So often people ask us what is our favorite national park. Fred has a good answer to that question, “The next one,” for he really does relish in the anticipation of what he’s going to see and photograph in the next park we’re visiting. My answer has fluctuated over these past couple of years, as we keep discovering new parks that vault to the top or near the top of my list. Acadia National Park in Maine comes to mind — our visit there in the fall of 2014 was fabulous and for awhile that was my favorite park.
With our visit to Glacier National Park, I now have a “Top 3 for sure” park… although it’s funny, because I don’t think I could name #1 and #2 — there is just so much beauty out here in all of the parks and it’s honestly too difficult to pick a favorite.
We were supposed to visit Glacier NP last year when we were in the Pacific Northwest, but the region’s forest fires and smoky, hazardous air conditions kept us away from this area at that time. But lucky for us, our friends from Chicago, Bill and Lisa, had Glacier NP on their bucket list, so we coordinated a visit to Glacier together this year.
There are two sides to Glacier NP — West Glacier being more commercialized and offering more services, and St. Mary on the east side being more scenic with better, more accessible hiking and greater photo opportunities. Going-to-the-Sun road bisects the park and offers absolutely incredible scenery.
This engineering marvel is a national historic landmark, and for good reason! The four of us took one day to travel it from east to west, spent the night in the beautifully-restored Belton Chalet in West Glacier where we enjoyed a fabulous, fine-dining experience (I haven’t done much of that lately and truly miss it!), then returned to the east side the following day, stopping to add one more “must-do” hike on our list.
On the subject of hiking, we were hiking machines! Our hikes included three 10+ milers including the Swiftcurrent Pass at Many Glacier, the epic Grinnell Glacier Trail, and the even more epic Piegan Pass and Siyeh Trails down to Sunrift Gorge. Altogether we tallied just over 44 miles of hiking, including over a mile of climbing and nearly a mile of descending, which, as our hiker friends know, is every bit as tough as the ascents.
The hiking: incredible! The scenery: spectacular! The wildlife — moose and bears and goats and sheep and many others — so wild and cool! All of this and so much more makes Glacier National Park AMAZING! But all is not good here. The sad truth about this park is that the namesake glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, and global climate change scientists predict that under the current warming trends, all the park’s glaciers will be melted by 2030. Climate change: for real! The results: tragic….
A couple of other interesting tidbits about this park:
- The Continental Divide runs through Glacier, and water from here can flow into the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans.
- Glacier is the 8th National Park, established in 1910 at a time when, thankfully, concerned conservationists worked hard to protect places in the untamed West from wealthy travelers who abused the resources found in wild areas such as this.
- Glacier National Park in the U.S. shares both a park border and international boundry with the Waterton National Park in Canada and they collectively go by the name of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind in the world. Linked together by both country governments in 1932, this peace park “represents a vision of a world in which people set aside their differences to work collectively in the interest of all life, for all time.”
George Bird Grinnell, early advocate of the park and founder of the Audubon Society and of the Boon and Crockett Club, referred to these mountains as “The Crown of the Continent” and the name is appropriate. Glacier National Park is a wonderland of mountain summits, glaciers, alpine meadows, coniferous forests, subalpine lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, birds… the park truly has it all! Yep, Top 3 for sure…!