Glacier National Park is located in the state of Montana in the U.S.A. It shares a border with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. Together the two parks make up the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park. We highly recommend visiting both parks if you have time.
Glacier is really a hiking park at heart, there are over 700 miles of trails. Very few roads have been made in order to maintain the unspoiled beauty. The total area of the park is 1.2 million acres. It’s full of mountain ranges, deep valleys and over two hundred lakes that have been formed by the more than 60 glaciers that remain. The park has an abundance of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves and cougars. It also has many species of plants and birds. If hiking is not your thing some other activities you can partake in are white water rafting, fishing and horseback riding.
It’s worthwhile to take a drive out to the location of the Many Glacier Hotel. The hotel is a historical building that sits on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. The picturesque lake offers views of Mount Gould, Grinnell Point and Mount Wilbur. This lake is a center for activities in the Many Glacier Valley. There are trails that lead around the lake or you can hike to Grinnell Glacier. Numerous types of boat rentals are available or you can hire a boat to take you to a back country trailhead.
Going To The Sun Road
One of the highlights of Glacier National Park is the Going To The Sun Road. It is a 52 mile drive that bisects the park and crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass at a height of over 6600 feet. This road would certainly be included in a list of the most spectacular drives in North America. It takes you through amazing mountain views and past several waterfalls. One of the waterfalls comes right down onto the pavement, you can get a free car wash as you go past.
This is a narrow road that has blind corners and tight hairpin bends. It’s described as the “don’t look down road” and for good reason. The cliff edge has sharp drop offs that can make even the most confident driver feel a bit anxious. Vehicles over 21 feet in length or wider than 8 feet are prohibited from driving on the road. The incline gets steeper as you go along and there continues to be less and less road space. We only drove the road in one direction from east to west so our vehicle was in the lane hugging the mountainside. We found that nerve racking enough, we couldn’t imagine driving in the opposite direction in the lane along the cliff edge!
There are several viewpoints and pullouts where you can stop to admire the incredible scenery. You can take a rest at the Logan Pass visitor center. Here you can get information on the park. There are washrooms and a small gift shop, but be warned there is nothing to purchase in the way of food or drinks. In July and August it can be difficult to find a parking spot if you are arriving middle of the day.
If you are not up to doing the nail biting drive there is a free park shuttle. It offers many spots along the road where you can hop on an off. It might not be a bad idea to take since it would allow the driver to enjoy the views rather than concentrating on the road.
If you are looking for more of a full tour experience then try the Red Bus Jammer Tours. They are an option for experiencing the park and other areas of Montana. They also go into Waterton National Park in Canada.
Be sure to check the road conditions before you go. Most of the road is closed during the winter. Depending on the weather conditions the season opening is in early June and it stays open until mid-October.
During the winter over one hundred feet of snow can fall on this part of the road. It’s referred to as the “Big Drift.” The snowplowing begins in April, it takes up to ten weeks to clear the entire road. It can take up to one month just to clear the “Big Drift” section. This road was completed in 1932 and is considered an engineering mastery. In many places the road had to be blasted into solid rock walls.
Chief Mountain Highway
The Chief Mountain Highway is a scenic drive that connects Glacier National Park and the Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park. It takes you past breathtaking peaks and valleys and of course Chief Mountain.
Chief Mountain has been sacred to the Native Americans for centuries. The Plains tribes still hold traditional prayer ceremonies on the mountain at the northeast border of the park. We could see why this mountain would have spiritual significance to the native people. It is a magnificent mass that stands in solitude.
Hike To Hidden Lake
The trail starts behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center. It goes along a boardwalk trail through alpine meadows full of flowers. There is a spectacular view of scenery in every direction you look.
It is a one a half mile trail over a moderate 500 foot elevation. It will bring you to a spectacular viewpoint that overlooks Hidden Lake. Most people stop at this point, but you can hike further down to the lake as well. This is one of the most popular hikes because of its access from the Going To The Sun Road. It can get very busy during July and August. We started our hike quite late in the day and there were only a handful of other people.
At the overlook we were greeted by a few more mountain goats. At the end of the day they make their way down the mountain to the wooden outlook platform. At first we couldn’t figure out what they were doing. They were standing on their hind legs and moving themselves along the railing with their front legs while licking the wood. We soon realized that they were licking the railing for the salt. People during the hot day would have left traces of salt from their sweat while leaning on it.
Once we walked onto the wooden platform the goats wanted to go around it to avoid us. Instead of going around the back of the platform they choose to go below it on a narrow rock ledge. It couldn’t of been more than a few inches wide. We could hardly watch as the goats hopped across the cliff side, it was as if they had suction cups on their hoofs.
Lake McDonald Lodge
We didn’t officially stay at the lodge, but enjoyed checking it out. It has a rustic and cozy feel to it. We sat and had a relaxing tea on the lakeside in the wooden chairs provided. It looked like it would be a nice place to stay for a night or two.