I know this may sound a little over-the-top, but every person living in this country should visit Glacier National Park at least once in their lifetime. It will forever change them. John Muir once said of Glacier; "Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."
I know I can’t, but I'm pretty sure there aren’t too many others that can quite sum-up the Glacier experience better than Muir did. Here are just a few of the reasons on why I think Glacier is so special:
In my humble opinion Glacier National Park is by far the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen. This includes almost every major national park in the lower 48. As a disclaimer, I should note that I haven’t been to Alaska….yet. Having said that, my love affair with this park began immediately the first time I laid eyes on it. To be precise, it was during the drive from Browning along Highway 2 as we approached the East Glacier/Two Medicine area. My love and awe for the park has grown after every hike and after each subsequent visit. At every turn on any road or trail is one spectacular scene after another. In fact, there are no bad or boring hikes. Photographers could spend a lifetime here taking photos of scenes that normally show up in Backpacker Magazine or National Geographic. One of the most famous photo locations in the entire National Park System is at a spot known as Wild Goose Island Overlook. You may recognize the scene in the photo below:
Most people assume that Glacier received its name as a result of the 25 glaciers that are located throughout the park. However, the park was actually given its name as a result of the rugged mountains that were carved by massive glaciers during the ice ages. Fortunately, many of the glaciers can be reached by trail. Some of the most popular hikes for enjoying front row views of these glaciers include Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier.
The Highline Trail
The Highline Trail from Logan Pass is widely recognized as one of the best hikes in the park, if not the entire National Park System. At every step and every turn hikers will enjoy absolutely spectacular scenery as they follow along the Continental Divide. The exceptionally beautiful views, the excellent opportunities for spotting wildlife, and the wildflowers all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. If you can make it past the narrow ledge section near the trailhead you’ll have the option of traveling to Haystack Pass, Granite Park Chalet, or making a one-way hike which continues all the way to “The Loop”. You'll also have the option of taking the steep spur trail up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road
The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road to cross Glacier National Park from east to west. The epic route transports visitors through some of the most spectacular scenery the park has to offer. This engineering marvel spans more than 50 miles across the park's interior, takes passengers over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, and treats visitors to some of the grandest sights in the Rocky Mountains. Along its course the road passes glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys, and windswept alpine meadows and sweeping mountain vistas atop the 6646-foot pass.
Several scenic viewpoints and pullouts along the way provide motorists with ample opportunities to stop for extended views and photographs. Once at Logan Pass be sure to visit Hidden Lake Overlook, a relatively easy hike that takes hikers across the Continental Divide just above the Logan Pass Visitor Center.
Some drivers (and passengers) might be a little intimidated by the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Portions of it hug the mountainside as it traverses over steep drop-offs and steers through tight curves. If this gives you any pause, you may want to consider letting the drivers of the iconic Red "jammer" Buses take you across the mountains.
Outside of Yellowstone, Glacier National Park is arguably the best park for spotting and viewing wildlife. Although wildlife are frequently spotted along the road, a venture into the wilderness is likely to bring better results. Trails like Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Grinnell Glacier and Swiftcurrent Pass are excellent choices if you wish to possibly see a grizzly or black bear. Bullhead Lake, the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, Dawson Pass and Cobalt Lake are all great choices for spotting moose. For bighorn sheep, check out Grinnell Glacier, Dawson Pass or the Highline Trail. For the best opportunities to possibly spot a mountain goat, check out Hidden Lake Overlook, the Highline Trail or Piegan Pass.
2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the Sperry and Granite Park Chalets. Both backcountry chalets were built in 1914 during a period when the Great Northern Railway was promoting Glacier National Park under the "See America First" campaign. Today the two backcountry chalets offer hikers the opportunity to trek to an overnight backcountry destination without being bogged down with a bunch of camping gear.
Perched at an elevation of more than 6500 feet, the Sperry Chalet sits high atop a rock ledge that offers visitors commanding views of majestic mountain peaks, waterfalls, as well as Lake McDonald in the valley far below. The Granite Park Chalet rests just below Swiftcurrent Pass, along the edge of a sub-alpine meadow that offers commanding views of Heavens Peak and the McDonald Valley. Day hikers and overnight guests commonly reach this chalet by one of three trails: the Highline Trail, the Granite Park Trail or the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out of Many Glacier.
With more than 740 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, hiking is the absolute best way to see Glacier National Park. In addition to the hikes listed above, the park offers a variety of other outstanding hikes. If you do plan to visit Glacier this year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings as well as other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.