Located in the
north-western corner of Montana, among the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park is true
to its name- it has more glaciers than you could shake a stick at. Glacier lies adjacent
to Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park and is a part of the transnational
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind in the world. All the
region's glaciers lie within the Glacier Park, in the high Rockies. Peaks such as Triple
Divide, Elk, and Summit are a maze of precipitous slopes, crags and cliffs through which
meander slow rivers of ice, making their ponderous way south to the lakes and rivers of
the lowlands. About 50 glaciers exist in Glacier National Park, and it is from these that
the park's 200-odd lakes and streams arise.
Lodgepole pines, spruce, fir and larch form
dense forests, interspersed by stretches of alpine pastures which burst into a riot of
wildflowers in spring. Here, in the secluded valleys of the park, asters, shooting stars,
heath, gentian, glacier lily and dozens of other flowers bloom in what is one of the most
gorgeous and uninhibited displays of natural beauty anywhere in America. Plant life isn't
all that Glacier is known for, though; the park's wildlife is equally spectacular: wapiti
elk, mountain sheep, black bear, white-tailed deer, grizzly, moose, wolf, fox, beaver,
otter and an abundance of smaller mammals. Birds such as ptarmigans, ospreys, golden
eagles, bald eagles and harlequin ducks also can be seen in the park.
There's much that can be done here, beyond
wildlife watching and wildflower photography. Hiking, climbing, camping, fishing,
white-water rafting, water-skiing, biking and cross-country skiing are just some of the
options for a satisfying vacation. And, for a glimpse of native American life, you could
even attend one of the many campfire talks or native dances performed by Blackfeet,
Kootenai and Salish tribals in the park. Just make a trip to the park's visitor centres-
Apgar, Logan Pass, or Saint Mary- to check out everything Glacier offers.
Visitors to the park need to pay an
entrance fee of US$ 5 for a single-entry permit valid for a week in both Waterton and
Glacier. An extra charge of US$ 10 has to be paid for a private non-commercial vehicle.
American citizens are eligible for lifetime
passes, which allow entry to all the national parks in the country. These passes are free
for those with permanent disabilities, and cost a nominal amount- between US$10 and 50-
for everybody else.
Kalispell and Great Falls are the nearest
airports, and are connected to Glacier National Park by bus and taxi. Both cities are
also connected to the rest of the US by bus; there are daily Greyhound services to the
terminals at Kalispell and Great Falls. If you're driving on your own, take US highway 2
and 89 to get to the park.
Amtrak trains come to Glacier, too: there's
one station at East Glacier (Glacier Park Station) and another at West Glacier (Belton
There are 1175 km of hiking trails through
the park, and self-guided or ranger-guided walks of a few hours or a few days are
possible. Cycling, horse-riding, canoeing and boating are some of the other ways of
getting around, although these will restrict you somewhat, as horse or bike trails are
fewer, and navigable rivers run only through certain parts of Glacier.
Do remember, however, that this is a
protected area, and certain rules apply to moving- and staying- within it. Check with the
rangers if you're not sure about what you can do and what you can't. Rangers can also give
you useful information on the hazards of Glacier- most notably, bears, mountain lions and
For those who'd rather drive, there are
motorable roads through Glacier; among the main ones is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which
offers some great views of the landscape.
Best time to visit
Just about any time is a good time to
visit, depending upon what you want to do. If you want to see the place at its prettiest,
aim for spring- around May; if you want long hikes and a spot of boating of biking, make
it between May and September. Hiking is possible the rest of the year too, if you're
willing to put up with the cold. Skiing is, obviously, a winter sport and restricted to
the months between November and April- check with the park authorities for current
snowfall and weather conditions before starting off.
Glacier's predominantly alpine terrain
translates into low temperatures and strong winds, and an irritatingly unpredictable
climate throughout. It's wise, therefore, to dress warmly, preferably in layered clothing,
and to carry protection against rain at all times.
Places to stay in Glacier National Park
range from tourist lodges, motels and cabins to campgrounds. The Park authorities operate
around eight properties within the park, for all of which reservations are strongly
recommended- they're very popular and bookings start as much as a year in advance. Glacier
has ten major campgrounds, operated on a first-come, first-served basis. Facilities differ
from one campground to the next, as do the tariffs charged.
Outside the park, accommodation is
available in neighbouring towns such as Hungry Horse, Essex, Columbia Falls, Coram and
Kalispell. Options range from budget to luxury.
Further information on Glacier National
Park is available from the National Park Service (Tel: 1-800-365-2267). Bookings for
accommodation and tours can also be made at the same phone number. Alternatively, you
could contact the park administration directly at Glacier National Park, National Park
Service, PO Box 128, West Glacier, Montana (Tel: 406-888-7800).