John F. Kennedy said America’s national parks are meant to ensure that future generations “may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.” Nowhere is such preservation as apparent as at Glacier National Park, which puts some of Earth’s grandest majesties on breathtaking display. The park, as Life Magazine writer Bill Gilbert puts it, has no single defining feature or attraction, but rather stands as a monument to the underlying forces of nature. Glacier National Park’s vast wilderness and striking scenery are sure to offer rest from your cares, and there are many ways to enjoy them.
Glacier National Park’s location in the secluded northwestern corner of Montana doesn’t easily lend itself to day trips. As such, it’s best to find a place to stay for a few days in the park, and camping is easily the best way to experience everything the park has to offer.
There are 13 campsites around the park, most of which are situated on pristine glacial lakes. If you’re looking for beautiful views with easy access, St. Mary’s Lake, Apgar, and Many Glacier campgrounds are located off of paved roads near the park’s entrances. If you’re willing to go a little farther and abandon paved roads, campgrounds at Bowman Lake, Two Medicine, and Kintla Lake are great places to escape the crowds. Twisting gravel roads make these campgrounds inaccessible to vehicles over 21 feet in length, but for those willing to escape the beaten path, a little more peace and quiet awaits. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, backcountry campsites only accessible via backpacking offer a special challenge and an even more remote experience. Just be sure to check trail conditions online before planning, because frequently changing conditions throughout the year may impact your trip.
Glacier National Parks offers countless extraordinary views, but to see many of them, you’ll have to leave the campgrounds and roads behind. The park offers more than 700 miles of hiking trails which range in distance and difficulty.
If you’re up to the challenge, a handful of ten-plus mile hikes offer unrivaled views. Highline Loop is one of the park’s most popular hikes, and for good reason. The 11.8-mile (18.9-kilometer) trail climbs nearly 2,000 vertical feet, and sections of the trail rest on a six-foot shelf with a sheer drop off on one side. But if you are willing to brave the hike, you will be met with wildlife spotting opportunities, fields of vibrant wildflowers, and exceptional views of Heaven’s Peak. The equally difficult Swiftcurrent Pass trail passes three lakes and a waterfall as it ascends from the valley floor. The trail eventually grants views of six lakes, Swiftcurrent Glacier, and Granite Park.
If you’re looking for something less arduous, the hike to Avalanche Lake is 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) long and offers a view of the lower Avalanche Gorge and several waterfalls. The trail also offers great views of the lake, and a large beach space to relax and take it all in. Alternatively, the 2.7-mile (4.3-kilometer) Hidden Lake Overlook trail takes you through alpine meadows across the continental divide and offers views of several spectacular peaks along the way. The Hidden Lake Overlook at the trail’s end offers panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. If you’re lucky, you might see some mountain goats or other wildlife along the way. The trail can be very crowded, so getting an early start can’t hurt.
If you prefer to stick to the pavement, Glacier National Park still has a lot to offer. One of the park’s can’t-miss attractions is Going-to-the-Sun Road. Its construction in the early 1930s sought to create a route that offered awe-inspiring views of the park without spoiling its natural beauty. As such, it was designed to blend into and complement the landscape. The scenic mountain road traverses the length of the park, crossing the continental divide through Logan Pass.
At its highest elevation, the road peaks at 6,646 feet. Clearing the road in the spring is a feat of snow removal, as 80 feet of snow can cover the pass during the winter. It takes 10 weeks to plow the road, and crews can clear only 500 feet of the road some days. But the effort they put in is well worth it for visitors, as the road shows off the park’s glacial lakes, cedar forests, and windswept alpine tundra. The stunning views of lakes, meadows, glacier-carved peaks and waterfalls all along the road’s length are unrivaled. Further, Glacier National Park’s signature wildlife, Rocky Mountain goats and bighorn sheep, are frequently visible along some stretches of the road.
Nature’s silent majesty is nowhere on more grand display than within Glacier National Park. The park’s striking scenery is available to the masses but also offers an unrivaled experience to those seeking beauty in solitude. Whatever you are seeking there, the spectacular vistas are sure to leave an impression.