It REALLY needs to be on your “Bucket” list: Glacier National Park
During the centennial year for the National Park Service, they have been running a campaign called “Find Your Park” encouraging visitation to the many choices available in our national park system. I feel it is hard to narrow your choice to just one favorite park, but nevertheless I have “Found my Park“: Glacier National Park in Montana. The only thing I can see wrong with the park is for me it has become an obsession…I can hardly wait to return. It was originally on my “Bucket List”, and I am so very happy I was able to visit the Park, but I really hope to return again someday. I leave the park with a desire to return because it is so vast and with an abundance of adventures, that you really can’t experience Glacier all in one trip.
Glacier National Park is located in the northwestern corner of Montana, bordering Canada. The Park was originally established in 1910 and encompasses over 1,500 square miles. The range of topography in the park, including mountains, crystal clear lakes, glacial feed streams and forested valleys, provides not only a photographer’s dream but also numerous other recreational pursuits. The park is home to 762 lakes and several waterfalls-both big and small. In addition to kayaking, canoeing and fishing, there are 151 maintained trails in Glacier for many different hiking experiences. The Park also supports a large population of both plant and animal life. Bears, both black bears and Grizzly, are among the mammals found here. An abundance of Big horn sheep and mountain goats are also found grazing on the highest peaks.
Another unique feature of Glacier National Park is it has been declared the world’s first International Peace Park. At the northern boundary of Glacier, the border into Canada connects with Waterton Lakes Park. The two parks together share over 1,800 square miles of breathtaking summits, glacial terrain and shimmering waterfalls. I had hoped to see Waterton as well on my trip. My husband and I both took our passports (yes, required) however we ran out of time. Perhaps on my next trip. Also, the area is home to many Native American tribes and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation is on the east side of the Park. There is much to learn about the history of the Blackfeet people in this area, that in itself warrants another blog post on the topic.
A very good place to start at Glacier, to get an overview of the entire park, is the iconic “Going to the Sun Road”. The road bisects the park, traverses up and over mountains and crosses the Continental Divide. It was a monumental task to complete and took 10 years build; the road opened in 1933. Personal vehicles are allowed on the road, but I recommend leaving the driving to the experts: the drivers that are familiar with all the sharp turns and heart stopping drop offs. If I had to drive it myself I would have been “white-knuckling” it the entire way and would have not been able to enjoy the views. If you are a seasoned mountain driver, go for it…I’m from the Midwest: a true flat-lander when it comes to driving. So my husband and I decided to take a “Red Bus Tour” and it was incredibly well worth it. The Red Buses themselves are a staple in the Park and have a rich history. Since 1914 the Red Bus Tours have been operating in Glacier and providing for visitors “unparalleled experiences touring through one of the most spectacular parks anywhere, and they have done it with the elegance and grace that has become synonymous with these unique vehicles.” I thought it was a nice touch that all the drivers wore a dress shirt, tie and a “motoring cap”. The buses themselves were made by the White Motor Company around 1936 and then refurbished by Ford Motor company. Logos for both companies are on each vehicle. Several different tours are available: some 3 to 4 hrs, others all day (8 hrs). If you are visiting Glacier I would highly recommend a Red Bus Tour and I stress the importance of a reservation. It is a pretty popular activity in the Park and they get booked. For more information, their website is: http://www.glaciernationalparklodges.com/red-bus-tours
Another historic and stunning feature of Glacier, are the historic lodges of the Park. When planning a stay near Glacier, there are an abundance of lodging opportunities available from bed & breakfasts, camp grounds and several hotel chains. Even if you choose to stay somewhere other than the classic Lodges you’ve just got to go see these beautiful iconic lodges. Go have a cup of coffee or lunch or just peruse the little gift shops. (I did alot of perusing, ask my husband…) There are four beautiful historic Lodges at the Park: Glacier Park Lodge (built 1913), Many Glacier Hotel (1914), Lake McDonald Lodge (1913) and St. Mary Lodge and Resort (built early 1930’s) All of the Lodges were built in the grand, old style of a mountain resort with huge pillars, taxidermy mounts and several windows to take in the views of beautiful mountains and pristine lakes.
Originally named Glacier National Park, back in 1910 there were about 100 glaciers, sadly that number has diminished to 37. It is a changing world we live in and Yes you can blame it on Global warming, partially. However, in the bigger picture the climatic changes we experience are also evolutionary changes on our fragile planet. Whatever the case may be, I highly recommend going to Glacier National Park and soaking up all the beauty you can experience there…get there before they all melt. It may be sooner than we realize. Put your traveling shoes on. JES