Glacier National Park, Montana

Half Moon Fire in Glacier National Park, 1929

Half Moon Fire in Glacier National Park, 1929

After the Half Moon fire of 1929, Congress appropriated nearly $200,000 to acquire private property within Glacier National Park’s boundary and began to buy the private landowners out. The National Park Service received another Congressional appropriation for land acquisition in the 1950s to acquire more private property and by 1954, there were no year-round residents living on the east side of the North Fork Valley.

Just across the border, in Canada, is Waterton Lakes National Park. In 1931, members of the Rotary Clubs of Alberta and Montana suggested joining the two parks as a symbol of the peace and friendship between our two countries. In 1932, the United States and Canadian governments voted to designate the parks as Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, the world’s first. More recently the parks have received two other international honors. The parks are both Biosphere Reserves and were jointly made a World Heritage Site in 1995.

Glacier National Park by Carol Highsmith

River in Glacier National Park by Carol Highsmith

Today, the Glacier National Park features 185 mountains, 25 glaciers, 762 lakes, over 700 miles of trails, three visitor centers, and 13 drive-in campgrounds. Here, people enjoying hiking, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, guided tours, and more. Historically, there are six National Historic Landmarks in the park including the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Sperry Chalet, Granite Park Chalet, Two Medicine Camp Store, Many Glacier Hotel, and the Lake McDonald Lodge. Additionally, there are 358 historic structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Some of the most popular places in the park include:

Lake McDonald Valley – The hub of activity on the west side of Glacier National Park, this area was once occupied by massive glaciers that carved this area thousands of years ago. The valley is now filled with spectacular sights, hiking trails, diverse species of plants and animals, historic chalets, and the grand Lake McDonald Lodge. Lake McDonald, at ten miles long and nearly 500 feet deep, is the largest lake in the park. High peaks surrounding the lake all show evidence of the power of glaciers to carve even the hardest of rock. The powerful glaciers that carved the broad “u-shaped” valley that Lake McDonald sits in also carved smaller hanging valleys with wonderful waterfalls that are accessible by numerous hiking trails.

Glacier National Park Map courtesy the National Park Service

Glacier National Park Map courtesy the National Park Service

Along the shore of Lake McDonald sits Lake McDonald Lodge. Originally, this was the site of the Snyder Hotel, which John Lewis bought in 1896. During the winter of 1913-14, Lewis built a new 65-room hotel built on the site which was constructed to resemble a rustic hunting lodge with Swiss-influenced architecture. Construction materials that could not be locally sourced had to be hauled from the depot in Belton before ferried nearly 10 miles up lake. The Lewis Hotel became a was a community gathering point where artist Charlie Russell could sometimes be found telling stories in the lobby. In 1930, Lewis sold the property and new management changed the hotel’s name to Lake McDonald Lodge. Today, this warm and inviting building provides comfort for overnight guests.

Here can also be found the Apgar Visitor Center, four campgrounds, other lodging facilities, ranger-led activities, restaurants, camp stores and gift shops, horseback riding and shuttle service. It is located off Going-to-the-Sun Road, approximately two miles from the West Glacier Entrance Station near the town of West Glacier, Montana.
Reynolds Mountain at Glacier National Park, by the National Park Service

Reynolds Mountain at Glacier National Park, by the National Park Service

Logan Pass – The highest elevation (6646 feet) reachable by car in the park, Logan Pass is towered over by Reynolds Mountain and Clements Mountains. Here can be found beautiful fields of wildflowers in the summer and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, where visitors see mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and the occasional grizzly bear lumbering through the meadows. Also located here are two of the area’s most popular trails, the Hidden Lake Trail and the Highline Trail. An extremely popular stop with visitors, the parking lot can often be full, so guests are encouraged to use free shuttles or come early or late in the day.

The Logan Pass Visitor Center is located in the middle of the park at the highest point along Going-to-the-Sun Road, approximately 32 miles from the West Entrance and 18 miles from the St. Mary Entrance. Ranger-led activities, restrooms, and shuttle service is available at this site.

Many Glacier – Situated in the heart of Glacier National Park, massive mountains, active glaciers, sparkling lakes, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife make this a favorite of visitors and locals alike. The small glaciers seen today sculpt the land in much the same way as the larger ancient ice-age glaciers did; slowly grinding away on the mountains, carving rock and leaving a changed landscape.

Grinnell Glacier Basin at Glacier National Park by Tim Rains, National Park Service.

Grinnell Glacier Basin at Glacier National Park by Tim Rains, National Park Service.

Many Glacier is also a destination where one can travel by car, foot, boat, or horseback. But, visitors should know that the access road into the valley is rough and potholes abound. Low clearance vehicles should use extra caution and parking is very limited. In fact, on extremely busy days, access to the valley will be restricted until parking becomes available. Visitors might want to shuttle to the destination. Upon arrival, Many Glacier is a hikers paradise with trails radiating out in all directions, including two of the most popular hikes in the park, the Grinnell Glacier Trail and the Iceberg Lake trail. Springtime brings bighorn sheep close to the road and late summer is the best time to see bears, both grizzly and black, feasting on huckleberries on the slopes above the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

Here sits the historic Many Glacier Hotel, which was built in 1914-15 by the Great Northern Railway as the showplace of their network of chalets and hotels. A hardy crew of craftsmen overcame the difficulties of building what was then Montana’s largest hotel while withstanding winter temperatures below zero degrees in order to have the hotel completed for a July 4, 1915 opening. Most of the timber for the hotel was logged from nearby and milled at a sawmill on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake. Today, this secluded, five-story hotel contains two suites, seven family rooms and 205 guest rooms offering lakeside, deluxe, standard and value lodging options. Other facilities at the site include a campground, ranger-led activities, hiking, restaurants, a camp store, scenic boat tours and rentals, and horseback riding.

Bowman Lake at Glacier National Park, by the National Park Service

Bowman Lake at Glacier National Park, by the National Park Service

North Fork – This area in the northwest corner of Glacier National Park, can only be reached only by private vehicles on unpaved roads. Those who travel the rough dirt roads are rewarded with a living laboratory of forest succession in recently burned areas, views of Bowman and Kintla Lakes, homesteading sites, and chances to see and hear rare park wildlife. With limited amenities, the North Fork invites a self-reliant visitor. The only services in this area are available outside of the park in the community of Polebridge and cell phone signals are nonexistent in the area. Vehicles over 21’ and/or trailers are not permitted on any roads in the North Fork. Facilities here include four campgrounds, picnic areas, drinking water, restrooms.

St. Mary Valley – Located adjacent to the St. Mary Entrance Station on Going-to-the-Sun Road, near the town of St. Mary, this is the eastern gateway to Glacier National Park. Here, the prairies, mountains, and forests all converge to create a diverse and rich habitat for plants and animals. A drive along St. Mary Lake, which spans almost 10 miles, provides some of the most incredible vistas available in the park. Bordering the Blackfeet Reservation, Native American history and culture is strong in the St. Mary Valley. Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai tribal members participate in the park’s Native American Speaks programs. These programs feature award-winning performing artists and local drummers and dancers at the St. Mary Visitor Center. Facilities and services include two campgrounds, ranger-led activities, hiking, picnic areas, restrooms, and shuttle service.

Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park, by Jacob Frank, National Park Service

Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park, by Jacob Frank, National Park Service

Two Medicine – Before Going-to-the-Sun Road was constructed, Two Medicine was a primary destination for travelers arriving by train. After spending a night at Glacier Park Lodge, visitors climbed on horseback to travel to Two Medicine for a night in one of several rustic chalets or canvas tipis built by the Great Northern Railway. From Two Medicine, a system of backcountry tent camps and chalets within the park allowed these adventurous visitors to live in Glacier’s wild interior. Today, Two Medicine has become a somewhat off-the-beaten-path discovery for most park visitors. Backpackers and day hikers find this area rich in scenery, with its amazing vistas, extensive trails, crashing waterfalls, and sparkling lakes. Once discovered, many people consider this their favorite part of Glacier National Park. Facilities and Services here include a campground, ranger-led activities, hiking opportunities, a camp store, scenic boat tours and rentals, picnic areas and restrooms.

Located just outside the boundaries of Glacier National Park in the village of East Glacier Park, Montana is the historic Glacier Park Lodge. This was the first hotel built by the Great Northern Railway in 1912-13 and has been the first stop on visitors’ Glacier vacations for decades. Today’s visitors can step off the train platform in East Glacier and immediately walk across the street to the lodge grounds. With unpeeled log pillars and open campfire-like fireplaces in the lobby, the lodge acted as a grand entry to the wilderness, as most visitors came by train from the east. The lodge is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 2 and MT-49.

By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020

A deer in Sullivan Meadows at Glacier National Park.

A deer in Sullivan Meadows at Glacier National Park.

More Information:

Glacier National Park
PO Box 128
West Glacier, Montana 59936
406-888-7800

Also See:

Destinations Across America

Glacier National Park Photo Gallery

Montana Main Page

National Parks, Monuments & Historic Sites

Sources:

Glacier National Park
Glacier’s Past
Man in Glacier
National Park Publications