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Visiting Glacier National Park

Montana

Visiting Glacier National Park

By: Jenny Willden

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  • States:
    Montana

In the upper crest of the USA's West, where Montana stretches north to Canada, lies Glacier National Park, a wild expanse that covers more than 4,047 square kilometers.

This land has been carved by glaciers over thousands of years, resulting in some of the most gorgeous in the country, featuring 762 lakes, 175 mountains and 25 glaciers. It's no wonder that more than 2 million people visit the park each year. Many flock to the park during the summer when the park is more easily navigable along snow-free roads. But the park is open year-round, and winter visitors can snowshoe, ice climb, cross-country ski and sightsee without crowds. No matter the time of year, though, there a few must-sees and must-dos when you visit Glacier National Park.

Drive a Historic, Scenic Road

Called one of the world's best scenic drives, Going-to-the-Sun Road is a National Historic Landmark and an engineering wonder that was completed in 1932. Drive its 80 paved kilometers across the width of the park for views of Logan Peak, the Continental Divide and glaciers.

The route is typically open from June or July to early fall, but varies based on snow conditions. For the first month of the season, the road is open only to cyclists and hikers looking to experience the sights.

By car, the drive takes two hours (without stopping) and showcases dazzling vistas, glacial lakes, cascading waterfalls, forests and the occasional mountain goat. Early on in the drive, stop at the Wild Goose Island Overlook to see one of the most photographed areas of the park. Pull off at designated locations to see the park's wonders, like the seventh largest glacier at Jackson Glacier Overlook. And there's also the impressive waterfalls: McDonalds, Bird Woman and Haystacks, which can tower as high as 170 meters.

Just west of Logan Pass, drive past the Weeping Wall, a unique geologic formation where water seeps out from the rock wall, spraying cars with gushing water during spring runoff. And it's not just the physical scenery of the route that will leave you in awe. The drive — particularly near Logan Peak — offers the chance to view Montana's varied wildlife, especially bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Hike to St. Mary Lake and Baring Falls

Along Going-to-the-Sun Road, park at Sunrift Gorge to access the trail to Baring Falls, a 7-meter high waterfall that flows into St. Mary Lake. This 1.2-kilometer hike — which is just a fraction of the park's 1,126 kilometers of hiking trails — goes along a creek with cascading waterfalls before reaching Baring Falls and the teal-colored, glacially fed lake. Here, visitors linger on the lakeshore to watch American Dippers — small gray birds — dive underwater to catch fish.

Watch for Wildlife at Lake McDonald

McDonald, the park's largest lake, is 16 kilometers wide and carved by the power of glaciers. A wheelchair-accessible hike, Trail of the Cedars, originates here and you can tour the lake by boat. You'll likely spot a few bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk and mule deer amidst the scenic backdrop of mountains, cedars and hemlocks.

Gateway to Glacier: Flathead Lake

The largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, Flathead's sparkling waters and 257 kilometers of tree-covered shoreline make it one of Montana's most picturesque. Bordered by the Mission and Salish Mountains, it's best viewed by driving Highways 35 and 93 on your way to or from the park.

But there's more to do than rest on the sandy shores: Rentals are available for visitors looking to kayak, canoe, boat, sail and fish. And it's great for animal spotting, as the lake is home to 75 species of birds, deer, bighorn sheep and bears.

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