Located in northwestern Montana on the Canadian border, Glacier National Park is over one-million acres of incredible beauty. If a person were to create a AAA list of, "must see," National Parks in a life time, Glacier National Park would be located close to the top of that list. Established in 1910 Glacier National Park protects a wide variety of wildlife, flora, and terrain ranging from rugged glacier capped mountains to open prairie. Adjacent to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, the two combined parks are called the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, established in 1932, it is the first park of it's kind in the world.Although Glacier National Park is open year round, most of it's two-million visitors arrive in the summer months from June to September. However May and October still offer tepid weather, far less visitors and far better opportunities to view wildlife and spectacular spring or fall colors. With over 1,000 species of wildflowers, Glacier National Park is in full bloom during July.
There are several things that help make Glacier National Park rather unique. Located in the Rocky Mountains, the park represents an ecological crossroads between several different biospheres. Further, weather and glacier action has been carving out this park for over one-billion years and this action continues today. The park is covered with over 50 glaciers, some of them new and growing, while other older glaciers are in retreat, and some are even in danger of completely disappearing. These melting glaciers send water crashing down the mountain side and feed over 200 lakes throughout the park and have carved out many U shaped valleys.
The list of year round opportunities at Glacier National Park and Wharton National Park are almost endless. Over 700 miles of equestrian and hiking trails, 13 improved campgrounds, 79 backcountry campgrounds, lodging ranging from elegant turn of the century to primitive cabins, touring, mountain climbing, rock climbing, outfitter tours, backcountry camping, ice climbing, paddling, boating, swimming, horseback riding, an eighteen hole golf course, and sightseeing is a short list of summer activities. In the winter snow shoeing and cross country skiing in an environment free of snowmobiles await.
Despite all of this development, Glacier National Park remains very rugged with only one improved road crossing the park from west to east at it's heart. Other primitive roads cross through. Keep in mind that Glacier is a rugged mountainous area. Some roads have restrictions for vehicles in excess of 21 feet and over 8' wide including mirrors. The Going-To-The-Sun Road provides the highest challenge, and there is even a shuttle service for those who do not want to navigate this steep and twisting road.
Like most of the large national parks a one-day visit to Glacier does not do it justice. Not only should several days be planned to see the park, it will help justify the almost five hour drive from Bozeman, Montana to get into the heart of the park. Even if you live a sedentary lifestyle, the large number of park roads including Going-To-The-Sun Road, Chief Mountain International Highway, the Akamina Parkway and the Red Rock Canyon Parkway that enter and exit both parks will keep you driving for at least two days through breath taking mountain views.
Of course the best way to see Glacier National Park is on foot. Hiking trails range from short prairie treks to grueling climbs up some of Glacier's mountains. When hiking and touring Glacier National Park wildlife viewing opportunities abound. Grizzly bears, mountain lions, big horn sheep, wolves, and bald eagles all call Glacier National Park home. More species of large mammals live in Glacier National Park than any other place in the United States. However these animals are largely shy and during the busiest times move far from the well traveled roads. Your best chance to see wildlife is hiking in the backcountry or during May and October.
Despite it's somewhat remote location, unlike Denali National Park in Alaska, Glacier National Park has a large number of service providers outside of the park. Lodging, campsites, RV parks, outfitters, shopping and restaurants are open year round to serve park visitors. Even though park services close in September, access to the park continues on throughout the year.
Weather at Glacier National Park varies across a wide range of extremes. Summer time weather is generally tepid although temperatures can rise above 90° F. If you get into higher altitude or above the tree line in the mountains, the temperature can drop as much as 20° F. In the winter heavy deep snow blankets the park preventing access on most park roads. Some of these roads remain buried as late as June and beyond in some years. Winter temperatures can get down right frigid. Because the eastern half of the park is on the down slope side of the Rockies, air moving east and rushing down the side of the mountain makes this area notoriously windy. Something to keep in mind if you plan to camp or paddle.