Whether you’re looking to take in panoramic outlooks of glacial lakes, go hiking in Northwest Montana’s backwoods, or stand on top of the continental divide where the water drains west to the Pacific and East to the Gulf of Mexico, Glacier National Park will provide plenty to fill your checklist. The best times to visit Glacier are the months of May through September. July is typically the peak of tourist season. While the weather can be unpredictable at either side of this time frame, the park provides a multitude of attractions for hiking, camping, fishing, rafting, backpacking and sight see-seeing. Here is a list of the top ten attractions that draw over 200,000 visitors each year to Glacier National Park.
St. Mary's Lake
Where central Montana's great plains end, and the Rocky Mountains begin, is St. Mary's Lake. St. Mary's Lake is Glacier National Parks second largest lake. It's north shore runs right along the Going to the Sun Road at the East side of the park and contintental divide. Goose island is the loan island trademark seen in many pictures in the middle of St. Mary's Lake.
Lake McDonald is the largest lake in glacier park. It's south shore runs along the Going to the Sun Road at the West side of the park and continental divide. There is a national park service visitor center at Apgar Village at the western most part of the lake. Here you can find gift shops, get park maps, grab a bite eat, rent boats, and see ground squirrels running around.
The Garden Wall
The Garden Wall, located north of Logan Pass and just West of the Continental Divide provides a very popular day hike along the 5 mile long highline trail. There you can reach the granite park chalet and stop to eat lunch. During the warmer months of summer, it is densely covered with flowering plants and vegetation, providing numerous photo opportunities.
Logan pass marks the top of the continental divide along the Going to the Sun Highway. There is a phenomenal visitor center and numerous boardwalks to view much of the parks wildlife. This is also the starting point for many of the parks hiking trails, including the Highline Trail along the Garden Wall.
Going to the Sun Road
Completed in 1932, the Going to the Sun Road sums up Glacier National Park with it’s 53 miles that connect the East and West entrances. Regardless of your entry point, while traversing the road by car or bike, you will cross Logan Pass and the continental divide, taking in breathtaking views along the way. Check park weather information if heading to Glacier in the early summer months. Over 80 feet of snow has been known to accumulate over Logan Pass at the Continental Divide in the winter months, sometimes keeping the pass closed into July.
Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Creek
The Trail of the Cedars consists of close to 3 miles of hiking trail that can be reached off of the Going to the Sun Road between Lake McDonald and Logan Pass. The trail consists of paved road and raised board walk through a dense forest of cedar trees, some reaching as high as 80 feet tall. You can loop around back to the parking lot, or take the two mile hike further to Avalanche Creek. Here, you can see waterfalls and running bluish green water that has cut through a cascade rock over time.
Izaak Walton Inn
Originally built in the late 1930’s, the Izaak Walton Inn served as lodging quarters for workers on the Great Northern Railway. Open year round, the Inn still serves as a drop off point for the Amtrak train system. There is overnight lodging, a restaurant, and a gaming hall with a bar in the basement that offers live music on weekends. The Inn is actually located near Essex, MT at the Southern edge of the park along Highway 2. Close by is the middle fork of the Flathead River which offers great flyfishing and whitewater rafting.
Grinnell Point and Swiftcurrent Lake
Located in Many Glacier, the east shore of Swiftcurrent Lake is home to the Many Glacier Lodge, the largest hotel in Glacier Park. This area marks the start of many of the parks hiking trails, and provides a spectacular view of Grinnell Point, which rises abruptly from the lakeshore in front of the even taller Mount Grinnel in the background.
Polebridge, home of the famous Polebridge Mercantile Store, is located just over a mile via gravel road from the West entrance of Glacier Park. Here you can listen to old timey music while enjoying some food and drinks at an old wooden shack saloon. Polebridge consists of a combination of mercantile store, post office, gas station and bakery.
Middle Fork of the Flathead River
The Middle Fork of the Flathead River forms the Southwest boundary of Glacier National Park. It parallels much of Highway 2 which provides pull offs for scenic views of the river where bottlenecks of whitewater rapids are produced. The Middle Fork provides great opportunities for novice and technical rafting trips, both guided and unguided. Blue ribbon fly fishing is also an option during the Spring and late Summer/Fall months for steelhead, cutthroat, and rainbow trout when the water is lower.
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