Glacier National Park, Montana
Hike Through Big Sky Country
Ian Shive / Aurora Photos
Video: Visiting Glacier National ParkHere are some of the top things to do when you visit Glacier National Park.
Park-goers tenacious enough to trek to the northern reaches of Montana are amply rewarded by one of nature's finest specimens: Glacier National Park, a land known for being a hiker's paradise. Tumbling mountains stretch toward the sky, then slope gracefully toward the earth and toward sparkling lakes and streams at their bases. The ruby reds, sapphire blues, golds and emeralds of wildflowers are so vibrant and piercing that the sprawling valleys may at first appear dotted with jewels. Wildlife watching is yet another delight and grants glimpses of mountain goats creeping along ridges, trumpeter swans bellowing and even the occasional grizzly scavenging for a meal. The land of Glacier is a part of the treasured "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem" - an area of land designated to conserve the region's biodiversity. The park is comprised of several ecosystems, including westslope forest, eastslope forest, bunchgrass, alpine and aquatic.
The park's historic relevance is also of note, with 350 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. In fact, this national park is so highly treasured that, in 1932, the adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park were jointly designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, promoting the positive relationship between these two nations.
This glacially carved wilderness is an explorer's paradise and offers an overwhelming 700-plus miles of maintained trails for visitors to traverse. The aptly named Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile journey across the park, and offers views of the wetlands, Pacific Northwest rainforest and the precipitous ridge known as the Garden Wall. Other highlights of this tour include Logan Pass, Jackson Glacier, Trail of Cedars (park your car and explore!) and Rising Sun, where visitors can indulge in a boat cruise on St. Mary's Lake.
Two billion years ago, an inland sea covered what is now Glacier National Park, and sediments accumulated into thick layers. Approximately 160 million years ago, the Pacific oceanic plate and the North American continental plate collided, causing the land to buckle and fold, creating the Rocky Mountains. Two million years ago, the ice age began, and glaciers formed in the mountains and valleys of this region. As these glaciers advanced and retreated, they sculpted the area into the landscape we see today.
At times it seems Glacier National Park was created with the sole purpose of providing endless outdoor adventure and activities. It's hardly unusual to hook a kokanee salmon or cutthroat trout in one of the park's streams or lakes, or to grow breathless in the wonder of nature while hiking the Logan Pass. The park also plays host to an extensive and creative variety of naturalist-guided activities including sunset cruises, the Gardening in Glacier Project and hikes to the Sacred Dancing Cascades.
Where to Stay
The extraordinary beauty of Montana's wilderness is best experienced by camping in one of Glacier's many well-managed campgrounds. Reservations are accepted at Fish Creek and St. Mary's campgrounds; all others operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips
The intriguing culture and tradition of the Native American lifestyle are thriving in the Blackfeet Nation Indian Reservation, located on 1.5 million acres in northern Montana, bordering Glacier National Park. On the reservation is the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village, a mecca of Native American history and folklore. Visitors will learn about the traditional myths and legends of the Blackfeet, and can see some of the craftwork done by Blackfeet artists including handmade moccasins, beadwork and ceremonial drums and rattles. Guests may also encounter purebred Spanish mustangs, and have the opportunity to lodge in traditional Blackfoot Tipis, complete with fireplace in the center.