The native Blackfeet people called this area the "Shining Mountains" and the "Backbone of the World," fitting descriptions for the dramatic landscape in Glacier National Park. One of the "crown jewels" of the National Park Service will celebrate its centennial next year, but any year is a great time to experience Glacier. These tips from the Traveler will help you make the most of your visit.
• Take a hike. Often described as a hiker's paradise, Glacier has over 700 miles of trails, ranging from challenging backcountry treks to wheelchair accessible, self-guiding walks. The short hikes at Hidden Lake, Sun Point, and the Trail of the Cedars will give you a good sample of the dramatically different ecosystems found in the park.
• Take a scenic drive. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most spectacular highways in the world. Although you may be able to drive the 50 miles non-stop in about 2 hours, it deserves much longer, to allow for scenic stops and short hikes. See the park website for essential information about opening and closing dates and details about construction work that will be on-going for several years. Other prime destinations include the roads into Many Glacier and Two Medicine, on the east side of the park.
• Use the free park shuttle or take a bus tour. Let someone else do the driving so everyone in your group can enjoy the scenery, especially along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You'll cut down on traffic congestion and avoid concerns about finding a parking space at popular stops such as Logan Pass. These "Bus tours" don't mean a huge, big-city conveyance; they include refurbished models of the historic "red buses" that have been used in the park since the 1930s.
• Attend a ranger-guided hike or program. You can download a schedule for the current season.
• Take a boat trip. Glacier is home to some spectacular mountain lakes, and park concessioners offer boat trips on several of them. You can also bring your own canoe, kayak or small power boat for use in the park. Check the park website for important details, including restrictions on power boat use on park waters. The water is very cold year-round, so always wear a life jacket aboard a small boat.
• Make it an international trip. Glacier's Canadian counterpart, Waterton Lakes National Park, adjoins Glacier to the north, and is well worth the trip. While you're there, allow time for the scenic boat trip down Waterton Lake and back across the border to Goat Haunt. Consider a meal with a world-class view in the dining room of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton. (Lunch is less expensive and has the same great view.) Just don't forget your passport for the border crossing.
• Spend the night. Better yet, spend several—you'll need the time to see this park! Glacier has 13 developed campgrounds plus great opportunities for backcountry camping. If you prefer an indoor stay, the park has a number of lodging options, including historic hotels and backcountry chalets. There's a wide range of accommodations in the surrounding area.
• Snap some photos. Glacier offers endless opportunities for scenic and wildlife photography. The scene of Wild Goose Island, near St. Mary on the park's east side, is said to be one of the most-photographed views in the country. Another favorite is nearby--the view from Sun Point. For best shots of the park's lakes, try early morning, when the water is more likely to be calm and reflect the mountain peaks.
• Watch the wildlife--or wildflowers.. Glacier is home to "over 70 species of mammals including the grizzly bear, wolverine, gray wolf and lynx. Over 260 species of birds visit or reside in the park, including such varied species as harlequin ducks, dippers and golden eagles." Remember to stay a safe distance from wild animals, and check the park website for tips on bear safety.
• Attend a birthday party. Glacier celebrates its centennial in 2010. The park website includes information about special events that are being planned to mark the occasion.
• Check the calendar. Although the park is open year-round, winters are long, and prime locations at higher elevations, such as Logan Pass, aren't accessible until about mid-June. The park is busiest from then until mid-August. If your schedule allows, plan a trip in late August or early September, when the weather is often at its best and the park is much less crowded.
For more detailed information, visit the Glacier National Park website. Visit this site for a park map and other relevant materials, including the park newspaper, the ranger-led activities schedule, and regulations for various outdoor recreational activities.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK FUND
The Glacier National Park Fund helps to fund a wide range of work and projects at the park. For example, it has obtained and installed bear-proof storage lockers in front country campgrounds, worked to make trails ADA accessible, funded education programs for school children, and helped to raise funds for wildlife research.