Glacier National Park

Glacier Park MT
Entrance Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Glacier National Park is located in northwest Montana near Kalispell. The Park is famous for spectacular scenery. High mountains, glaciers, alpine meadows, and pristine lakes make Glacier a special destination. Some people say Glacier is America’s most scenic park.

After the Ice Age ended, the mountains of northwest Montana, once blanketed by thick glacial ice, reemerged. Only this time, the mountains showed a new presence, so much more beautiful and grander than before. The glaciers sculpted the mountains in ways unimaginable. The land near mountain peaks was transformed by the development of new landforms. A unique glacial ecosystem was created.

Due to high elevations and a far northly latitude, glaciers in the Park have remained active long after glacial ice disappeared in other parts of the United States, outside of Alaska.

Glacier National Park covers a large geographic area. Measured in Google Earth, the distance across Glacier is about 35 miles east to west and about 60 miles north to south.

In present day, 26 glaciers, defined as active ice masses larger than 25 acres, are found in the Park. These glaciers formed about 7,000 years ago and are not a part of the massive alpine glaciers that existed during the Pleistocene period.

Most glaciers are located in remote areas. To view them often takes great effort, hiking  long distances in mountainous terrain. Sperry Glacier, Piegan Glacier, Grinnell Glacier, Sexton Glacier,  and Agassiz Glacier are a few of the prominent glaciers in the Park.

Jackson Glacier, five miles east of Logan Pass, and Salamander Glacier, near Many Glacier in the eastern part of the Park, however, are easily viewed.

Glaciers GNP
Grinnell Glacier and Salamander Glacier as seen off Highline Trail. Photo by Tim Raines, courtesy National Park Service


Active glaciers in Glacier National Park. Dotted line represents Going-to-the-Sun Road from the town of West Glacier at the west entrance to Glacier National Park to the village of St. Mary at the Park’s east entrance. Map courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

Mountains dominate the landscape in Glacier. Some of the highest peaks are Mount Cleveland at 10,479 feet; Mount Jackson at 10,057 feet; Mount Siyeh at 10,019 feet; and Mount Stimpson at 10,146 feet.

During summer months, flowering plants are abundant in mountain environments. This is true in Glacier as well. Visitors see purple asters, Indian Paintbrush, bear grass, glacier lilies, and many others.

Indian paintbrush NPS
Indian paintbrush add much color to mountain slopes during summer months in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Glacier National Park also has magnificent forests, with abundant areas of aspen, western hemlock, western larch, and other species covering some 55% of the land. Among the many shrubs in the Park, the huckleberry is a favorite. Huckleberry plants produce an edible fruit much enjoyed for taste and nutrition by bears and humans alike.

Glacial lakes are another huge part of the landscape in Glacier National Park, 762 lakes by one estimate. In geologic time, glaciers were nature’s premier lake builders.  Lake McDonald on the west side of the Park, and Saint Mary Lake on the east side of the Park being two of the most prominent.

Numerous species of mammalian wildlife thrive in Glacier. Mountain lions, grizzly bears, black bears, bighorn sheep, lynx, elk, moose, and mountain goats make Glacier home. If you love smaller wildlife, sighting a beaver or pika is very rewarding.

grizzly bear
Many grizzly bears live in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Golden and bald eagles soar in the sky over valleys and meadows. Osprey search for fish in alpine lakes. Eerie calls of the common loon are frequently heard by visitors. Lake trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, and other fishes, live in the park’s many lakes. Nature reins in Glacier.

As for activities, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise beyond that any person could conquer in a lifetime. Glacier boasts more than 700 miles of trails. Some of the trails are arduous to hike, while others accommodate folks less capable. Nature photography, camping, bicycling, fishing, and boating, offer great fun and pleasure for many visitors.

Highline Trail Glacier
Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, Photo courtesy U.S. Department of the Interior.

Glacier National Park has two main entrances, one near the village of West Glacier on the west side of the park and another near the village of Saint Mary on the east side of the Park.

Going-to-the-Sun Road connects West Glacier with Saint Mary. If driving, the distance is about 53 miles, every mile travelled as scenic as the mile past. It’s a trip of about two or two and one-half hours assuming ideal travel conditions, says the National Park Service.

Going-to-the-Sun Road MT
Going-to-the-Sun Road. Map courtesy National Park Service.

Glacier has three more entrances on the east side of the Park, off U.S. Highway 89: Two Medicine Entrance, Many Glacier Entrance, and Cut Bank Entrance. These entrances go into the Park for only a few miles taking visitors to particular attractions. For each route, visitors leave the Park on the same road on which they entered.

Two more entrances, Camas Creek Entrance and Polebridge Entrance, both very remote, are on the the west side of the Park. Both are used mainly by more hardy travelers. Read more about all entrances at Smoky Bear Ranch.

If you’d like a convenient and comfortable way to travel inside Glacier National Park, free Shuttle Buses and Red Buses (for a fee) are a great way to go. Glacier Sun Tours offers guided bus tours.

Lodging inside Glacier National Park is limited, so early booking may be the only chance to stay in Glacier. Glacier National Park Lodges handles reservations. Five great choices: Lake McDonald Lodge; Many Glacier Hotel; Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins; Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins; and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins.

Lake McDonald Lodge
Lake McDonald Lodge near west entrance to Glacier National Park, Photo courtesy Glacier National Park Lodges.

Campgrounds are a good option for some visitors in Glacier. The Park has eight Class A and five Class B campgrounds, plus 65 backcountry campgrounds.

The entrance fee for Glacier is $35.00 per private non-commercial vehicle, 7-day pass, for the 2019 season. Still a bargain.

Glacier National Park is part of a huge wilderness region that covers much of northwest Montana. As such, there are other options besides Glacier National Park to find enjoyment in the outdoors in areas west and south of the national park.

Glacier National Park is far from major urban centers in the United States. That said, a trip to Glacier is an experience of a lifetime. Go if you can!

Travel Safety:

animal safety
Stay safe. Wild animals are dangerous and unpredictable. Infographic courtesy National Park Service.

Wild animals are dangerous. Visitors should always keep a safe distance. Park Administration officials say to stay at least 75 feet (25 yards/23 Meters) away from deer, mountain goats, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, and coyotes. Stay at least 300 feet (100 yards/91.4 meters) away from grizzly bears, black bears, and wolves. Never feed wild animals. Never approach wild animals. The safest way to view wild animals is from inside a car.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

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