Glacier National Park Stories and Tips

Glacier National Park - Our Thoughts

Drive-by mountain! Photo, Glacier National Park, Montana

There are mountains, and then there are mountains. While all of them have their own beauty and character and should be seen, those in Glacier are simply awe-inspiring. To date, we haven't seen any that are like them (though, admittedly, we still have more of this planet to see). Start with sharp peaks and crags of incredible mountaintops and valleys, add long blue lakes at various intervals, then add the diversity of critters that can be seen (like bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears, marmots, ptarmigans, deer, etc), and finally add the abundance of summer highland wildflowers using pretty much every color available to you - well you MIGHT get the picture - but you'll still need to see it to KNOW what I'm saying.

We underestimated Glacier and only planned on spending two nights there on our whirlwind trip to the Pacific before my nephew had to return home (see 2006 Trip Part 1, the beginning, for more of an explanation). We almost skipped it entirely due to reports of the 2006 fire and wondering how that would affect the view. Am I ever glad we didn't though the view was affected by smoke. One can envision on clear days, the view has to be "other worldly." The smokey view was a disappointment, but it was interesting to see the park actively on fire - and see the devastation where the fire had been. Along the road you can also see nature's regrowth in areas that had fires previous years. Nature is resilient - what is taken away by her will soon return.

Now, we consider our trip to have been like a "movie trailer" - a small glimpse into what's there - leaving us the desire to go back and see it all - or at least - more of it.

That said, you CAN see Glacier in 2 days - as long as you don't want to hike (much). We did the fantastic Hidden Lake Overlook hike (see journal), we drove up to Many Glacier (see journal), and we drove the length of the Going to the Sun Road (the most scenic parts, three times as we went to/from areas we visited). So we saw the spectacular mountains, lakes, wildflowers, animals, fire/regrowth areas, and yes, the receding, but still there, glaciers.

What we missed (and needed more time for) were hikes... There are countless miles of hikes in Glacier (well, I'm sure someone HAS counted the miles if you check on the Park Service site, but...). If we had been able to stay, our next few days would have been spent in our hiking boots - crossing lakes (by tour boat) and hiking to glaciers, waterfalls, and in general, seeing more of the awe-inspiring views that are ever present - and ever changing (due to the light, etc). It seems around every corner there's more to be seen. No one peak is just like the others, esp up close, and, of course, the critter watching alone can provide wonderful entertainment - hours for us - esp with the closeness and variety of critters. If one is interested, there are also lodges that can be explored - and history tours. St Mary's Visitor's Center has a movie of the park that we unfortunately missed. We hadn't noticed that the Visitor Center hours were cut in the later season...

To be fair to us, on this trip my mom was with us so we knew our hiking needed to be carefully chosen... and my mom had been to this park before - and took some of the guided tours we'd like to go back and listen to... but nonetheless - we consider this park to be only "partially" done and definitely a spot we'll return to given the opportunity.

For a few tips... The east side outside of Glacier is quite undeveloped, so don't look for much in "extras" there. It is, however, a quick way to reach the park by car with little other traffic while keeping awesome views (we went that way from Yellowstone). The west side has more "outside the park" lodging and various entertainment options typical of a tourist area. Kalispell on the west side is a pretty big town having everything one could possibly need - BUT you'll also have almost an hour drive to get to the park.

If you can afford them, the lodges inside the park have gorgeous views and great locations. Make reservations early though. If you like camping, this is an IDEAL park to camp in - saves money and has great, natural ambiance. There are both reservation and first come, first served campgrounds. Bring in your own food. True grocery stores are far away and stores in the park only carry expensive basics. There are restaurants, but we didn't have time to stop at any of them.

As a last note, we don't recommend coming to this park with seeing glaciers in mind - those are better seen elsewhere in our opinion - but don't let THAT turn you off from this park! Warming (whether natural or man-made) is occurring and the glaciers are small. In many places they simply look like small snow packs by the end of summer. Perhaps closer to spring they look more impressive? You'd miss the wildflowers then though. On Hidden Lake Trail you can often see mountain goats ON one of the glaciers - that's neat to see - but otherwise, this park needs to be renamed. Those we overheard were rather disappointed as they were looking for GLACIERS (think of pictures of Rainier or Alaska). Many times I felt like telling them to open their eyes and see the OTHER beauty all around them. I do think they saw it - cameras were all about - and comments on mountain beauty - but if this park could be renamed "Alpine National Park" (or something like that) it would sure fit it better.

Young and old, we all loved Glacier and would gladly return. I think the only ones who would not would be those that simply aren't nature (or mountain) people to even a little extent.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip