Guide to Glacier National Park

December 10, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I finally made a trip to one of my bucket list locations Glacier National Park! The park was established in 1910, it is noted for towering mountains, sparkling blue lakes, meadows filled with colorful wildflowers, glaciated valleys, cascading waterfalls, wildlife, glaciers, and tons of amazing hiking trails from easy to back country trails. Glacier has so many features you do not want to miss out. I would like to share some of my pictures and experiences from my adventure.

Here are a few tips before you go: The biggest tip I have before you set off on your adventure, is to make sure you research what you want to do and when the best time of the year it would be for you to take a trip. Make sure you plan accordingly, opening and closing dates depend on the weather. Some of the  roads remains open all year, but once you get to the alpine area it varies on snowfall and plowing progress. Typically the alpine area roads will be fully open until October and may not be open until June. 

Sunrise Goose Island, St. Mary's Lake

What to see and do: If you start from the east side and travel along near St. Mary's lake you will come across a photographer hot spot, called Wild Goose Island. This is where you will get the best views of the mountains off St. Mary's Lake. There is a small pull off and if you want prime sunrise or sunset pictures make sure you get there early, it gets packed quickly. Take some time to look around the area, maybe try a different angle or perspective then everyone else.  As you are setting up and waiting for the "magic moment" you may hear some loons vocalizing from the lake. The view is amazing any time of the day so if you don't get a chance to catch it in the early morning or evening just stop and enjoy the view. 

Sunrift Gorge

If you love waterfalls, a great spot that has some short and longer hikes is the Sunrift Gorge and St. Mary's fall area. Sunrift Gorge starts with a steep canyon cut through the bedrock down into a turquoise stream rushing through cascading falls. Check out the old stone bridge and follow the short trail down to Bearing Falls. If you are looking for a longer hike follow the trail to St. Mary's Fall and Virginia Falls or you can park at the St. Mary's trailhead just down the road from Sunrift Gorge. This is a great hike for the whole family!

Bearing Falls  If you are not tired of waterfalls yet, stop at the Lunch Creek pull off for a gorgeous sight. The creek comes right out of the mountain and then cascades down a natural staircase. In the summer, the landscape is blanketed with wildflowers. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep and mountain goats that frequent the area. On the other side of the road towards the bottom of the fall along the parking area keep an eye out for Pika. While I was there we were able to spot a few in the rocks running out to collect grass and flowers to store in their den. 

Lunch Creek

American Pika

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you continue west you will reach the most popular location and the highest elevation in the park, Logan Pass. The parking at the Logan Pass visitor center fills up very quickly, especially in the busy summer months. I would recommend arriving at this location early or taking the shuttle if you want a parking space. Logan Pass has the two most popular hikes: Hidden Lake and Highline Trail. They are definitely ones not to miss out on. 

The Hidden Lake trail can be either a short hike or longer, depending on how far you want to go. The Hidden Lake trail follows a board walk with a few stairs along the way. If you visit this location in the summer time, the meadow is bursting with beautiful alpine plants. You can often find yellow glacier lilies popping up through the snow in spring or summer.  I visited at the end of July and there was still snow on the trail. Keep an eye out for wildlife, you can often see: bighorn sheep, marmots, columbian ground squirrels, mountain goats, black bear and grizzly bear. Once you reach the overlook it has an amazing panoramic view of Hidden lake and the surrounding mountains. If you are looking for more of an adventure, continue on the trail down to the lake. 

Highline trail is a great hike, if you are not afraid of heights. The hike has an spectacular view that follows the Continental Divide out to the western half of the park, also known as the Garden Wall.  The first one-quarter of a mile from the trailhead you will arrive at the famous ledge that cuts across the cliff. Unfortunately, due to the crowds and mountain goats blocking the path I did not get to experience all of the trail but from other reviews it is definitely worth the adventure. 

Mt. Clematis, Hidden Lake Overlook

The Going-to-the-Sun-Road is a must see. The road was completed in 1932 and is an amazing 50 mile trek that crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. It is one of the most scenic drives in the park.  Make sure you check the current road status before you hit the road, it is only open seasonally due to the high mountain terrain with snow cover until June. There are many areas that you can pull off to see the amazing views and get those photo opportunities. Make sure you plan accordingly, there are no services (gas, food, etc) along the stretch of road between St. Mary's and Lake McDonald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avalanche Gorge As you travel through the Going-to-the-Sun-Road you will reach Lake McDonald Area. One of the first things you will notice in the area is the beautiful blue water and a variety of colored rocks and pebbles. These colored pebbles are seen in abundance on the shores of Lake McDonald. This is one of the largest and deepest lakes in the park.

The most popular hikes in this area are: Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake. The trail of the cedars is an unique, easy hike with a boardwalk that is less then a mile. You will see the old growth forest with giant red cedars and black cottonwood. The trail will also take you to Avalanche Gorge. I would strongly recommend exploring around Avalanche Gorge with the  blue water, lush green moss and ferns along the steep narrow red walls. It is breathtaking! If you are looking for a longer hike, continue onto Avalanche Lake. The lake was carved by glaciers that left a large bowl with steep cliffs all the way around. Some other areas worth checking out are McDonald Falls and McDonald creek. Keep an eye out for harlequin ducks in the moving water. 

Avalanche Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grinnell Lake Another area of the park to check out is Many Glacier. Many glacier is a hikers paradise, with several hikes letting you see the glaciers and how they sculpted the landscape. The trails vary from easy to more of the strenuous in the park. Spring and summer is the best time to see wildflowers, bighorn sheep and bears feasting on huckleberries on the slopes above Swiftcurrent. The two most popular hikes is Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake trail. Both of these you will want to prepare for them being a couple hours of hiking as they are 5 miles one way. The two trails will not only give you spectacular views of the lakes, waterfalls and mountains; but allow you to get up close to the glaciers. You may want to start out early to beat the crowds as parking can become congested, this will also give you the opportunity to see more wildlife. Some other easy hikes around Many Glacier to check out would be Swiftcurrent Trail, Grinnell Lake trail, or check out the waterfall near the Many Glacier Hotel. 

After you finish up hiking take some time to check out the historic hotel.  A Swiss style building that sits on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, it is also one of the oldest and largest in the park. The hotel has a huge outdoor deck that overlooks one of the most impressive views of the mountains and lake. Once you check out the hotel, the park offers boat tours around the lake on a historic wooden boat. If you don't get the opportunity to take the boat tour at Many Glacier, they also offer them at the other lakes (Lake McDonald and Two Medicine). This is something the whole family can enjoy!

Grinnell Glacier

The Two Medicine area is another vast mountain area with remarkable scenery. This is the least traveled area of the park, and gives you a chance to get away from the crowds. Two Medicine is located just north of East Glacier. In the main area that is near the lake there is an old historic general store, boat ramp and campground. This is also the location to most of the trailheads for this area. Some of the best trails to hike are: Running Eagle Falls and Upper Two Medicine Lake to Twin Falls. I would recommend the South Shore trail located near the boat ramp. The South Shore trail has a few small ponds with the potential to see moose, as well as waterfalls (Aster Falls and Rockwell Falls). The trail will take you through the forest then open up to meadows full of flowers and you can follow as far as you want. 

Running Eagle Falls

Wildlife: Glacier has a diversity of habitat full of wildlife from big to small. Although you can see some wildlife from the car, you will get a chance to see more if get out on the trails. The prime opportunity to photograph or see wildlife is when they are most active: in the morning and at dusk. When you are out hiking, be aware of your surroundings, remember you are in their home now so be respectful. The best tip is to give them their space and make some noise to make sure they know you are there. It is best to stay at least 100 or more feet away from large animals. The key to successful wildlife watching is often being in the right place at the right time, and having proper equipment (don't forget the binoculars). Bringing along binoculars will let you scan open areas and the high country; which can often be rewarded with seeing bears, bighorn sheep, marmots, wolves, eagles and much more.  

Although I did not see any moose and only saw one bear at Glacier, here is a few areas to see the most frequently seen animals: Logan pass is the most popular spot to see mountains goats, bighorn sheep, marmots and other small mammals. Many Glacier along many of the trails is a good opportunity to see bears, especially during the berry season. Moose can frequently be seen around Two Medicine (Cobalt lake or South Shore trail), and Swiftcurrent Pass trail (Fishercap lake and Bullhead Lake).

Glacier National Park is such a big area with so many places to explore. I barely scratched the surface on what there is to see. You can see a lot from the car, but getting out and hitting the hiking trails will let you experience all Glacier has to offer. Enjoy!

Beargrass

Ptarmigan

Golden-mantled ground squirrel Horay Maromot  

Mountain Goat Glacier Lilies

Paintbrush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake McDonald

Columbian Ground Squirrel


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