagine! We saw our first through a scope and were excited to get a picture that helps us remember the experience. By exploring just a bit, you’ll have the opportunity to see Brown/Black Bears, Moose, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, and Elk. Keep these animals safe by making noise, walking in groups and carrying bear spray. You’re in their home, so stay at least 100 yards away from bears/lions and 25 yards from moose, sheep, goats, and elk. If traveling on trails, all adults should keep bear spray handy and know how to use it. Children should travel between and close to adults, plus it allows you to point out cool rocks and critters! Stop and spend time looking for birds, butterflies, fish, frogs, turtles, and beavers. Look for Pikas and Marmots among the rocks at Logan Pass. To spot the elusive Mountain Lion, Lynx, Fisher, Badger, or Wolverine, you’ll need to travel farther and get lucky. Please help protect God’s creatures, great and small. Helping to protect them and their habitat, will ensure future generations get to experience what you and your family experience today.
These masses of ice, snow, water, rock, and sediment are formed when snow and ice accumulation exceeds summer melting. They “retreat” or shrink when melting outpaces snowfall. These glaciers created the varied valley shapes, carved the mountains and created the lakes and moraines that exist today. As of 2008, there are 35 named Glaciers in the park, including the most visited, Grinnell Glacier. The trail to Grinnell Glacier is a 10.3 mile round trip with a moderately-strenuous 1,700 foot elevation gain. It’s a beautiful trail with amazing views, plus you’ll also get to see a second glacier, Salamander. Jackson Glacier Overlook affords the best opportunity to see a glacier from the road. It’s located on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Logan Pass and St. Mary.
“Worldwide glacier recession is well documented (1,2) and varied model projections suggest that certain studied GNP glaciers will disappear in the next few decades, between 2030 (3) to 2080 (4). USGS scientists in Glacier National Park are collaborating with glaciologist from Alaska and Washington and using emerging technologies to understand glacier-climate interactions to advance the understanding of alpine glaciers.” – USGS
The people who live and work here make visits to Glacier special. Take some time to learn about the first people to call Glacier home. The Blackfeet, Salish and Kootenai native Americans have lived here for over 10,000 years. Park Rangers are stationed at all three Visitor Centers (Apgar, Logan and St. Mary). These sites also have restrooms and parking for trails. While you’re there, ask Park Rangers for maps and advice on the best trails. Plan ahead by checking the National Park’s website for Ranger-led Activities. We highly recommend Glacier’s Dark Skies Star Gazing events. Bill, who manned the Numa Ridge Fire Look-out sheltered us from a hail and sleet storm. Watching that storm was humbling and beautiful. He also told the best stories! Take advantage of the professional guide companies that offer activities for all skill levels: Rafting, Hiking, Biking, Fishing, and Hunting. We had a blast on a Whitewater trip that was great for the whole family. If you like fly fishing or want to learn how, hire a local guide to help you find the best fishing spots in the area. If you ask, I bet your Guides, Hotel/Hosts and Restaurant workers will share their favorite spots in and around Glacier.
Although the timing varies, depending on the weather/snow pack, mid-July through early August is the best time to see wildflowers. Bear grass makes a showy appearance every 5-7 years. We’ve had luck at: Logan Pass, Preston Park, Grinnell Glacier, Cobalt Lake, Stoney Indian Lake, and Red Eagle Lake.
10. Going-to-the-Sun Road
“Imagine the obstacles faced by the engineers and laborers who constructed the winding Going-to-the-Sun Road more than fifty years ago. Sheer cliffs, short construction seasons, sixty foot snow-drifts, and tons of solid rock make road building across the Continental Divide a unique challenge. When Glacier National Park celebrated the completion of the Going-to-the Sun Road on July 15, 1933, more than two decades of planning and construction had become a spectacular reality.” – National Park Service
Going-to-the-Sun Road is an “engineering feat” that provides draw-dropping views. You’ll travel across the park, starting from East Glacier up to Logan Pass then on to West Glacier. Take your time, stop at pull-outs and just enjoy the trip! The driver won’t be able to see as much, so you might consider taking a Red Bus Tour available at http://www.glaciernationalparklodges.com/red-bus-tours. Or you can park the car and take the park’s Shuttle System, which can also provide short-cuts a few trails. Before you go, be sure to check road conditions and vehicle size restrictions. If you’re a strong rider, you can ride your bike on the road. Personally, I wouldn’t ride when cars are present and there are restrictions during the summer. For a short time in Spring, the road opens for bikes-only. Check online to find out the schedule for your visit.
We love Glacier! It’s a special place that deserves our respect and protection. I hope this article has inspired you to visit! If you’ve found inspiration and helpful information about Glacier, please share this post and subscribe below.