“Give a month at least to this precious reserve,” said John Muir when he was trying to tell America how essential Glacier was. Glacier National Park preserves land that has been carved by glaciers over thousands of years. The area is some of the most gorgeous in the country, featuring 762 lakes, 175 mountains, and 25 glaciers. It’s no wonder that more than 2 million people visit the park each year. Many flock to the park during the summer when the park is more easily navigable along snow-free roads. But the park is open year-round, and winter visitors can snowshoe, ice climb, cross-country ski and sightsee without crowds. At the top of Going to the Sun Road, you are straddling the Continental Divide. The water basin of North America divides beneath your feet as you travel here, either flowing West to the Pacific or East to Hudson Bay and the Atlantic. The park encompasses over 1 million acres and protects land encompassing 16,000 square miles.
Known as the Backbone of the World to the Blackfeet Indian Nation, the rugged landscape of Glacier attracted the attention of the Great Northern Railway in the early 1890s. The Great Northern Railway was simply seeking a route to the West Coast. In the early 1890s, after John Stevens and a Flathead Indian guide known as Coonsah located the pass for the Great Northern Railway, the railroad laid its tracks across Marias Pass on the southern flanks of today’s national park. Within a handful of years, not only did a small rail depot known as Belton near present-day West Glacier catch the attention of tourists, but the landscape that drew them also led influential leaders like George Bird Grinnell to push for the creation of a national park in Montana. Fifteen years later, Grinnell and others saw their efforts rewarded when President Taft signed the legislation on May 11, 1910, that established Glacier as the country’s 10th national park.
Called one of the world’s best scenic drives, Going-to-the-Sun Road is a National Historic Landmark and an engineering wonder that was completed in 1932. Drive its 50 paved miles across the width of the park for views of Logan Peak, the Continental Divide, and glaciers. The route is typically open from June or July to early fall but varies based on snow conditions. For the first month of the season, the road is open only to cyclists and hikers looking to experience the sights. Flathead Lake, located here, is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Flathead’s sparkling waters and 160 miles of tree-covered shoreline make it one of Montana’s most picturesque. Bordered by the Mission and the Salish Mountains, it’s best viewed by driving Highways 35 and 93 on your way to or from the park.
—- Location —-
Glacier National Park is in the northwest corner of Montana, on the Canadian border. The closest cities with airline service are Great Falls, Montana which is 200 miles Southeast and Missoula, Montana which is 150 miles South. If you’re driving, the easiest ways to reach the park are from U.S. 2 and U.S. 89. Amtrak’s Empire Builder, a Chicago-Seattle round-trip train, stops between May 1 and October 1 at East Glacier, Montana and year-round at West Glacier, Montana, and Essex, Montana. For up-to-date information on park activities, check in at visitor centers at Apgar, Logan Pass, and St. Mary inside the Park.
—- Park Camping —-
There are a little over 1009 campsites inside Glacier National Park. Of these campsites, 984 modern camping sites and 28 primitive camping sites are scattered across 13 campgrounds at the Park. Here is a link for current conditions and status of these sites within Glacier National Park Campgrounds. Glacier National Park is a remote place filled with pristine forests and rugged mountains. Visitors to Glacier will find that cell phone and internet connectivity is very limited. Because of narrow or very steep roads, RVs and truck and trailer combinations are not recommended at these campgrounds: Bowman Lake, Cut Bank, Kintla Lake, Logging Creek, Quartz Creek, and Sprague Creek. Most campgrounds in Glacier are first-come-first-served with the exception of Fish Creek, St. Mary, some of Many Glacier, and half of the group sites in Apgar. There are many backcountry camping locations at Glacier National Park.
—- Free Camping —-
Based on https://freecampsites.net/#!Glacier National Park there are 19 free campgrounds within 37 miles of Glacier National Parks boundaries.
—- Area Camping —-
—-Hiking & Biking & Horseback Riding —-
While you are traveling along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, park at Sunrift Gorge to access a trail to Baring Falls, which is a 23 feet high waterfall that flows into St. Mary Lake. This .75 mile hike is just a fraction of the park’s 700 miles of hiking trails. Hike these many trails that are divided up into 5 districts inside the Park. Trails in the higher elevations are not entirely snow-free until mid-July. Many, many day hikes are available in the Park…Click here to download a guide to the National Parks Service website for more inormation about these day hikes. There are trails for all hiking abilities. Some self-guided walks interpret trailside features with signs. The Trail of the Cedars, Forest, and Fire, Hidden Lake, Running Eagle Falls, and Swiftcurrent Nature Trails encourage hikers to experience Glacier National Park at their own pace. Every spring, before the Going-to-the-Sun Road is fully opened to cars, hikers and bikers have the opportunity to enjoy a more relaxed pace on this National Historic Landmark. Otherwise, bicycles are permitted on all of the roads in the park but are not permitted on trails. Guided horseback rides are available inside the park at Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, and Apgar.
—- Things to do —-
Each summer Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille tribal members share their knowledge of the history and culture of Native America with Glacier National Park visitors as part of the Native America Speaks program. Programs are offered in campgrounds, lodges, and at St. Mary Visitor Center. This year (2018) we are expanding to include programs in Browning and Babb, Montana. Go on a rafting adventure on the Flathead River. Several raft companies operate commercially guided raft trips on the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead River. Both forks are within the Flathead Wild and Scenic River designation and are jointly managed by Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest. These raft companies have permits from the US Forest Service. Many people consider the Many Glacier Visitor Area the heart of the park. Massive mountains, active glaciers, sparkling lakes, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife make this a favorite of visitors and locals alike. Many Glacier is also a destination where one can travel by car, foot, boat, or horseback, to get a close look at glaciers and see their impact on the landscape.
—- References —-