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Montana's Glacier National Park - An Overview

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Glacier National Park, Montana

The sun sets over Glacier National Park, Montana

© backpackphotography via Flickr

Overview:

If you want a truly stunning outdoor getaway, visit Glacier National Park. With alpine meadows, pristine lakes, and rugged mountains, the park is a hiker’s paradise. There is also a lot of history to explore, from historical lodges and transportation to stories of Native Americans. Plan a visit to Glacier for a beautiful getaway you won’t forget.

History:

The area that became Glacier National Park was first inhabited by Native Americans but was established as a park on May 11, 1910. Many historic hotels and chalets were built, many of which are listed as National Historic Landmarks. By 1932, work was completed on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Glacier National Park borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, and the two parks are known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. In 1932, it was designated as the world's first International Peace Park in 1932. Both parks were designated as Biosphere Reserves by the United Nations in 1976, and in 1995, as World Heritage sites.

When to Visit?:

The most popular time to visit Glacier National Park is in the summer. With lots of outdoor activities to choose from, July and August are great times to visit. I suggest checking out the park in the fall, particularly September and October. The foliage is stunning with reds, oranges, and yellows splashing the landscape. Winter is also a great time to visit, offering opportunities for skiing and show shoeing.

Visitor centers open and close at various times throughout the year. Check to make sure the buildings you want to visit are open before you travel:

Apgar Visitor Center
May 1 - June 18: 9:00am to 5:00pm
June 19 - Septenber 5: 8:00am to 6:00pm
September 6 - October 22: 8:00am to 5:00pm

St. Mary Visitor Center
May 22 - June 18: 8:00am to 5:00pm
June 19 - September 5: 8:00am to 9:00pm
September 6 - September 30: 8:00am to 5:00pm

Many Glacier & Two Medicine Ranger Stations
May 22 - September 23: 7:00am to 5:00pm

Logan Pass Visitor Center
Opening is weather dependant from opening until September 6: 9:00am to 7:00pm
September 6 - September 30: 9:30am to 4:30pm

Park Headquarters
Monday - Friday (closed holidays): 8:00am to 4:30pm

Getting There:

Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana along the Rocky Mountains. Below are direction by car, air, and train:

By Car
West Entrance – From Kalispell, take Highway 2 north to West Glacier (approximately 33 miles).

St. Mary, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier Entrances – All three entrances can be reached by taking Highway 89 north from Great Falls to the town of Browning. Then follow signs to the respective entrance.

By Air
Several airports are located within driving distance of Glacier National Park. Glacier Park International Airport, Missoula International Airport, and Great Falls International Airport all offer convenient flights.

By Train

Amtrak travels to East Glacier and West Glacier. Glacier Park Inc., also provides a shuttle service at these locations. Call 406-892-2525 for more information.

Fees/Permits:

Visitors entering the park via automobile will be charged a $25 entrance fee in the summer (May 1 - November 30), or a $14 entrance fee in the winter (December 1 - April 30). This fee allows entrance into the park for 7 days, and includes all passengers.

Visitors entering the park by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle will be charged a $12 entrance fee in the summer, or a $10 entrance fee in the winter.

For those visitors who anticipate they will be visiting the park numerous times in a year should consider purchasing the Glacier Annual pass for $35. Valid for one year, the pass admits you and your immediate family into the park fee-free. Annual passes are non transferable, nonrefundable and do not cover camping fees.

Things to Do:

There is no shortage of outdoor activities in the park. Some include backcountry camping, biking, hiking, boating, camping, fishing, and ranger-led activities. Be sure to fit in time for a scenic drive. One of the best highlights of the park is a drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Travel through 50 miles of the park, around mountains and through wild landscapes.

Major Attractions:

North Fork: This is one of the most uncrowded sections of the park. There is lots to see including recently burned areas, views of Bowman and Kintla Lakes, a homesteading site, and chances to see and rare wildlife.

Goat Haunt: Remote and peaceful, this is a great place to get away from the crowds.

Lake McDonald Valley: Once occupied by massive glaciers, this valley is now filled with beautiful sights, hiking trails, diverse plants and animals, historic chalets, and the grand Lake McDonald Lodge.

Many Glacier: Massive mountains, active glaciers, lakes, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife make this a favorite.

Two Medicine: Backpackers and dayhikers find this area rich in scenery, providing those willing to travel by foot into the mountains with a true wilderness experience. Tenderfeet can also venture off the roads and into the wild with a casual boat tour on Two Medicine Lake.

Logan Pass: Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and the occasional grizzly bear can be seen in these beautiful meadows. This is also the highest elevation reachable by car in the park.

St. Mary: Prairies, mountains, and forests all meet here to create a diverse and rich habitat for plants and animals.

Accommodations:

Camping is a great way to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Glacier. Visitors can choose from 13 campgrounds: Apgar, Avalanche, Bowman Lake, Cut Bank, Fish Creek, Kintla Lake, Logging Creek, Many Glacier, Quartz Creek, Rising Sun, Sprague Creek, St. Mary, and Two Medicine. Most sites are first-come, first-served basis and require a fee per night. Prices range between $10 and $25. Upon arrival, visitors should select a vacant site and pay at a registration area - complete a fee envelope and deposit it in the fee tube within 30 minutes of arrival. Be sure to only pay for the nights you plan to camp - refunds are not available.

There are also many lodges that offer a beautiful night’s stay. Check out lake McDonald Lodge, Cabins, and Inn or the Village Inn at Apgar. These are great options for those traveling with kids or people seeking a romantic getaway.

Pets:

Pets are not allowed on any park trails. However, they are only allowed in drive-in campgrounds, along park roads open to motor vehicles, and in picnic areas. You must keep your pet on a leash no longer than six feet or caged. They may not be left unattended for any length of time. If you plan on taking long hikes, consider kennels located in many nearby towns) to care for your pet while you’re away.

Areas of Interest Outside the Park:

Waterton Lakes National Park: One must-see is the sister park across the International Border. The other half of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Waterton Lakes, offers great hiking, scenic boat cruises, and several scenic drives.

Other nearby parks include, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Nez Perce National Historical Park, and Yellowstone National Park.

Contact Info

By Mail:
Glacier National Park
PO Box 128
West Glacier, Montana 59936

Phone: 406-888-7800

Email

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