Glacier National Park goes big in Montana – the park itself covers 1,583 square miles (1,012,837 million acres) and includes 762 lakes (131 named and 631 unnamed, the largest of which is Lake McDonald at 9.4 miles long and 1.5 miles wide), more than 700 miles of hiking trails, 563 streams (totaling 2,865 miles, the longest of which is Upper McDonald Creek at 25.8 miles), 175 mountains (the highest of which is Mt. Cleveland at 10,448 feet), and 25 glaciers (the largest of which is 0.7 square miles).
The park was established in May 1910, and in its first year welcomed about 4,000 guests; last year, the park welcomed 2.4 million guests through its gates.
We checked in with the team at Glacier National Park Lodges for their tips on 10 things not to miss when visiting Glacier National Park:
1. Check out those glaciers: When visiting Glacier National Park, chances are you’ll want to see the park’s namesake blocks of ice. Of the 25 glaciers that remain – in 1850, there were 150 glaciers in the park – one of guests’ favorites is Many Glacier, considered to be the heart of the park. Travel by car, foot, boat, or horseback to get a closer look at the glaciers and their impact on the area’s landscape. You may not have long, though – global climate change scientists predict that all of the park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030.
2. Listen as Native America Speaks: In the summertime, Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribal members share their Native American history and culture with park guests through the Native America Speaks program. Programs are offered at the St. Mary Visitor Center, and in the park’s campgrounds and lodges; be sure to check the park’s website for dates and times of upcoming program events.
3. Take (in) your Medicine: Decades ago, park visitors would mount their horses and ride out to Two Medicine Valley for backcountry adventures in the park’s wild interior. Once the Going-to-the-Sun Road was constructed, however, visitation to this area of the park declined and is today an off-the-beaten-path destination. Take the time to visit Two Medicine, though, and you’ll discover the incredible views, extensive hiking trails, thundering waterfalls and picturesque lakes that appealed to those visitors years ago. Want to see Two Medicine right this very second? Take a look via the park’s webcam.
4. Cruise around the park on a wooden boat: There are so many terrific ways to journey through the park, one of which is aboard a classic wooden boat. Glacier Park Boat Company has been showing guests around its backyard since 1938, and still uses the classic, well-maintained boats it has since the beginning, ranging in construction dates from 1926 to 1984. Tours depart from throughout the park, and include St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun, Lake McDonald, Two Medicine and Many Glacier.
5. Saddle up: Another way to really experience the park is on horseback, just as the park’s earliest visitors did once they disembarked from the Great Northern Railroad, spending days and even weeks riding and camping. Today, Swan Mountain Outfitters takes guests into the park on horseback, for as long or as short a time they’d like. Trips vary from one hour to a three-hour ride with a steak dinner to full- and multi-day rides. You can even combine your horseback riding with river rafting. Even better, Swan Mountain is experienced in working with riders of all abilities, from novice to experienced, so everyone can ride.
6. Bike Going-to-the-Sun Road: Bicyclists can ride along Going-to-the-Sun Road, but not year-round. The nearly 50-mile-long road runs from the park’s east and west borders and is mostly open to bicyclists, except for June 15 through Labor Day, when a few sections of the road are closed to bicycles between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.: from the Apgar turnoff (south end of Lake McDonald) to the Sprague Creek Campground, and eastbound from Logan Creek to Logan Pass. However, you can always plan your bike rides around those closing times, just know that you may share the road with vehicles.
7. Go for a hike: With more than 700 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of places to wander within Glacier National Park, whether going out for a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. One to consider is the International Peace Park Hike, during which you’ll learn about Waterton Lakes National Park (in Canada) and Glacier National Park’s combined three international designations and take part in a peace and friendship ceremony. When planning your hike, plan accordingly – we are talking Montana here, and some of the trails at higher elevations aren’t snow-free until as late as mid- to late-July. One of the best ways to start planning is to talk with a park ranger, who can help point you in the right direction to trails that are best suited for you. In fact, you can join a park ranger on a guided hike, or check with Glacier Guides for a schedule of their guided day and overnight hikes.
8. Kids – Become a Junior Jammer! – When taking the Going-to-the-Sun Road with a classic Glacier National Park Red Bus Tour, kids 12 and under can pick up a booklet (similar to a the National Park Serivce’s Junior Ranger Program activity booklet) when boarding the bus to become a Junior Jammer during their trip. What is a Junior Jammer? Good question! Thirty-five White Model 706 buses, built between 1936 and 1939 and specifically-designed with open-tops for sightseeing in the park, were purchased and painted the color of ripe Mountain Ash Berries; 33 of those buses are still in service today. And though the newer buses are automatics, back in the day the buses had manual transmissions and the drivers oftentimes “jammed” the gears to shift; those drivers became known as jammers. That nickname stuck, and today’s bus drivers are still known as jammers, sharing their wealth of park knowledge with guests. So when kids complete the activity book, they become Junior Jammers, complete with commemorative pin.
9. Pick a snack: Bears like them, and so do we. If you’re visiting Glacier National Park mid-summer and get a little hungry out on the trail, chances are you have a fresh, healthy snack right at your fingertips. Simply take a look around for huckleberry bushes and start picking. Huckleberry picking and eating is permitted within the park, but you’re limited to one quart per person, per day.
10. Take a picture – it lasts longer: Photographers – whether traditional, phone, or Instagrammer – will be thrilled with all of the photo opps found throughout the park. The park’s photographers suggest these tips on things to see during your visit: sunrise on the east side of the park from the Many Glacier Hotel, Two Medicine Lake, Saint Mary Lake and Lake Sherburne (all accessible by road); the wildflowers that bloom late-June through mid-August at Logan Pass; glaciers accessible by hikes, namely the Grinnell Glacier, Sexton Glacier and Sperry Glacier; waterfalls in the springtime with all the snowmelt, and Baring Falls year-round; sunset from the west side of the park, join the nightly gathering at the Lake McDonald public boat dock; the night sky, especially when the Auroroa Borealis forecast is a rating of five or higher, and May through October when the Milky Way is visible from the head of Lake McDonald, the foot of Saint Mary Lake and Logan Pass; and, of course, wildlife.
For more on Glacier National Park and to help with trip planning, visit www.nps.gov.