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Glacier National Park, Montana

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Did You Know … ?

  • Glacier National Park and Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park were the first International Peace Park (1932).
  • The park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
  • Welcome messages on the lobby floor at Lake McDonald Lodge are written in the Blackfeet, Chippewa and Cree languages.
  • Glacier National Park protects nearly 50 glaciers and the valleys carved by glaciers long gone.
  • The park encompasses the headwaters for rivers that spill into the Atlantic, the Pacific and Hudson Bay.

Backbone of the World

Glacier National Park was created because it encompasses some of the grandest scenery anywhere and because its varied terrain of high mountains (some more than 10,000 feet) and deep alpine valleys provides a valuable habitat for a wide range of species.

All things considered, it did not take long for the government to make its move. Native Americans had inhabited the area for thousands of years. Early European arrivals were trappers, miners and a few settlers, but the door opened wide to settlers with the completion (1891) of the Great Northern Railway. Only four years later, supporters of a park opened negotiations, and in 1910, Glacier became America’s 10th national park.

The million-acre park straddles the Continental Divide; no wonder Native Americans called the area the Backbone of the World. Its diverse habitat supports 70 mammal species, including bears, mountain lions and wolves. More than 270 species of birds visit or live here, including bald eagles and harlequin ducks. The glaciers are remnants from the Ice Ages of more than 10,000 years past. In carving out the valleys, these ice rivers created a landscape with big lakes filled with sparkling waters.

The park is ideal for boating, cycling, fishing, hiking, horseback riding,— and for photography. Visitors face certain restrictions, sometimes seasonal, as to where they can take a boat or throw a fishing line, for example, but these rules aim to protect wildlife habitats or other features of pristine nature.

The park is in a good neighborhood, too. Glacier and the adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, are an International Peace Park. Their terrains — the rugged northern Rockies — and habitats are extensions of one another. Treating them as a single unit is “a reminder that our natural resources have no boundaries,” the U.S. National Park Service says.

To move from park to park, visitors go to one of the border crossings, most often the Chief Mountain crossing. A passport is required.

This fine neighborhood also includes popular ski resorts west/southwest of the park, the Flathead Indian Reservation to the south and, abutting its eastern boundary, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go hiking in the park. There are more than 700 miles of trails. Or, cycle in the park. If you don’t have your own, you have to rent your wheels outside the park.
  • Camp in the park (with an appropriate permit). There are 13 campgrounds.
  • Take a field seminar from the Glacier Institute. Sample course titles range from Wilderness First Aid to Nature Photography, from Making Wild Herbal Medicines to North Fork River Ecology by Raft.
  • Attend North American Indian Days in July or Heart Butte Indian Days in August, in Browning, headquarters for the Blackfeet Nation.
  • Whitewater rafting is an option at some points on the park’s perimeter, such as at Columbia Falls and West Glacier.
  • Plan an overnight hiking or trail riding experience in the park, and stay at either the Sperry Chalet or Granite Park Chalet. Both are National Historic Landmarks.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go fishing at Lake McDonald. There are many other choices, and the system includes restrictions to protect aquatic life. Also, you can go ice fishing in winter; again, rules apply. In some places, a Montana fishing license required, too.
  • Attend one of the park’s special events. In one recent example, Blackfeet and Flathead Indians presented evening campground programs with songs and stories that tell of their history and traditions. In another example, Native Americans illustrated various types of tribal dancing.
  • Drive the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road across the Continental Divide, described by its fans as one of America’s most stunning drives.
  • You have choices for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing within the park.
  • Enjoy the park scenery and fresh air on horseback.
  • Go canoeing or take out a sailboat on Lake McDonald or any of the park’s other lakes. If you prefer something speedier, motorized boats are permitted on Lower Two Medicine, McDonald, Sherburne, St. Mary and Upper Waterton lakes. Ten horsepower boats are allowed on these lakes, as well as on Bowman and Two Medicine lakes.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take a narrated boat tour in the park. The tours are available at Many Glacier Hotel, Rising Sun Motor Inn, and McDonald and Two Medicine lakes.
  • Participate in ranger-led activities, such as daylong hikes, boat tours and evening talks.
  • On your drives in the park, take the time to spot and photograph any of the big game: brown bears, elk, grizzlies, moose, mountain goats, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and wolves. Look for bald eagles, too.
  • Shop for authentic Native American arts and crafts at the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning.
  • Overnight at a historic accommodation inside Glacier National Park, the better to enjoy a portion of its 50 glaciers and 200 lakes and to view the wildlife. Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel are National Historic Landmarks.
  • Sign on for the Glacier National Park’s Blackfeet Cultural Tour, a motorcoach tour led by Blackfeet Indians and designed to provide you with a view of the park as seen from the Indian perspective. Tours are operated by the Indian-owned Sun Tours based in East Glacier Park (the town).

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the U.S. National Park Service at www.nps.gov/glac