In one of the most breathtaking parts of America, glorious Glacier National Park located in Big Sky Country, Montana has been called the Jewel or Crown of the Continent. Established as the country’s 10th National Park, Glacier was officially registered on May 11, 1910, and was immediately touted for its amazing alpine scenery and many gorgeous glaciers.
As the Great Northern Railway continued to expand in the Glacier region, it enticed visitors to new hotels, chalets, and horse trails through the backcountry. The Railway invited people to “See America first” by using this growing mode of transportation.According to recent statistics, the tradition continues with around 3 million travelers visiting Glacier National Park annually.
The famous red Jammers at Going-to-the-Sun Road
Whether you get there by plane, train or automobile, you might want to consider renting a car or booking a Red Bus Tour for the trip up Going-to-the-Sun Road. Initially, the first road that was planned called for 15 switchbacks up the side of the mountain. However, when it was completed in 1932, it left a much smaller footprint on Mother Nature with only one switchback cut into the rocky cliffs. It has been awarded as one of the best mountain roads in America and is considered to be the blueprint for ways to merge people with nature.
Traveling up the seasonal Going-to-the-Sun Road leads visitors across the Continental Divide through Logan Pass at 6,646 feet, which is the highest point on the road. Registered as a National Historic Place, National Historic Landmark, and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, the road is approximately 50 miles long and spans the entire width of the park between the east and west entrances. This is a wonderful way to soak up some of the spectacular sites when visiting this picturesque park.
Hitting the Trails
If you’re planning to spend time in this amazing place, we absolutely recommend hitting some of the terrific trails winding their way through the park. In total, Glacier National Park has 734 miles of trails. In 2011, Jake Bramante became the first person to hike every one of them in a single summer. Here’s Jake’s list of the top ten trails to tackle:
- Highline Trail
- Grinnell Glacier
- Pitamakan – Dawson Loop
- Iceberg Lake
- Hidden Lake Overlook
- Ptarmigan Tunnel
- Siyeh Pass
- Fishercap Lake – Red Rock Falls
- Mary and Virginia Falls
- Avalanche Lake
Hitting the trails: Horseback
Another way to enjoy the scenic trails is via horseback courtesy of Swan Mountain Outfitters Glacier Division. There’s a long history of horseback riding in and around Glacier Park. The first visitors to the area arriving by the Great Northern Railroad spent days and sometimes even weeks touring the park on a saddle. At the time, tent camps and backcountry chalets were set up approximately one day’s horseback ride away from each other.
Fly Fishing: Cast and Relax
For those looking at ways to chill instead, both Montana and Glacier National Park are well known hot spots for those who enjoy the sport of fly fishing. Expert anglers in the area offer lessons for beginners and recommend taking guided half-day, full-day, or multi-day trips to locations like the Middle Fork of the Flathead River or into the Great Bear Wilderness to cast their bait. The native Westslope Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout are popular catch-and-release fish found in this region.
Explore the Lakes
Glacier National Park is known for its scenic lakes. There’s a big chance that the photo of a beautiful, clean body of water reflecting the rising mountains on your desktop wallpaper is actually taken at the coast of some Glacier lake. Some of them can be reached by vehicle, and some are accessible by hiking only. Hiking, fishing kayaking, and non-motor boats are usually allowed, but visitors should always check the rules specific for each lake and the current situation-dependent changes. Camping is allowed at the preset camping spots.
If you’re looking for something more extreme and adventurous than hiking or driving, there are other ways to enjoy the park. Whitewater rafting is an excellent choice for raging down the rivers in this region. The National Park Service recommends four guided rafting companies available in the area to tackle an adrenaline-packed ride down the Middle and Upper Forks of the Flathead River.
More extreme than whitewater rafting? How about tandem skydiving in the nearby town of Whitefish. With an instructor in tow (actually attached), at Skydive Whitefish, participants will take a 20-minute scenic flight, experience about 45 seconds of a free fall from 10,000 feet, float 5-8 minutes and enjoy stunning 360-degree views. Those who are willing to jump out of a perfectly good airplane are able to purchase a picture, video with audio or both to remember the experience forever.
Number One Rated Nature Center
The number one recommended place to visit in the park according to a travel guide from USN (United States News & World and Report) is the Apgar Nature Center. Housed in a small cabin that was built in 1929 and seated in a grove of cedar trees, the center is free for the public to enjoy from mid-June through late August, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily.
Some of the family-friendly activities include the ability to feel a grizzly bear’s fur, create your own puppet show, and listen to and identify birds by their songs. Wildlife and plant educational displays found throughout the park teach people about the flora and fauna found in their natural habitats. Rangers lead talks in the outdoor seating area, and other programs are popular with youngsters. Be sure to bundle up the kiddos with a comfortable hoodie or fleece jacket to enjoy this favorite nature center.
Featured Image – Grinnell Lake & Glacier, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo by Daniel Crowley.