Whitefish Stories and Tips

Glacier National Park in the Winter

Glacier National Park Photo, Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park is like many other national parks located in mountainous areas of the United States in that access is very limited due to the extreme winter conditions. Many of the park services are closed and the roads are only cleared and maintained for the first several miles from the entrance. In the case of Glacier NP, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (the main road from the west entrance) is only open for the first eight or ten miles to the Lake McDonald Lodge (which happens to also be closed).

Upon arrival to the West Glacier entrance to the park, I did stop to take a few photos of the Middle Fork Flathead River which provided pretty reflections of the tall pines along its shoreline. Inside the park, I had expected to find the Apgar Visitor Center to be closed. However, there were lights on and several people could be seen inside. I went ahead and pulled into the parking lot, taking advantage of the public restrooms on the backside of the building.

Because the doorway into the visitor center was open, I walked through looking for their National Parks Passport station to stamp my book. The park ranger searched under the desk for it, asking if I was with the group of kids inside. Responding that I was not, she curtly told me that they were closed which was why there was a sign on the front door "CLOSED - Do Not Enter". I explained that since I came in through the restrooms, I didn't see any signage on the front door. She didn't really seem to care much.

Mission accomplished however, I got my National Parks Passport stamped and was more than happy to vacate the building.

From there I headed out to the boat launch area of Lake McDonald. The lake was amazingly free of ice, but with the overcast skies, the photo op at the time was not optimal so I got back in the car and headed out around the lake. I did see a set of canine tracks in the fresh snow that had fallen the night before. I tried to follow them but they went up over a small hill and behind a row of closed cabins. The snow was too deep for me to venture on foot in sneakers. Besides, did I really want to come upon what was probably a wolf or coyote?

The road along the lake was cleared but still pretty slick with ice. The warming daytime temperatures resulted in thaw, while the falling nighttime temps resulted in a refreeze. The weather, while cloudy and at times drizzly, was warm . . . probably in the low 50's. Where the sun hit the road, it was slushy but in the shade it was solid packed ice and slippery.

At the end of the groomed road was a gate beyond which a group of X-country skiers were venturing off on their own. The snow looked really deep out there! I drove through the mostly cleared parking lot of the Lake McDonald Lodge, wishing they were open for a cup of hot chocolate and perhaps a scone.

Back in my car, I headed back on the road I first drove in on. The view coming from the opposite direction provided a new perspective which I enjoyed. I stopped several times along the way to snap a photograph or two. I also took a series of shots which I could later use to create a five-pic panorama of the lake. Unfortunately, the photo capabilities here at IgoUgo does not do justice to the resulting effort, but I'll post it to this anyway.

I returned to the boat launch area as the skies seemed to have cleared a bit. I walked down to the dock to see what I could see. I was surprised at how crystal clear the glacier fed water of the lake was. I could see to the bottom of what looked to be three or four feet of water.

The timing of my visit was probably a couple of weeks too early to see bears coming out of hibernation. Glacier National Park and the surrounding areas are known as bear country, with both black and brown (aka grizzly) bears. I was also told that deer and elk are common, moose less so . . . and no caribou in this region of USA.

As I looked through the brochure provided by NPS when you enter the park, I was struck by the vastness of this park which celebrated their centennial in 2010. The 50 mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is generally open to the top of the mountain (9,642 ft) only during the warmest part of the summer . . . maybe July and August each year.

Also with the snow capped mountains, none of the glaciers were visible to visitors. That said, I did enjoy my brief drive through the park and hope to someday return in the summer for the full benefit of this US National Park.

Visitors should be advised that this is a park that charges admission. In the winter it is $15 for car + passengers and in the summer it jumps to $25. For those who visit several US National Parks, consider buying the annual pass which costs $80/year.

More info on Glacier National Park may be found on their website: http://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm .

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