Glacier National Park: Why you should go -- and soon
Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 16:05
Wild Goose Island in Glacier National Park. (All photos: Alexandra Horst)
Glacier National Park in Montana, named a national park in 1910, is a bastion of ecological diversity and environmental splendor. Not only is the mountain terrain sculpted by glaciers and a designated Biosphere Reserve, but according to the National Park Service website, Glacier and adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada contain thousands of plant and animal species, numerous unique ecosystems, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and an outdoor environment ripe for all sorts of activity. Despite its namesake, only 25 glaciers currently exist, with those predicted to disappear by 2030, according to the NPS.
As a physical geography major with a passion for environmental issues, I have studied climate change, conservation, natural resources, and mountain geography. I can think of no better way to experience such classroom topics than to visit Glacier National Park, particularly before the glaciers disappear!
Following is my top 10 list of reasons to visit the park, should you be interested in traveling to this impressive region of Montana or simply want to learn more about one of America’s most wonderful parks, one that is sorely threatened by climate change, as evidenced by rapidly melting glaciers and the growing number of vulnerable species.
Iceberg Lake – This marvelous lake (pictured above), which can be reached after almost five miles of hiking, is well worth the effort and time it takes to get there. The beautiful and moderate hike produces spectacular views of Mount Wilbur, forest, and the lakes and peaks of the Many Glacier area of the park. Hikers are rewarded at the end of the trail with a perfectly turquoise-colored lake filled with icebergs calving from the glacier above.
Going-to-the-Sun Road – One of the world’s most scenic drives, this nerve-wracking but incredibly scenic trip provides a 50-mile overview of the heart of Glacier National Park. Along rivers, through mountain passes and forests, and above lakes, driving the GTTS Road is truly an experience that should not be missed. For those anxious about driving the road, historic Red Buses and NPS shuttles leave the driving to someone else so that passengers can view the scenery rather than worry about navigating the extremely narrow road.
Logan Pass / Hidden Lake – Logan Pass is a favorite destination for visitors, as it marks the Continental Divide and is the setting-off point for multiple hikes. A particularly wonderful three-mile (one way) hike starts at Logan Pass Visitor Center and descends to Hidden Lake, another gem in the park that can only be experienced by those who venture past the overlook and descend all the way down to the lake. This trail is also great for wildlife viewing.
Historic hational park lodges – Glacier contains numerous historic lodges, all of which are worth visiting, particularly for architecture and historic preservation buffs. These include Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier Park Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, and Prince of Wales Hotel (in Waterton, the Canadian section of the park; bring your passport!). With soaring lobbies and historic architecture, the lodges, many of which are designated National Historic Landmarks and on the National Register of Historic Places, are a unique remnant of a bygone era and provide wonderful views of mountains and lakes and good access points to trails.
Wildlife – Glacier abounds with magnificent wildlife (including 66 mammal species, according to the NPS), some of which is endangered. Grizzly and black bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, rare birds, coyotes, wolves, elk, deer, and wolverines are just some of the animals that can commonly be seen on trails, while driving, or simply by searching the crags and mountainsides with binoculars.
Other outdoor activities – A hiker’s paradise, Glacier also offers more outdoor opportunities. Biking, paddling, camping, photography, and horseback riding are some other activities one can pursue. Stargazing is excellent, as there is little light pollution. Of course, simply sitting on the porch of a lodge, taking in the incredible beauty of the landscape, is a completely acceptable activity!
National Park Visitor Center and programming – The National Park Service does an impressive job with limited resources in preserving Glacier and educating visitors. Park rangers are friendly and willing to answer questions or offer advice at any of the numerous visitor centers or ranger stations around the park. Rangers also lead hikes, talks, and evening programs at the lodges and campgrounds on topics like the environment and endangered species. The NPS website provides helpful and informative information.
Surrounding area – There are a number of charming and rustic towns in the vicinity of Glacier that are well worth a visit, including Chief Mountain (pictured above.) Whitefish, located about 45 minutes from the park, has a well-planned and walkable downtown, good restaurants, and appealing shops. Bigfork is another charming town located alongside spectacular Flathead Lake. There are also numerous wilderness preserves and protected areas outside of Glacier in this region of Montana.
Huckleberries – Late summer is huckleberry season in Montana, and these delicious fruits (similar to wild blueberries) can be found on the mountainsides and in the meadows all over Glacier NP. They are prime sustenance for the grizzly bears and also enjoyed by tourists. Huckleberry pies, ice cream, coffee cake, muffins, jams, candies, salad dressings, and soda pop can be found on virtually any menu and in every store.
Visitors – People come from all over the country and world to visit Glacier, and it is fascinating to meet them and find out what they most love about the park. (Though I already know the particular couple shown above — they're my parents!) If my experience can be considered representative, Glacier seems to draw heavily from the upper Midwest – Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan – as well as from Georgia, Washington, California, Utah, New Mexico, Maine, and even internationally, including Canada, Asia and France.
Related on MNN: Learn more about Glacier National Park with MNN's user guide
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