Your guide to reaching the unforgettable Crown-of-the-Continent in Glacier National Park
I remember standing on a boardwalk atop a glacier. Besides the brown and gray weather-beaten boardwalk, the entire landscape was white. The sky was incredibly blue. A crowd of people lined the boardwalk, snapping pictures.
Image Source: GlacierParkInc.com
There, out on the glacier, its shaggy white coat ruffling in the wind, was one of the gigantic, bearded mountain goats for which Glacier National Park is famous. The goat was incredibly huge. It’s a fitting emblem for a park where the peaks are so high, the terrain so expansive, that George Bird Grinnell called it the Crown of the Continent on an exploration in 1885. Not long after, in 1910, President Taft signed a bill to preserve it as one of our National Parks.
Find Your Park
2016 marks the 100th birthday of the National Park Service (NPS). Find Your Park is about celebrating the NPS centennial. As part of it, there are a number of fee-free days at Glacier. This is the perfect time to experience the immense grandeur of Glacier National Park.
Travel Going-to-the-Sun Road
Going-to-the-Sun Road is an excellent place to start. This route spans the width of the park. If you decide to do the whole drive, for fifty miles you’ll take in lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, wildflowers, sheer mountains and pristine valleys. At 6,646 feet, you’ll hit the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Along the way, there are multiple trailheads, campgrounds, visitor centers, and lodges.
Check out Logan Pass
This is an extremely popular area, so consider taking a shuttle from West Glacier to avoid limited parking. At Logan Pass you’ll see the highest point in the park accessible by road. Here, there’s a Visitor Center open mid-June through mid-September. You’ll learn about alpine-zone plants and animals—you might even spot a mountain goat. Park rangers are on hand to answer questions and help you plan your next step. A spectacular view, you’ll look out on verdant mountainsides that quickly become sheer rock cliffs.
Take the trail to Hidden Lake Overlook
Behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, the Hidden Lake Trail starts off as a boardwalk that protects the tundra from getting trampled. From there, you’ll ascend on a gravel trail leading to the Overlook. The Hidden Lake Overlook is a favorite spot for mountain goats and tourists alike. You might spot Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, and Marmots—but watch out for Grizzly Bear! Actually, Grizzly sightings are rare. The trail goes for 1.5 miles and gains 460 feet in elevation (wear hiking shoes). You’ll find yourself overlooking the crystalline Hidden Lake. Bring your camera for ample footage of wildflowers, wildlife, and the gem of the lake.
Consider Highline Trail
After you get back from Hidden Lake Overlook, Highline Trail beckons from the Logan Pass summit. This trail presents multiple options for the traveler. Pioneering types can choose to hike all 30 miles through the backcountry until they get to Canada. If you want to see some great sights for a day-hike, take the Loop Trail (11.6 miles). Or, simply hike a few miles then come back. Here’s the rundown of what you’ll come across:
Highline Trail Cliff: Within the first mile, hold on tight to the rope and stay away from the edge of the trail as it cuts along the cliff-face
Haystack Butte: After four miles, rest for a picnic on the saddle between Haystack Butte and Mount Gould; this will afford you a prime view of the northwest part of the park
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: After nearly seven miles you can hike another mile, an 800 foot climb, to glimpse Grinnell Glacier a thousand feet below
Granite Park Chalet: Built during the 1900s, this charming chalet is nearly 8 miles from Logan Pass
Swiftcurrent Mountain Summit and Lookout: About a mile from the Chalet, hearty souls can ascend for a little over two miles, one thousand feet to the top of Swiftcurrent Mountain for an unforgettable view
Finally, the Loop Trail will take you 2,800 feet down to Going-to-the-Sun Road, from where you can catch a shuttle back to Logan Pass.
Explore Many Glacier
North from Going-to-the-sun-Road, Many Glacier is the heart of Glacier National Park. You’ll approach this area if you take Highline Trail. Many Glacier has a plethora of things going for it:
Iceberg Lake Trail: Hike a gradual 1200 foot ascent to Iceberg Lake, a pure glacial lake surrounded by 3,000 foot cliffs that keep out the sun during winter
Many Glacier Boat Tour: This tour starts at Many Glacier Hotel; you take a wooden boat across Swiftcurrent Lake, get out, walk to Lake Josephine, and take another wooden boat across that lake, all accompanied by a guide; this tour takes about an hour and a half, after which you can choose to go hiking or head back to the hotel
Horseback rides: My personal favorite, you can take horseback rides into the backcountry from Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, and Apgar
Grinnell Glacier Trail: After the boat tour, take this trail to the Grinnell, Salamander, and Gem glaciers
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail: This trail will jet you through Swiftcurrent Valley and up to the Continental Divide; along the way, you’ll see roaring Red Rock Falls after passing Fisher Cap Lake and Red Rock Lake, where you may see some moose; next, after 3.9 miles you’ll charge past Bullhead Lake; then comes the hard part—the climb to Swiftcurrent Headwall and Swiftcurrent Pass
There’s so much to see
The 100th birthday of the National Park Service is here. 2016 is the best year ever to visit a National Park. Now, it’s much harder for our president to designate new parks, so the National Park Service needs our support.
At Glacier, there’s snow on the ground well into August, meaning your summer hikes will be a nice and temperate. But the glaciers at Glacier National Park may not be there for long. According to the National Park Service, global climate change scientists predict all of the glaciers will be gone by 2030. So get out and see those glaciers while you still can.
Just make sure to prioritize safety if you’re driving to Glacier, or to any of our National Parks this summer. You can download a summer driving safety checklist here.
About The Author: Daniel Matthews is a freelance writer and musician from Boise, ID. As a travel and beer enthusiast, he loves to write about both when he gets the chance. Please find him on Twitter @danielmatthews0.
Note: The author would like to thank EnjoyYourParks.com for the thorough source of information
Image Source: #1 Pixabay #2, McDonald Lake: Nathaniel Gonzales http://www.glacierparkinc.com/