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What to See in Glacier National Park - Our Experience

Updated on January 30, 2016
Glacier lilies in foreground, Heaven's Peak in background.
Glacier lilies in foreground, Heaven's Peak in background.

Have you ever visited Glacier National Park?

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Our Visit to Glacier National Park in Montana

In mid-July, 2010, my husband and I traveled to Glacier National Park in Montana, during its 100th year anniversary of becoming the 10th National Park of the United States.

We had awe-inspiring views of snow-covered mountains, glaciers and glacial valleys, and waterfalls while driving along the Going to the Sun Road, while hiking along a few of its over 700 miles of hiking trails, and while quietly sitting outside our lodging.

We saw a variety of wild-life, including grizzly bears (too close for our taste!), mountain goats, and marmots; saw a bald eagle and heard the beautiful flute-like song of the varied thrush.

We also learned about the many types of spring flowers blooming while we were there (spring comes late to Glacier National Park!), from the showy bear grass to the fields of glacier lilies.

Glacier National Park is one of the most spectacular places we've visited, and we hope to visit again.

All photos on this page are my own except where noted.

Avalanche Gorge near Going to the Sun Road
Avalanche Gorge near Going to the Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road

Traversing Glacier National Park

During our first day at Glacier National Park, we traveled the length of the winding 52-mile Going to the Sun Road, which is the only road that travels across the full width of the park.

The road is named after Going to the Sun Mountain on the east side of the park. The elevation on the road ranges from just under 3200 feet at Apgar Village at the west end, to over 6600 feet at Logan Pass on the Continental Divide.

We stopped numerous times at scenic turnouts and for short hikes, including the Trail of the Cedars, with Avalanche Creek Gorge (pictured) along the trail. Some other places to stop along the road include The Weeping Wall, with water cascading down the rock wall next to the road, and the Jackson Glacier Overlook.

Portions of Going to the Sun Road are open year round, but at the higher elevations the road is closed for the winter. This year (2010) the whole length of the road was fully open on June 24. We encountered road work while we were there, and had to stop and wait periodically, but the waits gave us the opportunity to better enjoy the views from the road of snow-capped mountains, glacial valleys, and numerous waterfalls from snow melt.

Ken Burns on Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Lodging - Photo of Many Glacier Lodge

Many Glacier Lodge and Hotel
Many Glacier Lodge and Hotel

Years ago we would have backpacked and camped in Glacier National Park. But at this point in our lives (well, my life at least -- my husband enjoys "roughing it" more than I do!), we decided to stay in lodges and chalets within the park.

We stayed for three nights at Many Glacier Lodge (shown above and below), the largest hotel in the park, on Swift Current Lake. We were treated to gorgeous views in all directions, and comfortable lodging and good meals. There's a large fireplace in the center of the commons area, and people gather there to read, relax, and to visit with each other. There are great hiking trails accessed by walking out the door, or by driving a short distance. Besides hiking, people can take a boat ride across the lake, or a Red Jammer Bus tour through different parts of the park.

Many Glacier Lodge

Many Glacier Lodge
Many Glacier Lodge
Glacier National Park (Moon Handbooks)
Glacier National Park (Moon Handbooks)

From the Product Description, "From hiking through multi-color meadows filled with wildflowers to observing the Sperry Glacier, a victim of global warming that will vanish in less than two decades, Lomax knows the best ways to enjoy the park’s one million acres of wilderness. She also includes unique trip strategies for travelers with specific interests and restrictions, including a Wildlife-Watching tour and a whirlwind One Day in Glacier tour. Whether it’s biking up Going-to-the-Sun Road or watching a grizzly forage in huckleberries, Moon Glacier National Park gives travelers the tools they need to create a more personal and memorable experience. "

 
Fetching water at Granite Park Chalet
Fetching water at Granite Park Chalet

We hiked up to Granite Park Chalet, for the next three nights. I called this "backpacking light" -- we carried up our clothes and other personal gear in packs, while the chalet provided bedding and food for an extra fee. Guests cook and clean up for themselves in a well-apportioned industrial-sized kitchen, with the helpful staff nearby in case of any questions or problems.

Rooms are unheated which was a challenge the first night, since the high temperature for that first day was 37F (with a few snow flurries!). But there was a cozy fire going in the fireplace, and other interesting hikers to talk to. Our room was right across from the out house, making night-time visits a little easier!

There's no running water at the chalet. Guests can buy bottled water at the chalet, or hike 1/4 mile along a rocky path and across snow fields to collect their own water (photo of me with jug of water).

We did some day-hiking from Granite Park Chalet including a trip up to the Continental Divide overlooking Grinnell Glacier, and up to a look-out tower during a wild-flower workshop.

For more information on lodges and camping in Glacier National Park, check Lodges and Chalets in Glacier National Park and Campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Make your reservations many months in advance for lodges and chalets!

Photo of Granite Park Chalet, below, from the National Park Service in the public domain.

Granite Park Chalet

Granite Park Chalet
Granite Park Chalet

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Hiking Glacier National Park
Hiking Glacier National Park

There are over 700 miles of hiking trails in Glacier National Park. Some are easy, short trails that are accessible to most people, while others are steep, difficult trails crossing over snow fields, streams from snow melt, and rocky areas.

We're from Michigan, at a much lower elevation than anywhere in the park, and the uphills were tiring for me. I needed to stop often to catch my breath, but the views were worth it!

The photo above shows a few of us out on a wild flower hike, looking toward Granite Park Chalet, with the majestic Heaven's Peak in the background. It was a "slow-paced" hike, but still I needed to stop and catch my breath during many of the uphill portions.

Below is a photo of my husband on a huge snow field on the Highline Trail, the day we left Granite Park Chalet. The Highline Trail was my favorite trail on the trip, with the most varied terrain, from easy, flat areas to rocky or snowy terrain. We had views of mountains, glacial valleys, and waterfalls from the glacial melt, and saw a variety of wildlife and wildflowers along the trails. The Highline Trail is one of the more heavily traveled trails in the park, connecting Granite Park Chalet with Logan Pass.

Note the hiking poles! They gave us extra stability when trekking across slippery snow fields, crossing rocky, glacial-melt streams, or for stepping up and down from rocks. They also took some of the pressure off of hip and knee joints.

Large Snow Field on Highline Trail

Large Snow Field on Highline Trail
Large Snow Field on Highline Trail
Mountain goat on Highline Trail
Mountain goat on Highline Trail

Wildlife in Glacier National Park

There's plenty of wildlife in Glacier National Park, from grizzly bears to mountain goats and bighorn sheep, to squirrels and chipmunks.

We shared the Highline Trail with a few mountain goats. Notice how this one in the photo is giving us the "evil" eye! We couldn't get by him for awhile. He was bringing up the rear, with the mother and kid a little further up the trail, and anytime we got too close, he'd stop and glare at us.

We saw bighorn sheep in the Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot, surrounded by tourists, and probably looking for handouts. The rangers tried chasing off the sheep, but that didn't look particularly successful.

There were many mule deer in the Granite Park Chalet area, grazing near the dormitory area and the outhouse. Also in that area, and at higher elevations we saw marmots (they liked trying to get into the outhouse and chewing on old pieces of 2 x 4s), Columbian ground squirrels, golden mantled squirrels, and chipmunks. None of the animals were particularly fearful of us, and the squirrels and marmots were quite bold when they could smell our peanut butter.

Can't resist peanut butter!

Can't resist peanut butter!
Can't resist peanut butter!
Mama grizzly and cubs
Mama grizzly and cubs | Source

Grizzlies!

There are both black bears and grizzly bears in Glacier National Park. As we were driving into the park we saw a black bear along the road, with a few other cars stopped to take pictures. I prefer to see bears from the safety of our car!

But then out on a hike around Lake Josephine, in the Many Glacier Lodge area, we came around a bend and saw a grizzly mama bear about 35 feet away from us. She stood up on her hind legs to get a better look at my husband (I had just ducked back out of sight), but more out of curiosity than aggression. We retreated for a few minutes, continued on and shortly after we saw her and two cubs further down the trail, going off into the woods. I don't need to be that close to a bear again!

Grizzly bears are common enough in certain areas of the park that hikers need to be prepared for chance encounters.

Some hikers choose to wear "bear bells", to alert bears that they're approaching. (Those with a macabre sense of humor call them "dinner bells"....) Some hikers carry a "bear spray" made from hot peppers, to use in an emergency. One drawback of the bear spray is that people sometimes accidentally spray themselves. (Can you imagine pulling out your bear spray to thwart a charging grizzly, only to spray yourself in the face?? Maybe the screaming would scare off the bear.)

For most people, it works just fine to make noise along the trail by talking, singing, calling out, "Hey bear, we're coming, bear. Mr. Bear, are you there? Go away Mr. Bear". That was the option we chose -- my husband was calling out "Hey Mr. Bear, we're coming through!" before we walked around bends in the trail or if we were in low visibility areas. Apparently Ms. Bear didn't realize we were also talking to her.

Wildflowers in Glacier National Park

Glacier lilies
Glacier lilies

Glacier National Park was in bloom when we were there! We saw many varieties of subalpine and alpine flowers in every location we visited.

We took a day-long wildflower workshop, led by naturalist Janet Bones, while we were up at Granite Park Chalet, and we also enjoyed looking at wildflowers as we hiked on our own.

The most prevalent flower we saw in the Granite Park area was the Glacier Lily, shown above, interspersed with Spring Beauties. These two flowers are similar to a couple flowers that bloom in April where we live, but in Glacier this year, they were blooming in mid-July. Our wildflower guide acknowledged that spring in Glacier National Park was later than usual this year.

Bear grass
Bear grass

A striking subalpine flower that's common in Glacier National Park is Bear Grass (side photo). It's not a grass, and bears don't eat it, but the leaves are grass-like, and it's certainly growing in bear-country! The Blackfoot Tribe used the leaves to weave baskets and to make some clothing items.

Bear grass is in the lily family. For another view of bear grass, see the cover of the book Glacier National Park: The First 100 Years.

At higher altitudes, above the tree line, alpine wildflowers are small and close to the ground in order to survive the colder, windier, harsher growing conditions.

One of our favorite alpine flowers was moss campion, shown below. It grows in cushions that stay close to the ground, and each flower is only about a centimeter wide.

Moss Campion -- Alpine wildflower

Moss Campion -- Alpine wildflower
Moss Campion -- Alpine wildflower
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park

Our trip to Glacier National Park was one of the most interesting, varied trips we've taken. It was visually stunning on all levels, from the expansive views of the mountains and valleys, to the small splashes of color of alpine flowers.

Parts of the trip were physically challenging for me, from the uphill hikes and mushy, slippery snow fields, to the occasionally very cold and windy weather, but the rewards always out-weighed the challenges.

When Glacier became a National Park, 100 years ago, there were about 150 glaciers in the park. Due to climate changes, now there are only about 25 active glaciers, and those are continuing to shrink. Most likely the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone 20 years from now. If you want to see active glaciers in the continental 48 states, plan your trip to Glacier National Park soon! But even without the glaciers, the park will continue to be a beautiful and stunning location to visit.

Glacier National Park: The First 100 Years
Glacier National Park: The First 100 Years

From the product description:

"C. W. Guthrie, author of four other books on Glacier National Park, details the astonishing changes the park has undergone since its designation in 1910. From the Great Northern Railway's Swiss-style chalets and lodges to the glorious Going-to-the-Sun Road, from the park's tragic first fatal grizzly attacks to its designation as an International Peace Park, Biosphere Reserve, and World Heritage Site, Glacier National Park has a story unlike any other."

 

Glacier National Park's "Highway to the Sky" - Going to the Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park's Highway to the Sky
Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park's Highway to the Sky

Product Description: "Traveling Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road is an experience like no other. Laborers toiled for nearly 20 years to complete the 50-mile road that winds an impossible route through the heart of Glacier. One of the most scenic highways in the world, this marvel of engineering set the standard for all national parks. C. W. Guthrie tells the intriguing tale of the history and the construction of the epic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Includes more than 60 black-and-white historic and color photographs, maps."

 

Make sure you read through the last sentence.....

bear warning sign
bear warning sign

(Image found a few places online)

Will You Visit Glacier National Park? - Have you visited in the past?

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    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      5 years ago from U.S.

      @Glenda Motsavage: I'm glad you enjoyed the page -- and also glad you enjoyed the sign after the guestbook :-) I certainly laughed when I first read it!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image

      Glenda Motsavage 

      5 years ago from The Sunshine State

      PS...previously posted before reading the "Sign" that follows your guestbook...that is the funniest thing I've read in awhile! LOL...

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image

      Glenda Motsavage 

      5 years ago from The Sunshine State

      Truly amazing photos! Never been there, but would love to someday! Thanks for the great article.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 

      5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Definitely want to go again with my camera soon! That sign is hysterical ;)

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 

      5 years ago

      Excellent lens. Have been there a couple times. A truly remarkable place to visit with a diverse ecosystem.

    • RogerBonger profile image

      RogerBonger 

      5 years ago

      Great pictures, this is going on my must visit list. Thanks

    • profile image

      cmadden 

      5 years ago

      I visited Glacier with friends years ago, and would love to go back for another visit again.

    • profile image

      TheGardenGuys 

      5 years ago

      Wow - this looks a fantastic place to go. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      TheGardenGuys 

      5 years ago

      Looks a great place. I need to add this to my list of places to see.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      5 years ago from U.S.

      @fifta: Thanks, it was truly a wonderful place to visit. I hope you enjoy your trip to Glacier National Park as much as we enjoyed ours.

    • fifta profile image

      fifta 

      5 years ago

      We plan to visit this park in May. Love love love the pictures. They are so beautiful!

    • Wayne Rasku profile image

      Wayne Rasku 

      5 years ago

      This park is on my own bucket list. Your photos make it even more inviting. Well done - blessed.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      5 years ago from U.S.

      @Steve Martaindale: I'm glad you enjoyed the page! Our trip to Glacier National Park was one of my favorite vacations ever. We met a few semi-retired people who worked there -- I think you'll enjoy it!

    • montanatravel52 profile image

      montanatravel52 

      6 years ago

      I was born and raised in MT, live here again as adult with my family, and I know just how majestic Glacier Park is - you did a wonderful job capturing much of its beauty from your pictures alone! However, I am a Yellowstone Park fan, and am currently in the process of writing a debate lens about Yellowstone v. Glacier Park - hopefully you will be able to add some useful and great comments!

    • Steve Martaindale profile image

      Steve Martaindale 

      5 years ago

      Just what I was looking for ... an outsider's insight to Glacier. We've not been there yet, which might be why it's topping our list for our next adventure. My wife and I are entering (let's call it) semi-retirement summer of 2013 by getting seasonal employment in places we'd like to visit. Your lens just heightens the anticipation. Thanks.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      6 years ago from U.S.

      @montanatravel52: I'm glad you enjoyed the page and the photos :-) It's been so long since I've been to Yellowstone Park, so I don't know how I'd compare the two, but I'll look at your page!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Congratulations on your Purple Star. The mountains and scenery are beautiful.

    • profile image

      fixitlady 

      6 years ago

      Having been to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mtn., and Olympic National Parks as well as Banff, Jasper and Yoho in Canada, Glacier NP is still on our list of places to visit. So far it just hasn't ever worked out, but we're determined to go.

    • Lynne-Modranski profile image

      Lynne Modranski 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      Sounds wonderful!!! I've never been, but sounds like something I should put on my list of "Places to Visit."

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      7 years ago from U.S.

      @SusannaDuffy: It was truly a wonderful vacation -- one of the best ones we've taken. Thanks for your comment!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I'm stunned! I'm gazing in wonder at your images and personal account of a holiday in Glacier National Park. It's hard to comprfehend such natural beauty still exists

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      7 years ago from UK

      Now this is a place I would LOVE to visit! It reminds me of my beloved Alps although your wildlife is different and I can't imagine what people would do if I went on a walk in the Alps yelling "Hey Mr Bear, I'm coming!" Then again, there are so many German speakers there that it would probably sound like somebody's name and he would answer me. :)

      This is an exceptional lens and that purple star is very well deserved, congratulations. If it didn't already have one I would have nominated it myself. Blessed, in any case, by a roaming Travel Angel.

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 

      7 years ago

      What a gorgeous place - thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      dannystaple 

      7 years ago

      That bear sign below had me laughing out loud! An excellent lens. I'd love to visit somewhere like this - taking the right precautions of course.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      ~ Blessed by a Squidoo Angel ~

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      7 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Your lens and photos bring back fond memories of several visits to Glacier. I've always camped and have been on numerous hikes - also one trip on horseback which was fun, too. I've always wanted to stay at one of the Chalets, but never have - maybe next time!

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      7 years ago from U.S.

      @RMKK-Marlene: Yes, we definitely loved being there -- that vacation belongs up in my top 4 or 5, because of the beauty. It's a truly awe-inspiring place! I'm glad you enjoyed the lens.

    • RMKK-Marlene profile image

      RMKK-Marlene 

      7 years ago

      I live in Kalispell and am happy when people enjoy the park as much as me. I feel truly blessed to live near its awe inspiring beauty. It is truly heaven on earth. I loved your lens! ~ Marlene

    • profile image

      grannysage 

      7 years ago

      I just added this to my list of must-see places when we start RV-ing next year. It is so beautiful and there are so many interesting things to see. Thanks for sharing your visit with us, it makes it much more personal than just a travel brochure.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      7 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Never been there, but it looks beautiful! If I ever plan a trek in the USA this is a place I should consider. You have beautiful photos too!

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 

      8 years ago

      What a great article about the park. I do want to get there someday; and this will help me plan the trip. Pictures were wonderful. Your hikes were very interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      8 years ago from U.S.

      @anonymous: I'm so glad you enjoyed the Glacier National Park article! My husband and I agree that it was one of our favorite trips in terms of scenery and activities. We discovered, almost too late, that reservations for some of the lodges and chalets within the park fill up very quickly sometime during the fall, so take that into consideration when planning your itinerary. There are also good places right outside the park that don't fill quite as quickly.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      We are planning a trip to Glacier with friends in 2011...your article was awe inspiring! We plan to use it to prepare our own itinerary. Thanks for taking the time to share your beautiful experience.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen 

      8 years ago from U.S.

      @anonymous: It's such an awesome (in the real sense of the word!) place to visit. My husband and I think this was one of our favorite vacations.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      How I would love to visit Glacier National Park. Thanks for sharing your vacation, this photos are just beautiful Its like I can smell the fresh air.

    • Surfie LM profile image

      Surfie LM 

      8 years ago

      Oh my, this lens is fabulous! Those photos are so stunning. I feel like I was there! What a beautiful place. Now I have even more reason to eventually visit Montana. Thumbs up and favorited!

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      8 years ago from Canada

      No, I've never been to Glacier National Park. Thanks for the tour!

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