Glacier-Waterton National Park
|Glacier National Park, Montana (Robert Glusic/Photodisc/Getty)|
If close encounters with large predators, hiking cliffside trails, and venturing into remote, mountainous terrain are not your bag, then may we suggest driving past the entrance gate to Glacier National Park? On the other hand, if unparalleled scenery and the opportunity to see the full lineup of wildlife that greeted Lewis and Clark when they swung through Montana is your notion of a great vacation spot, then Glacier is your kind of park.
Named for the rivers of ice that continue to carve its spectacular alpine landscape, Glacier continually ranks as the most pristine of America's national parks and the one people would most like to revisit.
Don't be surprised if a hike in the park leads to a grizzly bear tearing lazily into a rotten log for a meal of tasty grubs; grizzly sightings are a tradition here, and a guarantor that hikers take precautions like clapping, singing, and wearing bells on their bootlaces to make sure the encounters occur from a safe distance. Glacier is also home to wolves, mountain lions, and mountain goats.
The same remote quality that makes Glacier hospitable to these solitary species makes it less accessible than other national parks; a visit to Glacier demands a bit more effort before it surrenders its charms. But it won't take long for you to discover that this is one of the park system's true gems.
Drive to the Sun
Going-to-the-Sun Road is the marquee drive in Glacier and perhaps the most scenic stretch of tarmac in all of North America. It has been described as a "don't look down" road. It bisects the northern and southern halves of the park, crosses the Continental Divide, and is designated a National Historic Landmark. If you have quads of steel, then consider bicycling Going-to-the Sun. The screaming descent is worth the uphill toil. Whatever the size of your vehicle, be sure to detour into the numerous turnoffs for awesome views of mountainsides and wildflowers.
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Hike the Nation's Spine
Glacier National Park boasts some of the most remote backcountry hiking in the Lower 48 and over 700 miles of maintained trails. The eastern slope of the Divide tends to be drier and it has more dramatic alpine scenery. The southern part of the park is more remote and less visited. A great and vigorous hike to the Continental Divide is on the Dawson-Pitamakan trail. It climbs through diverse landscapes to the Continental Divide and then explores the Dry Fork drainage. The trail starts at the Two Medicine north shore trailhead and travels more than 16 miles out and back over moderately strenuous terrain with an elevation gain of 2,935 feet.
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Carve Tracks Into a Mountain
Western slopes in the northern Rockies are famous for their dry, powdery snow, and Glacier is no exception. Telemark and cross-country skiers alike can get their "freshies" (first tracks after a big snow) throughout the park free from the sounds and smells of snowmobiles, which blessedly are prohibited in the park. The route most suited to a mellow Nordic trek is the Upper Lake MacDonald Trail, which follows Going-to-the-Sun Road for eight miles. The Autumn Creek Trail near Marias Pass offers a more remote ski experience, but also puts skiers into avalanche country. Check snow conditions before heading out.
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Cast for Dolly Varden
You won't find Brad Pitt in Glacier National Park, but you might snare Dolly Varden. Fly-fishing in the park is rated as world-class, with cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden trout, eastern brook trout, arctic grayling, and kokanee salmon on the menu. Another plus: Out-of-staters don't need a license to fish at Glacier. Lake fishing tends to be better than stream fishing, with good fishing reported at Elizabeth, Ellen Wilson, Grace, Hidden, and Isabel Lakes. The North Fork of the Flathead is known as the best stream fishing, but because spring runoff is so dramatic, all rivers are best fished from mid-July through September.
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Paddle the Spring Melt
The opaque emerald waters of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the Flathead entice hundreds of courageous paddlers every spring when the melting snowpack and glacial runoff swell this river into a raging monster. The Middle Fork is known as the wildest river in Montana as it traces Glacier's western border. Shaefer Meadows, about 25 miles upriver from Bear Creek, has an airstrip and is the most frequent starting point for wilderness rafting trips.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication