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Park Beat – Glacier National Park

          In celebration of our nation’s park system and the upcoming summer, over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a new Park Beat focusing on a different national park each week. I’ve traveled to a lot of national parks, and although my tour is far from over, I’ve yet to visit a park where I leave disappointed; each park encompassing it’s own unique characteristics.  It’s easy to get lost in the splendor of each place, making it effortless to appreciate the beautiful features of our country’s natural landscape, which we’re so fortunate to enjoy. 

According to the National Park Service, the national park system consists of 401 protected areas encompassing more than 84 million acres in every state (except Delaware) in addition to the District of Columbia, American Somoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The areas include fifty-nine designated national parks in addition to monuments, battlefields, historical parks and other recreational areas. There’s no better way to step out beyond your own limits, within the United States, than to visit some of the amazing and vast terrain that makes up this country. 

Glacier National Park is one of those places that are hard to forget. In 1910, Glacier was the

10th piece of prime scenic real estate to be designated as a national park. Butting up against Waterton Lakes National Park in British Columbia, Canada, Glacier comprises a sizable portion of land in north western Montana. The total acreage of Glacier is 1,012,837 acres or 1,583 square miles and includes 762 lakes and 175 mountains. There are also twenty-five named glaciers that are unfortunately shrinking, so don’t wait too long to go if you want to see Glacier in all its glory. In 2012, over two million people visited the park. 

One of the easiest ways to begin a trek through Glacier is by traveling via Highway 2 from Kalispell, MT or one of the surrounding communities through West Glacier to the Apgar Visitor’s Center. After grabbing a national park map, an essential tool for exploring any national site, it’s virtually mandatory to hop on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road towards Logan Pass. While casually traveling up alongside the crystal blue water of Lake McDonald, the largest lake in Glacier, the road will softly curve through deciduous forest made up of red cedars, hemlocks and cottonwoods among other tree species. The Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail is a great place to stop off for a quick and easy hike into the forest. You can also take a break at the Lake McDonald Lodge, which sits rustically at the head of the lake. 

Keep going and you will start to gain elevation as the road winds up towards Logan Pass, elevation 6,646 feet. Along the way you will pass by the Weeping Wall, a sheer rock face where water gently trickles down. You will also likely see waterfalls cascading off the green lush mountainsides as you gain altitude. Once you reach the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a good look at some of the park’s famous glaciers. 

Venture on, dropping down the backside of Logan Pass, and you will come to the trailhead of two of my favorite places in the park, St. Mary’s Falls and Virginia Falls. Barely a hike to the first stop, St. Mary’s Falls, it’s a short distance further to Virginia Falls; in total 1.5 miles one way or 3 miles round trip.  Along the way, you’ll travel by surging streams, mini waterfalls, and over bridges through an assortment of forest architecture.

St. Mary’s Falls 

Virginia Falls 
By the time you take a few short hikes and stop off for quick photo ops along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, it will likely be time to head back for the night. If you like to camp, Glacier offers 13 campground options, most of which are first come, first serve.  But if camping is not your thing, it’s a brief forty-five minute drive back to Kalispell, the largest of the towns in the area. Although it’s impossible to see everything in one day, by visiting some of the highlights throughout the park, it’s easy to get a good sense of the park’s scenic beauty that makes Glacier so special.

Quick Facts: 

How long does it take to drive the entire Going-to-the-Sun-Road? Without stopping, it will take approximately two hours one-way to drive the 50 mile long scenic drive. 

What is the speed limit on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road? 40 mph.

Can you travel on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road year round? No, the road is only open seasonally, usually from July through September, depending on snow conditions. 

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