GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

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.

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Entry Permits

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.

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Access

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 Station).

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 winter avalanches.

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.

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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.

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Accommodation

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).


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National Parks

- Acadia National Park
- Denali National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Redwood National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
 
State Parks
- Adirondack Park

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