History of lands that became Glacier National Park
In the late 19th century before Glacier National Park was created, land west of the Continental Divide was in the public domain and open for settlement. The land east of the Continental Divide was on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
If this were still the case, a traveler going east from the town of West Glacier on Going-to-the-Sun Road would enter the Blackfeet Indian Reservation after crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.
But history of the region unfolded in a different way. In the later 1800s, prospectors wanted to mine minerals in the area. Copper ore was discovered near Quartz and Mineral Creeks. But there was a problem, the land was owned by the Blackfeet Tribe.
As often the case in early American history, prospectors and promoters appealed to the U.S. Congress for help. Action soon came. Congress passed a bill awarding the Blackfeet Tribe $1,500,000 for a part of their land east of the Continental Divide.
On September 26, 1895, a treaty was signed with the Blackfeet Tribe and later approved by Congress on June 10,1896. The land east of the Continental Divide, today a part of Glacier National Park, was officially transferred to the U.S. Government.
With this change, the boundary for the Blackfeet Indian Reservation was moved east to a point where the mountains transitioned to prairie lands. The new western boundary of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, negotiated under the Treaty of 1895, remains the same in the present-day.
After some time, prospectors lost interest in the region. Thus, the stage was set for creation of a national park in the region. On May 11, 1910, President Taft signed a bill creating Glacier National Park.
Had the prospectors not showed up in the late 1800s, the mountains east of the Continental Divide would likely still be owned by the Blackfeet Nation. And the Blackfeet would possess a huge chunk of America’s favorite playground.
Still most believe that things really turned out in a good way for the benefit of everyone. The area taken as a whole, both west and east of the Continental Divide, is what makes Glacier very appealing to millions of visitors. And the Blackfeet Nation enjoys playing host to thousands of visitors who pass through their reservation on the way to Glacier National Park.
The glacial landscapes in Glacier National Park were created by large alpine glaciers that covered the region thousands of year ago. As glaciers moved down mountain valleys massive amounts of rock and earth were pushed down slope. Streams flowing from the glaciers carried the sediments to lower elevations.
During geologic time, Divide Creek and Wild Creek, flowing from glaciers in high mountain valleys, deposited huge amounts of sand and gravel in Saint Mary Valley forming a natural dam across the valley. The dam blocked a small stream in the valley. Saint Mary Lake soon formed behind the natural dam.
Saint Mary Lake borders Going-to-the-Sun Road on the south near the east side of the Park. The lake is about 9.9 miles long and, at one point, as much as three-quarters of a mile wide. The lake’s elevation stands at 4,472 feet above sea level. In some areas the lake is around 300 feet deep.
Saint Mary Lake is surrounded by high mountain peaks, making for a beautiful view from most every shoreline. The mountain peaks by themselves are spectacular, carved in ancient geologic time by glaciers that moved down tributary valleys.
The mountains all have catchy names to remember: Red Eagle Mountain, Mahtotopa Mountain, Citadel Mountain, Gunsight Mountain, Goat Mountain, to name a few. Some mountain peaks rise more than 9,000 feet almost touching the clouds floating high above Saint Mary Lake.
During the summer, Saint Mary Lake displays a stunning azure-blue color. This contrasts with the dark green forests which the line the shores and varied-colored mountains which tower above and around the lake a short distance away.
During the winter, deep snows cover mountain peaks. Saint Mary Lake, frozen to a depth of four feet or more, is blanked with snow and becomes a winter wonderland, much like the subject in a child’s fairytale.
As if this splendid scenery were not enough, nature created another gem in the center of the lake. Wild Goose Island. This tiny island stands a mere 14 feet above the lake’s surface and measures only about one-half acre in size. A few trees survive the harsh landscape of the island. Birds often seek Wild Goose Island as a place of refuge.
Glacier National Park officials built Wild Goose Island Lookout off Going-to-the-Sun Road as a place enjoy the scenery and photograph the lake and its surroundings. The lookout is a landscaped gravel area and makes an ideal place to experience the wonderful panorama of Saint Mary Lake.
The lake has more than scenery to offer. Boat tours are eager to take visitors out on the lake. The tours begin from Rising Sun boat dock on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Along the way passengers get a close-up view of Wild Goose Island. A few folks launch on the lake in private boats. Fishing is another common activity. Lake trout, Cutthroat Trout, and Rainbow Trout inhabit the waters of Saint Mary Lake.
Sun Point Nature Trail is in this same area. The trail follows the north shore of Saint Mary Lake west from Going-to-the-Sun Point, a peninsula that juts out into the lake. A little further west is St. Mary Falls Trailhead leading to a couple of scenic waterfalls, St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls.
Saint Mary Lake and tiny Wild Goose Island are the subjects of countless magazine covers and photographs. Nature truly blessed Saint Mary Lake, its beauty unrivaled anywhere in the world.
If visitors want to spend extra time at Saint Mary Lake, accommodations are close by. Rising Sun Campground and Rising Sun Motor Inn are on Going-to-the-Sun Road a few miles west of the village of St. Mary.
A window to Pleistocene history Glacier National Park, Montana, c 12000 years ago.
A massive alpine glacier fills McDonald Valley, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo from a GNP Web cam at Apgar Mountain, September 28, 2020, 7:30 a.m.
Beautiful glacial Lake McDonald in McDonald Valley, Glacier National Park, as it appeared on September 9, 2020, 1:13 p.m. Photo from a GNP Web cam at Apgar Mountain.
In the first photo, nature revisits the geologic past. A giant cloud hovers over current Lake McDonald and the McDonald Valley, below the surrounding mountain peaks, simulating how the valley may have appeared c 12000 years ago when the valley was filled by an alpine glacier.
Glaciers are a cyclical phenomenon of the recent geologic past in North America. The present time is likely an inter-glacial period. This suggests that massive alpine glaciers will cover much of the northern Rocky Mountains in North America, including Glacier National Park, again in the future.
If you want to experience travel in Glacier National Park as it was more than 100 years ago, book a reservation at Many Glacier Hotel.
Many Glacier Hotel was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914-15. Today the hotel still stands and retains its historic charm and grandeur. A true architectural gem. The hotel is a National Historic Landmark.
Many Glacier Hotel is located deep in the wilderness on the east shore of beautiful Swiftcurrent Lake. Guests at the hotel are surrounded by nature. Prominent glacier-carved mountain peaks include Grinnell Point, Altyn, Allen, Wynn, Henkel, and Wilber. A mature forest consisting of lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, and quaking aspen adds amazing beauty to the landscape. It’s hard to imagine a more scenic and spectacular setting in America.
The hotel has 205 guest rooms, plus two suites and seven family rooms. The atmosphere is rustic, but basic amenities of modern travel are here to satisfy needs of guests. True to the hotel’s historic character, no TVs or noise from modern air conditioning ruin your experience. Old-world charm here at its best.
In addition to the rooms, the hotel features Swiss lounge; Heidi’s Snack Shop; a gift shop; and the Ptarmigan Dining Room. The dining room has breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
At breakfast, the Ptarmigan Dining Room serves buffet-style or guests can order entrees such as Ptarmigan Parfait, Greek Yogurt, Muesli, Fresh Berries, and Cacao nibs, for $8.95. A more traditional breakfast, 49er flapjacks with powdered sugar, Huckleberry Jam, and Syrup, goes for $7.95.
For dinner, a favorite is Sautéed Rainbow Trout, Lemon, Capers, Brown Butter, Parsley, Brown & Wild Rice Blend, for $29.90. Braised Bison Short Ribs Dark Beer, Roast Garlic Mashed Potatoes, $32.50.
All yummy and supreme for sure and served in the most splendid ambiance that hospitality can offer. Dining in the Ptarmigan Dining Room is first-come-first-served.
Many Glacier Road (Route 3) is the only road to Many Glacier Hotel. This road starts from near the small village of Babb, Montana on the east side of Glacier National Park. Drive west on Many Glacier Road (Route 3) to reach the hotel. The distance is about 12 miles from the junction of U.S. Highway 89 and Many Glacier Road (Route 3).
Many Glacier Hotel is some distance away from Going-to-the-Sun Road and busier parts of Glacier National Park. Still, many people visit this area for its outdoor recreational opportunities, especially hiking and nature viewing. A few people stay at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins and Many Glacier Campground, not far from Many Glacier Hotel. This area is often called Many Glacier Valley.
If they choose, guests at Many Glacier Hotel can go hiking on Swift Current Nature Trail which borders Swiftcurrent Lake. This trail is a 2.3 mile loop, partly wheelchair accessible, with a trailhead near Many Glacier Hotel.
Travel tip: The area around the hotel has abundant wildlife such as mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, osprey, and songbirds. In the outdoors, guests should take precautions when near wildlife and follow the regulations/rules set by Park officials. Wildlife is wild and unpredictable and can be dangerous.
Trail of the Cedars is a nature trail. It is a short loop trail accessed from Going-to-the-Sun Road near Avalanche Creek Campground northeast of Lake McDonald. The trail is about one-half mile long and passes through old-growth forest of western red cedar and western hemlock. Abundant ferns are mosses add to the natural beauty of this area.
The western red cedar is nature’s gift to man. Western red cedars live for a long time, 500 years or more, and reach great heights, up to as much as 150 feet above the forest floor. Western red cedars have a broad base, up to ten feet in diameter. Mature trees are giants.
Western red cedars have grey to reddish-brown bark. Branches sprout soft, green leaves, not needles as is characteristic of conifers. A peculiar feature of western red cedar is an unusual scent, some say like spicy pineapple, emitted from leaves when crushed. At the Trail of the Cedars, these trees add special diversity to Glacier’s wild landscape.
About mid-way on the Trail of the Cedars a footbridge passes over Avalanche Creek. This point on the trail is very scenic. Avalanche Creek is a vigorous mountain stream cascading down from high mountain peaks in a narrow gorge. A waterfall is visible from the footbridge.
In this same area, a short two-mile trail branches off from the Trail of the Cedars and goes to Avalanche Lake. As the trail to Avalanche Lake rises in elevation, the forest cover changes dramatically, becoming a mix of spruce and fir trees. Deer and other wildlife are often seen along the trail.
The Trail of the Cedars is part boardwalk and part paved. It is wheelchair accessible, so everyone can enjoy. Trail of the Cedars is a nature lovers paradise. Due to popularity of the trail, parking is limited. Go early in the day to snag a parking spot. Besides, nature is always at its best during early morning hours. Be rewarded. Don’t miss this special place in Glacier National Park.
As an aside, more western red cedar forests are found in other areas of northwest Montana. Red cedars are abundant in the Purcell and Cabinet Mountains near Libby. Ross Creek Scenic Area, southwest of Libby, is another great place to view these magnificent trees.
Glacier National Park has an abundance of wildlife. The wildlife thrive in natural habitats far from human civilization. Glacier wildlife are protected in a natural environment. Here are a few of the species viewed by many visitors to the park.
Do you want to enjoy travel lodging in the northern Rockies as it was more than 100 years back in time? You can at Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park. The Lodge was very upscale when it opened in 1914, a few years after Glacier National Park was created in 1910. In the present day, Lake McDonald Lodge still offers visitors a unique and special lodging experience.
Lake McDonald Lodge is a complete package: Guests experience a page from history in a beautiful wilderness setting, while enjoying the normal amenities of travel. The Lodge faces Lake McDonald, a story-book glacial lake. Mountains are a prominent part of the landscape near the Lodge. The Lodge, lake, and surrounding alpine environment are nothing short of spectacular.
The Lodge was designed in Swiss-style architecture common to structures found in the Alps of Europe. The Lodge features a huge lobby which rises three stories, nearly to the top of the building. A massive stone fireplace is a focal point in the lobby. Adding to the Lodge’s historical appeal, many furnishings from when the Lodge was first built remain for visitors to awe over.
Lake McDonald Lodge has 82 rooms for guests, many in the main Lodge, a few in nearby cabins and two other buildings, Cobb House and Snyder Hall. Rooms inside the main lodge have a rustic vibe even while retaining many comforts for guests to enjoy.
The Lodge offers three dining options: Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria; Lucke’s Lounge; and Russell’s Fireside Dining Room. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on premises. And visitors can order beer, wines, and cocktails. An Elk Burger, with grilled mushrooms, swiss, lettuce, tomato, onion, goes for $12.95. Huckleberry ice cream is a special delight on the menu.
The Lodge has a General Store to pick up a few supplies. In the Lodge’s Gift Store, visitors can buy niffy gifts, some crafted by Montana artisans, and cool souvenirs.
Lake McDonald Lodge is owned by the United States federal government. The Lodge is, at present, assigned to Glacier National Park Lodges to operate as part of a concessions contract.
Lake McDonald Lodge is located on Going-to-the-Sun Road about 10 miles inside the west entrance of Glacier National Park, not far from the small village of West Glacier, Montana. A classic for sure, Lake McDonald Lodge!
With thousands of people visiting Glacier National Park each day during the peak season, July and August, transportation in the park can be a real challenge. Basically, visitors have three options for motorized transportation: free Shuttle Buses (courtesy NPS); the iconic Red Buses (for a fee); or by private vehicle.
Each option comes with pros and cons. With the free Shuttle Buses, riders can sit back and enjoy the scenery. The buses make multiple stops traveling up and down Going-to-the-Sun Road. Shuttle Buses add to your enjoyment with interpretive and educational materials at shuttle stops. On the downside, the free Shuttle Buses are almost always crowded. And people often to wait in line to catch a ride. On Shuttle Buses, it takes a full day to get from one side of the park to the other and return to the point of departure. The Shuttle Buses operate July through Labor Day.
The Red Buses are few, only 33 operate in the Park. With open, roll-back, tops, the Red Buses are an ideal way to view the wildlife and magnificent scenery in the Park. The Red Buses depart from both the east and west sides of the Park. The ride is round trip and departure and return are to the same location. As with the Shuttle Buses, the Red Buses fill up fast, with a seating limit of 17 on each bus. Because demand is high, it may be difficult to snag a ride on the Red Buses.
Both the Shuttle Buses and Red Buses leave the stress of driving on a narrow, winding, mountain road to others. This may be important, especially for older visitors as well as many others.
Private transportation may be the best option. With private transportation, you can take along plenty of food, beverages, clothing, hiking equipment, binoculars and whatever else suits your needs. In this case, the driver is disadvantaged as full attention to navigating the road is a must. And parking can be a real hassle. However, at stops along the way, outlooks/pull-outs, you can take as much time as wanted to view wildlife and scenery.
Officials at Glacier acknowledge that the Park is a busy place. Transportation inside the Park, regardless of the option you choose, can be difficult. The best advice, choose transportation wisely and, above all, allow lots of time to make sure you can see and do the things you came for and, at the same time, get to where you want to go, safely and conveniently.
Due to the Pandemic, Shuttle Bus and Red Bus services are cancelled for the 2020 season. Check the Park’s Website before you go.
People often have fond memories of visiting Glacier National Park, even decades after their journey to the park ended. Some may think that spending eternity in Glacier would be a dream come true, a gift from God.
Well, the National Park Service may be able to accommodate, that is, make a dream reality. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Section 2.62b (Memorialization), cremated ashes of humans can be spread in national parks.
Section 2.62b says, “The scattering of human ashes from cremation is prohibited, except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit, or in designated areas according to conditions which may be established by the superintendent.”
The key language here is “except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit, or in designated areas according to conditions which may be established by the superintendent.”
At Glacier National Park, the steps to make this happen are straightforward. Complete an Application for Special Use Permit, Spreading of Ashes. In this case, in the “proposed activity” part of the application, is your request to scatter cremated human ashes. Add details as you choose, such as a statement about relationship to the deceased. The application also asks for detailed information about preferred date, location, and time, as well as alternate choices. Other specific information is requested on the form, as well.
The Park’s administration will review the application and make its decision on whether to issue a permit, which allows for an individual to go forward with scattering human ashes in the Park.
PDF of the application is online on Glacier National Park’s Website.
Or obtain an application form from:
Glacier National Park
West Glacier, MT 59936
Spreading human ashes is a private and sensitive matter, so exercise good judgement when on public lands. Doing its part, Glacier National Park’s administration has special rules/regulations/guidance pertaining to this activity.
On its Web site, the Park’s administration writes as follows:
“In Glacier National Park, human ashes may be disbursed only in undeveloped areas of the Park; that is, not within 200 feet of any developed location, such as a road, trail, building, parking lot, boat ramp, swimming beach, campground, lake, etc. The ashes must be scattered and not deposited in any type of container. No marker or memorial of any sort may be placed at the site.”
“Also, please keep in mind that winter-like weather can occur at any time during the year, usually November through April, which may make access to a particular area impossible.”
“When you are ready to disburse of the ashes, send in a special use permit application and a letter will be sent to you which will serve as the official permit required by the citation referenced above and the instructions regarding location and notification will serve as the terms and conditions required by the citation. This letter or a copy thereof must be in the possession of at least one member of the party present when human ashes are scattered in the park.”
How many permits for spreading of ashes in Glacier National Park have been approved in recent years? According to Park officials, 2015: 17 permits; 2016: 16 permits; 2017: 27 permits; 2018: 21 permits; 2019: 20 permits; 2020: 16 permits (through September).
Some believe that spirits of the departed soar over the mountain peaks and valleys in Glacier during warm summer evenings. During winter months, spirits hibernate beneath timber falls and openings in nooks and crannies of mountain sides at lower elevations.
That the National Park Service and the U.S. government are happy to accommodate the wishes of many Americans is appropriate in this case. All parties gain satisfaction with this arrangement. Surely, peace of mind comes to family members. Further, the ashes, once a life, are returned to the natural environment, co-mingled with the elements and plants and animals in the Park.
Okay, so you are going to Glacier National Park. Your journey will take you through the center of the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road, an iconic mountain highway. Going-to-the-Sun Road runs west to east from the town of West Glacier to Saint Mary, Montana, over a distance of about 53 miles. The road passes through America’s most spectacular wilderness country.
Glacier is a land of mountains. Pushing up toward the clouds, mountain peaks near Going-to-the-Sun Road reach elevations as high as 10,014 feet (Mount Siyeh) and are often in view. That gorgeous mountains, pristine alpine lakes, and alpine valleys and meadows are all bundled together is a huge part of the allure of Glacier National Park.
Going-to-the-Sun Road was constructed in the early part of the 20th century, and it opened for the public in 1933. After eleven years of construction, 1921-1932, the road was completed. Drivers will experience a narrow, winding road, with some hairpin curves along the way. This is a two-lane and paved road, an engineering masterpiece.
Going-to-the-Sun Road features spectacular scenery in every direction, mountains, forests, waterfalls, alpine lakes, rock walls, and alpine valleys. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, grizzly bears, and other wildlife live here and can often be seen not far from the road.
Historic lodges and engineering marvels, such as tunnels and bridges, add to the wonder of it all. Many scenic outlooks along the road allow motorists to stop, take pictures, and simply enjoy.
From the Park’s entrance near the town of West Glacier (3,198 feet in elevation), Going-to-the-Sun Road follows McDonald Valley for several miles in a northeasterly direction, gradually gaining in elevation until the road reaches about 3,572 feet in elevation.
At this point, the road veers sharply to the northwest toward an area called the Loop. Here the road runs northwest for a short distance before it abruptly turns back to the southeast and continues in a southeasterly direction toward Logan Pass.
At the beginning of the Loop (elevation 3,572), the road starts its ascent up the side of the mountains. Along a path of several miles, Going-to-the-Sun Road increases in elevation, as it hugs to the side of the mountains, until it reaches Logan Pass at 6,646 feet elevation.
From the head of the Loop, going in a southeasterly direction, Going-to-the-Sun Road starts to get scary for some drivers. Along the shoulder of the road (passenger side of car), a steep cliff goes down slope, several hundred feet in many areas.
On the driver’s side is the rock face of the mountains. Drivers need not worry as a low speed limit and guardrails protect vehicles from going off the road. However, as if anyone needs a reminder, drivers must keep eyes centered on the road. Passengers can enjoy the awesome scenery.
At Logan Pass, Going-to-the-Sun Road starts a gradual descent to Saint Mary Lake at about 4,718 feet in elevation. The road runs along the north shore of Saint Mary Lake for about 9.9 miles before ending near the Park’s Saint Mary Visitor Center at an elevation of 4,495 feet.
Logan Pass is not unusually high in elevation by Montana standards. Near Red Lodge in south-central Montana, the Beartooth Highway starts from Red Lodge at 5,568 feet in elevation and ascends into the mountains until the highway reaches Beartooth Pass at an elevation of 10,947 feet.
Some have suggested that Going-to-the-Sun Road is less scary if driven from east to west. If this is the case, the face of the mountains is on the passenger side of the car and the steep cliff side (the drop-off) is one traffic lane over from the driver and thus seems less worrisome. Regardless, drivers must be extremely careful and keep eyes on the road ahead.
Accidents occasionally happen on the road. In July 2018, a two-vehicle collision snarled traffic for hours west of Logan Pass, near Triple Arches. No personal injuries in this one, but traffic from the West Entrance was stopped from entering the Park, and traffic that had reached Logan Pass in the east was turned back.
The wonders along Going-to-the-Sun Road are almost endless. A short list of things to experience and enjoy, traveling west to east, over the distance of 53 miles, includes:
START OF ROUTE: Apgar Visitor Center at west entrance to the park
Mile 3.0: Fabulous Lake McDonald, a 10-mile long glacial lake
Mile 10.9: Historic Lake McDonald Lodge
Mile 12.8: McDonald Falls
Mile 16.2: Avalanche Creek Campground
Mile 20.8: Start of The Loop at Goose Curve where the road veers sharply left to the northwest
Mile 23.3: West Side Tunnel, cut some 192 feet through a mountain
Mile: 23.9: Head of The Loop where the road bends back and continues in a southeasterly direction toward Logan Pass
Mile 29.8: Triple Arches, a 65 foot long stone bridge built across a gap in the mountain side
Mile 32.0: Logan Pass Visitor Center on the Continental Divide at 6,646 feet elevation
Mile 32.9: East Side Tunnel, a 408 feet long structure cut though a mountain
Mile 39.2: Saint Mary Lake, a 9.9-mile long glacial lake
Mile 43.0: Wild Goose Island in the middle of Saint Mary Lake
END OF ROUTE: Saint Mary Visitor Center and the town of Saint Mary
Due to deep snow blocking the roadway, a section of Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed during the winter months. A few reports say the snow can get over 80 feet deep at Logan Pass.
Officials at the Park do not give an exact date when the full length of the road will be open. They say opening is typically late June or early July. Usually the road remains open until the third Monday of October. However, portions of the road at lower elevations are open year-round giving travelers access to some locations and activities inside the Park. In alpine environments all depends on the weather which can change quickly, causing officials to close the road at any time.
Visitors flock to Glacier, some 3,049,839 came in 2019 alone. Many who travel on Going-to-the-Sun Road spend a half-day or longer to drive the full distance of the road. So much to see and do. When the journey is over, visitors take home memoires that will last a lifetime.
Lodging is limited along Going-to-the-Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. Guest rooms are available at Lake McDonald Lodge, Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins, and Motel Lake McDonald on the west side of the Park. Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins offers rooms near Saint Mary Lake on the east side of the Park.
Campgrounds are another option on Going-to-the-Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. Three campgrounds are on the west side of the Park: Apgar (194 sites); Sprague Creek (25 sites); and Avalanche (87 sites). The east side of the Park has two campgrounds: Rising Sun (83 sites); and Saint Mary (148 sites).
On any journey surprises are always best. However, in this case a quick read in advance is recommended. The book is Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park’s Highway to the Sky, by C.W. Guthrie.
Lose of a Young Person’s Life in Glacier NP
A tragedy occurred on Going-to-the-Sun Road on August 12, 2019. A car was traveling westbound from Logan Pass when rocks from the face of a mountain broke loose and fell to the road below hitting the car. A 14-year-old girl was killed and four others in the same vehicle were injured. NPS reported that the rockfall would have filled the bed on a small pickup truck.
Safety is always first on the minds of Park officials, but nothing could have averted this catastrophe. Of the sorrow and pain felt by the family, no words can convey.
The speed limit on Going-to-the-Sun Road is 45 miles per hour at lower elevations, 25 miles per hour at higher elevations (alpine areas).
There are no gas stations on Going-to-the-Sun Road. So, fill up in small towns near the west or east entrances to the Park: village of West Glacier or village of St. Mary.
What is the weather like in Glacier National Park? How crowded is the park? And when do visitors arrive? Savvy visitors usually weigh all three factors when timing their visit to Glacier. Data in the charts below is useful for planning a trip to Glacier.
Data in this chart is for West Glacier, Montana, at 3,200 feet in elevation. This weather station is at the west entrance to Glacier National Park. At Logan Pass, along Going-to-the-Sun Road, inside the park, the elevation is 6,647 feet. Expect much cooler temperatures at Logan Pass, as temperatures decrease with increasing elevation.
During July and August, the weather is very pleasant with comfortable, warm, daytime highs and cool nights. As can be expected for northerly latitudes, average daytime highs are still nice in June and September. In May and October, however, it’s time to wear cold weather clothing.
With average low temperatures in the 40s or less in every month, extra clothing is always a necessity.
Most visitors to the park arrive from May through September. The peak months are July and August, with somewhat fewer visitors in June and September. Earlier and later in the season, the number of visitors is low. The park’s opening and closing, plus the weather are big factors in the number of visitors going to the park. And, of course, mid-summer is when many Americans and others hit the trail.
During the peak tourist season, Glacier National Park gets very crowded. Only one road, Going-to-the-Sun Road, runs through the Park. In a word, think traffic. It’s not uncommon for NPS to report that Apgar parking lot near Lake McDonald is full early in the day. NPS on its Website says, “Expect crowding and congestion in many areas of the park. Plan accordingly.”
Data in the chart show visitors to Glacier National Park in 2019. The table provides statistics for categories of use and by month. Annual totals for each category of use:
Recreation visitors (3,049,839)
Non-recreation visitors (13,103)
Concession lodging (119,960)
Tent campers (118,181)
RV campers (126,099)
Concession camping (0)
Backcountry campers (34,759)
Misc. campers (926)
Total overnight stays (399,924)
Many visitors choose to stays in tents or RVs. This arrangement puts visitors close to nature. The National Park Service provides wonderful campgrounds to accommodate. Tents and RVs are expected as regular lodging is limited inside the park. And the lodging, such as Many Glacier Hotel and Lake McDonald Lodge, may be too expensive for some family budgets.
Some Facts About Glacier (source: NPS)
number of glaciers: 26
number of lakes: 762
number of species of mammals: 71
number of species of birds: 276
number of mountains: 175
number of class A campgrounds: 8; 943 sites
number of class B campgrounds: 5; 61 sites
number of backcountry campgrounds: 65; 208 sites
number of trails: 151; total length, 745.6 miles
As for size of Glacier National Park, measured on Google Earth, east-west distance is about 35 miles; from north to south, distance is about 60 miles.
Bring binoculars. Mountain goats hang out in high elevation, mountainous regions of Montana. The Montana FWP estimates that 5,900 mountain goats live in the state. Of the total, thirty-eight per cent are found in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
Viewing mountains goats is easy, finding them is another matter. Mountain goats are not seen ambling along regular roadways as is commonly the case with other wildlife such as bears, buffalo, and elk. Go explore the backcountry is the best advice for finding mountain goats in their preferred habitat.
Given the large number of mountain goats in Glacier National Park, this may be a good place to go to see one of these magnificent animals. While mountain goats like to stay at higher elevations in the mountains, in Glacier they are often seen wandering on the park’s many trails.
Amy Grisak, a writer for the Great Falls Tribune, describes the best places to go for viewing mountain goats in Glacier National Park. A few hot spots are: Goat Lick along U.S. Highway 2 near Essex in the early season; Logan Pass; Sperry Trail and Gunsight Pass in the western part of the park; and in the area around Many Glacier, the eastern part of the park. At Many Glacier, mountain goats can be viewed high on cliffs above Iceberg Trail and along Ptarmigan Tunnel.
More mountain goats make their home in the cliffs and canyons of the Bitterroot Mountains south of Missoula. In a recent census, a Montana FWP biologist, Rebecca Moray, counted 13 mountain goats in Blodgett Canyon and even more goats in nearby canyons, says Perry Backus in the Missoulian. The Bitterroots are a rugged and wild region, so finding mountain goats here might be hard to do.
Closer to civilization, near Helena, a small number of mountain goats live in the Big Belt Mountains east of the city. Tourists on guided boat tours on the Missouri River through an area called Gates of the Mountains, a large canyon, can sometimes view mountain goats feeding high above the canyon’s walls.
Mountain goats are not usually on people’s radar. Nevertheless, they are a delight to see in the wild. You need some imagination to understand how the goats can climb, even run, on high, treacherous mountain cliffs. This is one of the mysteries that create so much interest in viewing mountain goats.
Many Glacier Campground is a favorite of many folks who like to stay close to nature in Glacier National Park. The setting is unrivaled in nature with high mountain peaks in view from inside the campground. Swiftcurrent Creek and Lake are nearby.
Many Glacier Campground is located on the east side of the park, along Many Glacier Road which runs east to west inside the park and is a continuation of Glacier Route 3 from near the tiny village of Babb, Montana. Elevation at the campground is about 4,500 feet, so after sunset it can get cool outside.
The area around the campground is heavily forested. Large lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, quaking aspen, and other vegetation blanket the landscape. Wildlife including bear, bighorn sheep, and moose live in the mountains near the campground.
Space is available for tents and RVs: 109 sites. The campground has potable water, restroom facilities, and bear proof food lockers. Each campsite has a picnic table.
This campground is a good stop for hikers, since Grinnell Glacier, Iceberg-Ptarmigan, Swiftcurrent Pass, and Cracker Lake Trailheads are nearby. Swiftcurrent Nature Trail in this area is an outdoorsy delight.
For services, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn is a short distance from the campground. The Inn has a restaurant, some groceries and shower facilities (for a fee). More services are available in the town of Babb, about 12 miles east of the campground, outside the east entrance to the park. Babb has general store, gas station, general store, restaurants, and a U.S. Post Office.
Check for details about the Many Glacier Campground on the park’s Website. Notice: NPS says Many Glacier Campground is closed for the 2020 season.
Campgrounds in Glacier National Park have regulations on length of stay and the types of RVs allowed. Other rules for using the park’s campgrounds must be followed, as well.
In addition to Many Glacier Campground, other popular campgrounds in Glacier are at Apgar (west side); Avalanche (west of Continental Divide); and St. Mary’s (east side). All three campgrounds are along Going-to-the-Sun Road inside the park.
Most campgrounds in the park are first-come, first-served, signed up for at entrances to the park. For some campgrounds, however, advanced reservations may be allowed. Check the park’s Website.
Glacier National Park boasts over 700 miles of trails. A hiker’s paradise to be sure. No matter the trail, magnificent scenery can be seen in every direction. Four nature trails are very popular:
Forest and Fire
Running Eagle Falls
Trail of the Cedars
Swiftcurrent Nature Trail
Trails often mentioned by hiking pros are:
The National Park Service wants hikers to have a fun time and an enjoyable experience when hiking in the park.
Some good advice is offered by the National Park Service and hiking professionals:
Always take along bear spray
Let someone know where you are going (including route), description of what clothing you’re wearing, when you plan to return, and a description of your car (including where parked and license plate number)
Don’t count on cell phone service in the park
Be prepared to help yourself as help from others may be a long time coming
Get familiar with the hazards associated with hiking
Learn about the trail(s) you will be hiking on before you go
If available carry a map of the trail(s)
Always check the weather before heading out on a trail
Stay close together with your hiking group
Above all always hike with a group for safety
Some good advice to prepare yourself for hiking:
Wear suitable hiking shoes
Take along first-aid supplies
Carry plenty of water
Pack some food and ready-to-eat snacks
Physically condition yourself for walking in rough, often steep, terrain
Tackle only trails that match your abilities and condition
Be prepared for changes in weather conditions
A light rain jacket and suitable clothing (think layers) are essential
Take along sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and insect repellent
Carry a sturdy water-proof backpack
There are many challenges in hiking Glacier as there would be in any mountainous area. It’s unlike a stroll in a city park. But the rewards that come with hiking Glacier are well worth the effort.
The publishing world has many guides for happy and successful hiking. Read one.
Day Hikes of Glacier National Park Map-Guide by Jake Bramante
Top Trails: Glacier National Park by Jean Arthur
Day Hiking: Glacier National park & Western Montana, by Aaron Theisen
Excellent trail maps by the National Park Service are online.
The authors of Hiking in Glacier have published a very good online guide to 65 trails in Glacier. They did some sifting and came up with a list of the 10 best trails in the park.
The city of Kalispell (pop. 23,938) and the region around the city are a major tourist destination in northwest Montana. Glacier National Park, a few miles to the east of Kalispell, draws more than 3,000,000 visitors annually. Many arrive during peak season, June thru September.
It is not only Glacier Park that attracts. Vast wilderness areas near Kalispell offer limitless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Fishing, hiking, and boating to name a few. Outdoor recreation is king in the area around Kalispell.
Many tourists arrive in Kalispell at Glacier International Airport. Many others arrive by auto, train, or tour bus. No interstate highways reach Kalispell. Two main U.S. highways connect Kalispell with the rest of Civilization. U.S. Highway 93 runs north-south from the Canadian border to Missoula and U.S. Highway 2 runs east-west connecting Kalispell with Spokane to the west and Havre and other cities to the east.
Many hotels and other types of lodging are available in Kalispell and the surrounding towns and rural areas. Due to the influx of so many visitors, an amazing variety of places to stay can be found here. Cabins, resorts, bed & breakfasts, lodges, and more. As for traditional lodging, the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel may be a better choice than most of the chain hotels in town. The Kalispell Grand offers a continental breakfast, massage studio, and art gallery to make your stay more enjoyable. (406) 755-8100.
Flathead Lake is a few miles south of Kalispell. Fishing and boating on Flathead Lake are a common activity. Five State Parks offer facilities for outdoor activities near the shores of Flathead Lake. Wayfarers/Flathead Lake, close to the village of Bigfork, draws many visitors: Picnicking, fishing, camping, boating, and swimming are a few of the activities allowed at this state park.
A couple of nice attractions are found in the city of Kalispell. The Conrad Mansion Museum, built in 1895, is a window into early pioneer days of Kalispell. Mr. Conrad, a rich businessman, built the house with income from hauling freight and other business activities. The museum features many exhibits and well-manicured gardens enhance beauty of the grounds.
For history buffs, the Northwest Montana History Museum is a must see. The museum showcases the history of early frontier days. A neat glimpse of the old central school in Kalispell is a special attraction in the museum. Artifacts and displays of Native American culture are also interesting.
For upscale dining in Kalispell, try Jagz Fine Dining. A full pound center cut ribeye, char-grilled and topped with bourbon onion sauce goes for $32.95. The Desoto Grill is wildly popular too. The Desoto Grill serves BBQ, sandwiches, desserts, and beer. A smoked chicken sandwich, $12.25. Banana pudding, $4.75. Yum!
Natural beauty is the hallmark of the region around Kalispell. Mountains, pristine lakes, and wild rivers add to the splendor. This part of the country is hard to match anywhere else in the United States. The Visitor Information Center,15 Depot Park in Kalispell, is ready to give good advice and help make your stay more enjoyable. Phone: (888) 888-2308.
What is the Laughing Horse Lodge all about? The name sounds a bit whimsical, but a little more digging tells the full story about this lodging gem. To begin, the Laughing Horse Lodge is a seasonal business, opening on May 12 and closing in October in 2019.
May 12 is Mother’s Day and the Laughing Horse aims to please mom. At brunch you’ll be entertained with music by Second Wind. At supper, Electric Avenue Blues is on the “stage.”
In the main lodge, visitors are greeting by a cozy dining area and a bar. Chef Kathleen is a wonderful lady and she wants to make you feel right at home.
In case you want authenticity, listen to Kathleen: “In our 18th years here at the Horse, the practices we have tried to implement as much as possible are providing natural, hormone-free, known-sourced food…” Dining here is special. Try Kathleen’s bakedcambozola topped with Turkish figs and warm organic fig preserves served with crostini.
A lovely garden is immediately out the back door. A few steps away are several small cabins all nicely decorated with log furniture and western art. Cozy quilts cover the beds. No TVs, great! Very homey for sure.
Laughing Horse Lodge is located a few miles south of Bigfork on Montana Highway 83. Glacier National park and Flathead Lake are not too far away. If I were asked to give a rating, I’d say the Laughing Horse gets five stars. Contact them at 406-886-2080. Laughing Horse Lodge.
Nature is king in Glacier National Park. Nature operates and plays by its own rules, not within artificial boundaries understood and set by man. Since 1910, when Glacier National Parkwas established, 260 people have met death at the hands of nature or from other causes in the park. Many more experienced dangerous situations and lived to tell about it.
The National Park Service does all it can do within its power to make the park safe for visitors. But when nature and people come together, bad things can sometimes happen.
For those who want to learn more about the tragedies in Glacier’s history, Death & Survival in Glacier National Park: True Tales of Tragedy, Courage, and Misadventure by C. W. Guthrie is well worth a read. Another book, “Death in Glacier National Park: Stories of Accidents and Foolhardiness in the Crown of the Continent by Randi Minetor recounts much the same.
Perhaps the most shocking is a tragedy which occurred in August,1967. Within the space of a few short hours, at separate locations in Glacier National Park, two teenage girls, Julie Helgeson from Minnesota and Michele Koons from California, met death at the hands of marauding grizzly bears. This story is told in a book entitled Night of the Grizzlies, by Jack Olsen.
Visitors to Glacier should learn lessons from the past and be careful; further, religiously heed and follow the rules and guidelines for visitor activities and behavior set forth by the National Park Service.
Every visit to Glacier should and can be a wonderful and safe experience. This post is not of the cheery sort, but tells of important things to know about nevertheless.
High interest and much progress in grizzly bear science is reported in a recent technical paper by John Sandy. This research appears in the journal Science and Technology Libraries.
Grizzly bears inhabit wilderness areas in the northwestern region of the lower forty-eight states, western Canada, and areas of Alaska. Because of the settlement of the west and loss of prime habitat, populations declined rapidly in the nineteenth century, and in 1975 federal action was taken to protect grizzlies under the Endangered Species Act. Since 1950 about 722 technical papers have been written on the grizzly bear. Major research has focused on ecology, conservation, reproductive biology, behavior, dietetics, anatomy, and physiology, among other topics. Due to geographic distribution of the species, much of the research has been carried out by authors and organizations in western regions of the United States and Canada where major grizzly populations exist. A significant number of technical papers appear in three key journals: Ursus, the Journal of Wildlife Management, and the Canadian Journal of Zoology. According to data in WorldCat, about 1,167 records, covering monographs and technical reports, contain information on grizzlies and present research findings. The bulk of monographs appeal mainly to a general audience. However, citation analysis reveals a core of highly cited technical papers, many written with an emphasis on special themes or topics, whereas others focus on the grizzly itself, all together advancing the science on this species.