Glacier Parks soul-inspiring landscape was carved by the movement of massive glaciers millennia ago, and so awesome is its beauty that the Blackfeet Indians consider the area sacred ground. “If it isn’t God’s backyard,” said comedian Robin Williams, “He certainly lives nearby.”
Frequently called Little Switzerland or the American Alps, the park’s dramatically glaciated terrain is prime hiking territory, with more than 700 miles of maintained trails that pass through vibrant wildflower-carpeted meadows. There are good opportunities for glimpsing abundant wildlife – moose, mountain goats and bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wolverines, wolves, more than 300 of the threatened grizzly bear (the largest concentration in the contiguous United States), and hundreds of the not so endangered black bear.
Less strenuous sightseeing is to be had along the spectacular two-hour, 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road, which roughly bisects the million-acre wilderness. Crossing glacially sculpted mountains, it takes you from the park’s lowest elevations to the summit of the Continental Divide at the 6,646-foot Logan Pass (the highlight of the trip), passing fjord-like lakes, as many as a thousand seasonal waterfalls, and dense evergreen forests along the way.
There are 37 named glaciers within the park, but that’s down from about 150 in the mid-1800s. At this rate, experts believe the park’s namesake glaciers will all but disappear by 2030. A favored means of seeing the park – the rollback canvas-topped Red Buses – first drove these routes in the 1930s, and are now back in service after an environmentally sensitive renovation by the Ford Motor Company.
Of the many massive, ponderosa-style lodges built here in the early 1900s to lure the first vacationers, the Swiss-style Many Glacier Hotel is perhaps the most beautifully sited and popular. Sitting regal and isolated amid alpine grandeur on the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake, it is rustic, charming, and laden with tradition.
The rooms are spartan, but if you’ve secured one of the fifty with a balcony, the breathtaking views of Grinnell Point make up for the lack of amenities. More comfortable if less picturesque accommodations can be found at the park’s Lake McDonald Lodge.