Glacier National Park is located in the northern part of Montana. Parts of Glacier border British Columbia and Alberta. The weather in Glacier Park can change drastically at any time of the year. For example, in 1992 over a foot of snow fell on parts of Glacier in August. Summer rainfall averages about 2 to 3 inches per month. An umbrella or a good waterproof raincoat is highly recommended. Temperatures listed below are in both Celsius and Fahrenheit.
For more information about the park, visit the official Website: www.nps.gov/glac
Average Temperatures (°C /°F)
|May||18 | 64.6||3 | 38.1|
|June||22 | 72.0||7 | 44.5|
|July||25.5 | 77.8||9 | 48.4|
|August||25 | 77.1||8 | 46.7|
|September||20 | 68.4||3.6 | 38.5|
Glacier is home to most of the major mammals in the United States. Visitors to the park may see bears, wolves, mountain lions or mountain goats and sheep.
Wolves are either gray, white, or black and are much larger then the much more often seen coyote. Mature coyotes usually only weigh about 25 pounds. Wolves on the other hand weigh as much as 90 pounds. Wolves have been known to travel up to 20 or more miles per day. Mountain Goats are seen more often in Glacier then bighorn sheep. Salt licks in Glacier are ideal areas to see some of these large mammals.
Mountain goats have white fur and the older animals have sharp black horns. In November and December bighorn sheep often fight with dramatic head on head contact. This is the highlight to mating season. Unfortunately most tourists are not in the park during these months. Unlike mountain goats bighorn sheep have tan coats; the mature rams have curved horns. They are often found on moderately steep slopes next to cliffs.
Mountain lions also known as cougar, puma, and panther, are large wild cats. Adults weigh between 90 and 150 pounds. One distinguishing characteristic is that their tail is about a third of their body length. One is supposed to act aggressively when coming in contact with a mountain lion. Make yourself look as large as possible. Do not crouch down. Throw sticks or rocks if you can.
Some warnings should you come into close contact with a bear or are walking through bear country:
- Make lots of noise before you ever see a bear
- Back away slowly but stop if the bear becomes agitated
- Try to appear smaller
- Do not look directly into the bear’s eyes
Glacier National Park encompasses about 1 million acres. Its terrain is a result of the action of glaciers. Today there are about 50 glaciers left and 200 lakes. Unlike the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the top layers of soil and rock are about a billion years older then the lower layers. This is the result of an over thrust fault which forced the older rock on top of the newer rock.
Going to the Sun Road, features 52 miles of some of best scenery and geology that nature has to offer anywhere in the world. It is arguably the primary attraction in the park. The road crosses over the continental divide at the 6,646 foot Logan Pass. Travelers who enter the park from the east side will slowly climb above St. Mary Lake. Tall mountains border both sides of the road, some with glaciers still carving their way down the mountain sides.
Numerous pullouts are located along the entire road. I recommend you take advantage of these. You could easily spend all day traversing the 52 miles from east Glacier to west Glacier; there are simply to many wonderful distractions! If your visit coincides with a cloudy, foggy, or overcast day, please come back on a clear day. Visiting the park during extreme low visibility, one may as well be driving anywhere – views will be severely restricted.
Vehicles over 21 feet long are prohibited from driving this road. During the summer this road gets very busy and one has to drive slowly especially due to the numerous sharp bends.
Sunrift Gorge . The pull out for this gorge is located just before the end of St. Mary Lake driving west. It is approximately 9 miles west of the eastern entrance. The trail that leads to this gorge is only about a few hundred feet long at most and is a gentle climb. Continuing down the road, a mile or so past the trail one finds the Jackson Glacier overlook. From this pullout one can see several glaciers in the distance. A few miles past the glacier overlook the road makes a large bend and ascends to the top of the pass via a series of switchbacks. As one climbs up to the pass, keep an eye out for numerous small waterfalls in the distance and also next to the road.
Logan Pass consists of a welcoming visitor center, a few hiking trails, the Canadian and US flags, and spectacular views. The visitor center contains numerous books about Glacier National Park. One of the hiking trails that I strongly recommend is the trail to Hidden Lake. I usually don’t like trails that have names like lost lake, hidden lake, etc. Usually these lakes have names like that for a good reason; you can’t find them. However, in this case there is a well-maintained boardwalk trail about half way to the lake. Then the trail becomes improved dirt and very easy to follow. You won’t get lost!
The trail is about 3 miles one way to the lake. Don’t get discouraged. Instead of hiking the entire 3 miles, I recommend that you only hike in 1.5 miles as that is enough distance to fully experience this part of the park. After hiking 1.5 miles one will reach the overlook of Hidden Lake. From there it is another 1.5 miles down to the lake. The trail to the overlook is moderately steep in the beginning with wooden steps. After the wooden steps and planks end, the trail becomes more flat.
It is a good idea to have a strong pair of binoculars for nature watching anywhere in the park, but especially on this hike. I saw several grizzlies and mountain goats off in the distance. The trail winds up a broad valley with views of other valleys in the distance – all covered in the summer with plenty of grass and grubs for wild animals. From the Hidden Lake overlook one can see a deep gorge extending for several miles. Notice the point when you cross from one side of the continental divide to the other. Its a bit hard to see unless you know what you are looking for, but it is there.
When you drop down the other side of the divide you will be impressed by not only the terrific scenery but also the dramatic road. 12 miles of this part of the Going to the Sun Road has somehow been engineered on a steep slope overlooking a valley thousands of feet below. This road hangs precariously on the edge of cliffs at times. Parts of road offer several very small pull out areas. During the busy summer season expect many tourists – if your timing is good, you will catch someone leaving one of the pull outs just as you are ready to pull in.
Try to catch some of the pullouts located on the immediate other side of Logan Pass, going west. If you are able to park, get out and walk to the other side of the road. Be extremely careful because there is usually a lot of traffic. The attraction on the other side of the road is from the top of the 2-foot high stone wall next to the road, one can look down on cliffs extending into the valley for thousands of feet. Note: use caution when standing on top of this rock wall – slipping will result in serious injury. We took our chances from the top of the wall because the views are so dramatic and we wanted some photographs.
For what seems like an eternity one drives parts of this road almost “hanging” from cliffs. Eventually you reach the bottom and complete a large bend and start heading back towards the pass but on the other side of the valley. Several attractions are located on this side. One is the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail leading to some giant cedars. Another is Sprague Creek Trail which eventually reaches a campground and a pretty creek. Pack a picnic lunch.
Lake McDonald is located towards the end of the Going to the Sun Road. Remarkably, small cruise ships offer trips on this lake. For information about lodging in Glacier National Park call 800-215-2395.
Trail rides are offered in Glacier Park. One of the primary company’s that offers these rides is Swan Mountain Outfitters. They offer three separate trips; two in the western part of the park and one on the eastern side. These rides are usually available from early June through early September. Experienced wranglers will accompany you on all rides. The rides are geared towards novice or beginning riders. Riders should arrive 20 minutes before departures except for the all day rides (a 30 minute pre-departure arrival time is recommended). Some of the rides require a minimum number of riders. Select one hour rides are offered throughout the day depending on when horses and guides are available.
Swan Mountain’s various corrals are listed below:
Swan Mountain Outfitters
P.O. Box 322
West Glacier, MT 59936
Apgar Corral is on the western part of Glacier Park. This ride is 6 hours. It leaves at 8:30am. The ride crosses McDonald Creek to an abandoned fire lookout. A 2 hour ride leaves at 8am, 10am, 1pm, and 3pm – offering a nice gentle ride along McDonald Creek. Lastly, a one hour ride leaves at 9am, 11am, 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm. This is a gentle ride through a meadow passing some lodge pole pines and eventually passing close to the middle fork of the Flathead River. Call: (406) 888-5010.
Lake McDonald Corral is located on the western part of Glacier Park. Numerous rides leave at various increments throughout the day. Guests can choose from 1-3 hour rides. Call: (406) 888-5121.
Many Glacier Corral is located on the eastern part of Glacier Park. Three different all day rides are offered. Several lakes are included as stops on the rides – all featuring panoramic vistas at times. Half day, two hour and a one hour ride are offered. Call: (406) 732-4203
The following towns listed below are close to Glacier but are not actually inside the park. Here are some mileage’s from West Glacier to selected locations:
|Salt Lake City||661|
Choteau and Bynum are two small towns along Highway 89 on the way to the east Glacier park entrance. West of Choteau is a mecca for dinosaur sleuths and researchers. In the 1980’s juvenile dinosaur bones were found, which was a rarity at that time. Eventually researchers discovered nests of fossilized baby dinosaurs. They even discovered the remains of a new species of a duck billed platypus.
Bynum is a very small town about 10 miles north of Choteau. It is very easy to miss so be on the lookout. Be sure to check out the rock shop owned by the people who discovered the first baby dinosaur fossils in Bynum. The name of the shop is called the Trex Agate Shop, but it is most commonly called “The Rock Shop”. It is open from mid May through September and sells fossils, rocks, artifacts, jewelry, and crystals. The owner, Marion Brandvold has been featured in several national magazines, and on worldwide television programs for her baby dinosaur finds. For more information about the shop call (406) 469-2314.
Choteau is a farming and ranching community surrounded by scenic quintessential Montana vistas. The Nature Conservancy’s Pine Butte Swamp Preserve, Freezeout Lake, the Teton River, Eureka Lake, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness area are just a few of outdoor destinations located nearby. The 1.5 million acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Area (west of Choteau) is known for its geology and excellent fishing. Freezout Lake area is noted for its excellent bird watching. Pine Butte Swamp Preserve is known for its rare animals and plants.
Old Trail Museum in Choteau exhibits some of the local history and geology of the area. Three life size dinosaur statues are located outside of the museum. The town was named after the famous trapper Pierre Chouteau Jr. but the spelling of the town differs slightly from his last name. Public restrooms are available at the Choteau City Park, the Old Trail Museum, and at the visitors center near the museum. For more information about this town and or events call 800-823-3866 or (406) 466-5316. www.choteauchamber.com
Browning is located about 30 miles south east of the east Glacier park entrance. The main attraction in this small town is the Museum of the Plains Indian founded in 1941. A permanent exhibition presents the diversity of the tribal people of the Northern Plains including the Blackfeet, Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux, Nez Perce among others. A five screen multimedia presentation highlights their various cultures. In the summer painted tepees are setup on the museum grounds (visitors can walk inside them).
A small shop sells authentic and contemporary Native American arts and crafts. During our visit, admission was several dollars – we were told admission is waived in the winter months. They are open daily from June through September from 9am until 5pm. From October through May they are open Monday through Friday from 10am until 4:30pm. For more information call (406) 338-2230.
Waterton Peace Parks is well worth the drive if you have some extra time. The road that leads to this park from the east Glacier entrance is about 60 miles one way. Waterton Park is the small city perched at the edge of these famous lakes. For more information about Waterton Park call (403) 859-2224.
One of many things we enjoy about Montana is the high ratio of breweries per capita. The following breweries are located in the vicinity of Big Flathead Lake.
Polson lies at the foot of Flathead Lake. During the months of May and June one can watch water from the lake pour through the 200 to 500 foot perpendicular walls of the Flathead River Gorge at a rate up to 500,000 gallons per second. Fishermen gather in the last week in June for a fishing derby and contest. www.polsonchamber.com
Glacier Raft Company is located at the Riverside Park at the bridge. They offer half day white water rafting trips through a scenic canyon on the Big Flathead River. Trips depart at 10am and 2pm daily from early June through September. I would recommend going in July or August because at least the days are warmer even if the water is not. No one 8 and under is admitted. Reservations are strongly suggested. Call (406) 883-5838 or 800-654-4359. www.glacierraftco.com
Kwa Taq Nuk Princes also offers tours of Flathead Lake. The lake tours last for 3 hours and trips depart at 1:30pm. The 90 minute tour leaves at 10:30am and also at 7:30pm from June 1 through early September. 90 minute and 3 hour tour options are offered. Reservations are strongly suggested. Call (406) 883-2448.