From downtown Kalispell, you can see the majestic, snowcapped peaks of magnificent Glacier National Park, with its diverse wildlife, awe-inspiring glaciers, expansive valleys, cascading waterfalls and a million acres of pristine wilderness, studded with 762 lakes, 563 streams or rivers and 175 named mountains – six of which rise to over 10,000 feet.
Glacier Park was established in 1910, the country’s 10th national park. In 1932 Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Park, in Canada, were designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park as a symbol of the long-standing peace and friendship between our two nations.
Glacier’s cultural history dates back at least 10,000 years to the ancestors of the same American Indian tribes that live in the area today – the Blackfeet who controlled the vast prairies east of the mountains, and the Salish and Kootenai who lived and hunted in the western valleys.
Coined the Crown of the Continent by early explorer George Byrd Grinnell nearly a century ago, Glacier Park is just a half-hour drive away but when you get a few minutes down one of its trails, you’re a million miles from the demands of your day-to-day responsibilities.
At the height of summer, Rocky Mountain wildflowers splash Glacier’s 730 miles of trails with color, from the popular Northern Highline Trail, one of America’s premier hiking trails, to the more remote trails for hardy, toughened trailblazers heading to spots like Iceberg Lake and Pitamakan Pass.
Those who visit have the unique chance of spotting some of America’s most diverse flora and fauna, including elk, mountain goats, lynx, wolves, and one of the largest remaining grizzly bear populations anywhere in the lower 48 states.
Glacier has always been a hiker’s park, but driving it also provides stunning vistas. The famed 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, carved out of the sheer mountain slopes, is a National Historic Landmark and considered one of the most spectacular drives, and certainly one of the most epic engineering feats, in the world. It climbs 3,000 feet to the 6,646-foot high Logan Pass at the top of the Continental Divide.
Starting this summer in July park visitors will have the option to enjoy the historic route and spectacular scenery on board one of Glacier’s environmentally-friendly shuttle buses or vans. Once park entrance fees are paid the voluntary transit system will run free of charge from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily through Labor Day weekend and will relieve traffic congestion during the road’s rehabilitation.
From its rugged wilderness to its historic chalets and lodges, it’s no wonder close to two million visitors pass through its gates annually.
But when they leave, Glacier offers a whole new dimension. As the larch and birch burnish to a golden color in autumn, and falling leaves sift through the trees, the folks who live here year-round head back to Glacier to savor all its seasons. They strap on skis and snowshoes in the winter and head up the unplowed road past Lake McDonald.
Come spring, as the plows work their way up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, clearing it of snow, and Going-to-the-Sun is closed to motorized traffic, local hikers and bicyclists have the highway gloriously to themselves.
Perched on the backbone of America – the Continental Divide – Glacier Park is truly a national treasure that symbolizes all that is grand about life in Northwest Montana. It’s pristine. It’s naturally spectacular. And it’s at our doorstep.
Keeping pace with today’s technology, Glacier National Park’s Web site now offers e-Tours and e-Hikes. While there’s no substitute for lacing up your hiking books and heading down the trail, the online interactive treks and tours will wet your appetite for Glacier’s glorious scenery and help you either plan your visit or relive your adventures.
So take an e-walk on the wild side and log on to www.nps.gov/glac/photosmultimedia/virtualtour.htm.
Glacier National Park