“Crown of the Continent” ~ Glacier National Park

“A man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by.”  ~  Mark Twain

Imagine what the early explorers must have felt as they pushed their way across the Great Plains and saw a wall of mountains far in the distance.  Imagine their amazement as they moved further west and those mountains loomed ever larger, peaks bathed in sunlight, surrounded by long finger-like lakes and rushing streams.  As they moved deeper into the mountains, most likely bighorn sheep and mountain goats dotted the hillsides, while osprey and eagle glided overhead.  Huge glaciers clung to the cliffs of the Continental Divide, instilling a sense of awe and wonder.  Except for the swiftly retreating glacial ice, Glacier National Park still embodies much of this same spectacular scenery.

This was our first visit to Glacier and our 29th national park to add to our slow-growing list.  We have so much more to see!  This trip was long overdue, as two previously planned visits were thwarted due to family emergencies.  Our timing certainly wasn’t the best, this being the centennial – 100 years since President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation creating the new National Park Service.  Record numbers of tourists are descending upon the parks this year and Glacier was no exception. But neither the hordes nor the rainy weather dampened our spirits.

While perusing displays in a visitor center, we stumbled across some interesting and alarming statistics about the glaciers in this beautiful park.  In 1850 there were 150 glaciers; in 2010 only 25 remained. One placard we read claimed, “Current climate models suggest that all the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone by 2030.”  This is a powerful example of what will be lost without global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Changing Balance/Balancing Change” dancer superimposed on Sperry Glacier – photo credit nps.gov

Terry reminded me as I remarked about the high treelines on the mountains that this is yet another example of global warming.  As the treelines continue to rise, alpine areas will disappear. If this occurs, what will happen to the species that depend on them?  Certainly something to ponder.

One of the highlights of a visit to Glacier is traveling the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile meandering road that combines both history and breathtaking scenery.  Many national parks we’ve visited have similar roads spanning their length and, while we have found all to be beautiful and unique, Glacier may take the top prize for those parks visited to date.

Plenty of time is needed to do this road justice, as the sights seem almost endless and the photo ops many.  The lush Garden Wall section will slow you down, as often there are vertical rock faces that jut out into the winding roadway, but it is a magnificent stretch of road, not to be missed.

Our top 3 picks of the park are shown below.  Granted, we didn’t see all this impressive national park has to offer, but everything we saw spoke to us.  What better way to describe such beauty than through photos.

1)  Going-to-the-Sun Road

Just a few magical moments found while “going to the sun”.

2)  Many Glacier

Situated in the northeastern corner of the park, it is often called the heart of Glacier.  It was our favorite and certainly touched our hearts.

3)  Hiking

More than 700 miles of trails meander through alpine meadows and creep up mountain passes.  Iceberg Lake Trail and Ptarmigan Tunnel were given high marks by friends.  Because both originated from the same trailhead and we had some gas left in our tanks after going to Iceberg Lake, we decided to trek to Ptarmigan Tunnel.  And boy, was it a trek!  This 15-mile combo trail, with about 3000 feet of elevation gain is a not-to-be-missed hike.  Be forewarned that once you get to Ptarmigan Lake, there is a series of long, steep switchbacks to trek before you arrive at the tunnel, but it would be a sin to stop at the lake.

We had also planned to hike to Grinnell Glacier, which has significantly retreated in recent decades, but time escaped us.  The wheels are already in motion for another Glacier visit. 🙂

Next Up:  Oh Canada, here we come!

56 thoughts on ““Crown of the Continent” ~ Glacier National Park

  • I am homesick! As you know we spent 3 summers a volunteer camp hosts in Glacier. It is at the top of my favorite places list. Thanks for sharing.

  • Love, love this park especially the east side:) We stayed in the lodge at Many Glaciers on one of our motorcycle trips. Sitting around the main fireplace in the lodge was such fun. As a matter of fact, we went in and sat by the fire one rainy day during our stay in St Mary two years ago. So glad you got to hike the Iceberg Lake Trail and saw a couple of icebergs:) I’m sorry you had to leave so soon. But there is always next time:)

  • FrankJust great Lou.We are heading to Ernie B.C. tomorrow for 5days. Hiking and biking. F &M

  • Beautiful photos! We loved the Ptarmigan Lake hike but did not know we could have gone on to the tunnel. We saw our first marmot and moose on that trail. Good memories.
    15 miles! Glad to see you’re still keeping Terry in shape 😉

    • The views through the tunnel into Canada are amazing. We thought it was the best part of the hike, although the toughest to get there. Surprisingly, neither of us felt the effects of the hike the next day. Love this park!

  • Oh, what gorgeous photos! I can feel the freshness of the air, just looking at them. Many Glacier was my favorite area there too. So much to explore in that gorgeous place!

  • Our visit the Glacier was far too short years ago but my memories of it are still there. At one of the campgrounds we saw moose and on one of our hikes, goats! It is indeed beautiful country!

  • What gorgeous, beautiful, and wonderful pictures. It was like reading a National Geographic magazine! I have a friend who works there, and I have threatened, for 3 years, to go up and visit her, but things just haven’t worked out. So glad you got to do this. Perhaps you can go back again, when it’s not so busy.

  • Those first pioneers must have thought that they had reached a paradise, these days we would go feral and never be seen again. Beautiful photos, I really have missed your eye for a photograph.

  • WOW..WOW..and..WOW! We did not get to experience this park and probably never will. Thank you so much for the wonderful description and absolutely gorgeous photos. People that don’t believe global warming is real need to wake up and FAST!
    Enjoy Canada.

    • Glacier has become one of my favorite parks!. As for global warming, sadly I’m not sure what kind of wake-up call is needed for some to believe.

  • Luann by your photos one would hardly know there was rain or a lot of tourist. Such a pleasure to see your amazing photos again. What incredible stats about the decrease of glaciers. Very sad indeed.
    Canada is waiting with welcoming arms! Looking forward to our visit. 🙂

  • One National Geographic photograph after another, and another, and another. You should have a section on that magazine with your images, and your poetic words.

  • Your absolutely gorgeous photos had me longing for a chance to revisit Glacier National Park. We lived in Montana for years and backpacked every weekend in the summer (in the Montana mountains that was usually July and August) including a memorable vacation in the early ’80’s where we backpacked and hitched rides around Glacier for 2 weeks. We have some great memories including the spectacular “Going to the Sun” road where I remember I had to look up, up, up because looking down gave me vertigo! Anita

  • We visited Glacier in 1993 when our kids were young. It is an amazing place. I remember John saying he didn’t know where to point the camera because everywhere you turned was a “Kodak moment”. We still need to get there in the RV. So many places to go yet.

  • Oh, you absolutely need to return and hike to Grinnell Glacier! It’s my favorite hike in the park and the views all along the trail are stunning!

  • We wanted so much to visit Glacier several years ago after spending time in Yellowstone, but were shut out when the government closed the parks. Oh yeah—it had started to snow, too, so it was clearly time to move on. 🙂 But Glacier is at the top of our list, and your beautiful photos are a wonderful enticement for us to get there sooner rather than later. I want to do everything you did—even that 15 mile hike! (I hope!)

    • Glacier is a must. We would love to coordinate a trip with you and Eric. And if we could do the 15-mile hike, you and Eric certainly could. The Iceberg Trail part of the hike is not difficult at all. Beautiful country!

  • Oh wow it looks just amazing ! it’s one of my regret of my road trip in the Us, not having the time to visit this beautiful park ! maybe in the future I will have this chance. You pictures are very inviting !

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