Driving across the Great Plains, the great midsection of America, is quite the chore. Interstates 80, 90, and 94 seemingly drag on for mile after mile no matter which direction one travels. If a driver starts somewhere in the middling Midwest and drives west, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Rocky Mountains will throw up their barriers at some point during your trip, and if you’re heading west on 90/94 through Montana, eventually you will pass within 60 miles of one of the Nation’s great gems.

Glacier National Park sits on just over 1 million acres in northwest Montana and shares a border with Canadian provinces Alberta and British Columbia. Glacier’s southern border is mostly distinguished by the spectacular Flathead River, one of the great trout fisheries in North America. Glacier is often visited, but would never be considered busy like some of the southern parks, as the park is mainly trail-based with very few roads or dirt tracks. If you want to see something in Glacier, you are going to have to walk there.

The entrance to the east side of the park is certainly the most breathtaking as large, imposing mountains rise suddenly and sharply out of serene plains lands. There is one main entrance to Glacier from the east, and other smaller entrances that do not allow one to cross the park by car. Only the St. Mary’s entrance on world famous Going-to-the-sun road will allow the visitor to enter from the east and exit on the west side. The other entrances on the east side include Many Glacier, Cut Bank, and Two Medicine. Having visited all but the Cut Bank entrance, it is fair to say they each hold their own unique charms.

The Park is full, as one would guess, of glacial remnant lakes. Water as clear as glass and as cold as one can imagine. These lakes form various streams, runoffs, waterfalls, and rivers as the waters naturally find a path of descent towards the larger valley lakes at lower elevations. Nearly every lake in the park is accessible by hiking path, and quite a few are no more than a day hike away from a road. Some of the most visited are Grinnell Lake, Iceberg Lake, and Hidden Lake. While these are still breathtaking, it is suggested to attempt to visit some the lesser visited lakes like the Kintla Lakes in the north of the park, and Helen Lake, a 4 day hike/camp from the nearest road.

Whomever takes the wheel for the trip over the pass on Going-to-the-sun road, make sure they have steady hands and steady nerves as the hairpin turns can cause nervousness. The views make the entire trip worth it, however. Broad valleys, distant peaks, various waterfalls, and numerous wildlife make the tight, curvy road well worth attempting. On the west side of the park, and on the road at lower elevation sits Avalanche Creek campground. It is one of the few full use campgrounds in the park and charming in its own right. Campsites are relatively private and are separated by swaths of old growth trees. Some trunks take 5 people to make the circumference.

Once reaching the west side of the park, it is suggested to drive north (summertime preferred) along the park boundary towards Logging Creek and Polebridge. Stopping in Polebridge is quite a tradition for many backpackers as its mercantile store offers various freshly baked pastries and fudges to replenish the calories so fervently burned on the trails. This unincorporated village also has residents who have built a private shower facility for those in need of a wash, and checking out the map and lists of visitors is worth the $5 alone.

Realistically, Glacier is too large and too enjoyable to only spend a day or two. Even the casual outdoors lover will find the Park stealing their heart and reminding them what the Rocky Mountains looked like, felt like, and smelled like in the 1800s. When you plan your trip to Glacier, take your time and enjoy the grandeur. You will learn quickly why Glacier is held as a holy land by the various Native American tribes who historically lived there. It is a treasure not to be missed.

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Gabe’s monthly articles in The Soap Boxers focus on science and Nature (Travels and Tales).

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