Glacier National Park
Bear grass on Logan Pass, photo copyright Tony Bynum, Tony Bynum Photography
Sweeping, grandiose landscapes are a staple of many of the West's iconic national parks, and among those Glacier easily stands out when you look from horizon to horizon atop Logan Pass.
While Glacier's name evokes images of rivers of ice, spend time in this park in northern Montana and you'll find jagged rock bands that help define the Continental Divide, aspen glades, stands of an unusual evergreen -- larch -- that loses its needles in winter, temperate rainforest, and even gorges carved by snowmelt. Avalanche Creek cuts one such gorge, throttling snowmelt spilled from the glaciers that pour their icy waters into Avalanche Lake down two miles to McDonald Creek.
While they say Glacier's namesake glaciers are on the wane and could be gone by 2030, maybe sooner, even without its rivers of ice this park tucked up along the Montana-Canada border is a rugged masterpiece that begs exploration. This rugged, out-of-the-way slice of Rocky Mountain West is part of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, and standing atop Logan Pass you can understand why. In all directions are jagged peaks, glacially sculpted basins, fields of snow, and mountain goats.
True, its backcountry is roamed by grizzlies and wolves, challenging and demanding in its ruggedness, and definitely not the place for neophytes. Yet there are plenty of front-country vistas and day hikes to entice the novice. You can walk through a dense forest along a crashing creek, make your way across an alpine meadow flecked with lupines, asters and bear grass, paddle across one of the park's 131 named lakes, or count mountain goats back on Logan Pass.
Spend any time in this breathtaking park and you won't be disappointed, whether you're hiking off into the backcountry, spending a night in one of its historic high-country lodges, or simply enjoying a boat ride across Lake McDonald.
Known as the Backbone of the World to the Blackfeet Nation, the rugged landscape of Glacier attracted the attention of the Great Northern Railway in the early 1890s. Though the railroad was simply seeking a route to the West Coast, its president saw in the rugged, alp-like landscape the potential for tourism.
The native Blackfeet people called this area the "Shining Mountains" and the "Backbone of the World," fitting descriptions for the dramatic landscape you'll find in Glacier National Park. These tips from the Traveler will help you make the most of your visit.
Glacier, like so many of the Western parks, is an open-air showcase of geology. Scan the horizon and you can see the effects of long-ago glaciers, glaciers still at work, and landscapes in various stages of healing in the wake of the scraping and freeze-thaw cycling of glaciers.