Glacier National Park

Montana, United States North America icon North America

Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana, United States along the border of Canada and the United States. The park covers an area of 1,583.3 square miles (4,100.77 sq km).

The park borders Canada and the neighboring Waterton Lakes National Park. The two parks together are recognized as Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO. Glacier in Montana has nothing to do with the Glacier National Park in Canada

Glacier is renowned for the expansive wilderness that features over 130 named lakes with a total of 700 scattered across the park.  Twelve of the lakes are larger and considered more significant, and Lake McDonald is the largest.

It is not only lakes that are prevalent, there are around 200 waterfalls dispersed throughout the park. McDonald Falls and Swift Current Falls are the two largest.  Bird Woman Falls is the tallest with a plunge of 492 feet (150 m).

Mount Cleveland is the tallest mountain in the park with a summit at 10,466 feet (3,190 m).  There are five other mountains that exceed the 10,000-foot (3,048 m) mark.

Although not officially recognized as “Wilderness Area,” the NPS serves and supports 93% of the park boundaries as if it had that designation.

Glaciers used to fill the areas between the mountains and have carved across the park creating many of the U-shaped valleys.  For all practical purposes, the glaciers are a thing of the past.  Only 25 glaciers remain with at least 0.26 square miles (0.10 sq km) of the area.  Scientists believe that the remaining glaciers will completely melt away by the year 2030.

Spruce and fir make up the forest in the west-northwest region of the park, red cedar and hemlock make up the forest in the southwest, and the Continental Divide region is intertwined with mixed pine, spruce, and fir.  Each of the habitats serves abundant wildlife.

Black bears and grizzly bears are two of the most exciting wildlife sightings.  Some of the predator species include bobcat, cougar, coyote, lynx, and timber wolf.  Some of the other popular species include bighorn sheep, elk, moose, mountain goat, and mule deer. Altogether, there are 62 species of mammals within the park boundaries.

The bald eagle, golden eagle, and the peregrine falcon often top the list of hopeful sightings among birdwatchers.  There are 260 species of birds that nest or migrate through the park.

Glacier Highlights

Glacier National Park is renowned for expansive mountainous landscapes blanketed with over 700 lakes.  The drive through the center of the park is a highlight as you take in the astounding landscape.  However, getting off the road is where the highlights really begin.

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald has the distinction of being the largest of the 700 lakes that Glacier is renowned for.  The lake holds several “biggest” categories.  It is the longest lake stretching across Glacier National Park for 9.4 miles (15.1 km).

Lake McDonald is the largest lake based on an area covering 71.5 square miles (27.6 sq km).  It is also the deepest lake reaching a depth of 464 feet (141 m).

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake is one of the easiest lakes to see.  It is accessed with a short trail and offers an incredible lake landscape.  The lake often features a turquoise color because of the glacial silt runoff.

Waterfalls

Trekking throughout the park providers hikers with a chance to see some of the 200 waterfalls.  Bird Woman Falls is a waterfall that has a total drop of 560 feet (170 m) with an initial plunge of 492 feet (150 m).

Swiftcurrent Falls is a staircase-like cascading waterfall that could easily be argued as one of the prettiest waterfalls in the park. McDonald Falls is one of the easiest to see and delivers one of the larger volumes.

Trails of Glacier National Park

There are over 700 miles (1,127 km) of recognized trails scattered throughout the park.  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail cuts across Glacier and accounts for 110 miles (177 km) of that.

Trail of the Cedars: This is a short 0.8-mile (1.2 km) loop that is accessible to all featuring a boardwalk meandering through the towering cedar trees.

St. Mary and Virginia Falls Trail: This is an easy 2.9-mile (4.67 km) with an elevation gain of 452 feet (137.7 m) as it meanders through the forest to a view of Virginia Falls.

Cracker Lake Trail: This is a 12-mile (19.3 km) trail with 1,650 feet (502.9 m) of elevation gain.  The trail is rated moderate.  It features one of the most picturesque lake & mountain landscapes in the park. Some argue this is the most beautiful trail in the park.

Grinnell Glacier Trail: This is a 10.3-mile (16.57 km) with pretty significant elevation gain. The trail runs along Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine and then ascends past Grinnell Falls, Angel Wing, Mount Gould, and the Continental Divide.  A panoramic view of Grinnell Lake.

Iceberg Lake Trail: This is a 9.6-mile (15.4 km) travels along Altyn Peak and Mount Wilbur with limited views of Ptarmigan Falls.  The ascent continues upward to Iceberg Lake, which features floating ice, emerald-colored water, and a mountain backdrop.

Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail: This is 52-mile (84 km) challenging trail that traverses across Glacier running east to west.  This is a multi-day backpacking endeavor with camping along the way.

Glacier Highlights

  • Lake McDonald
  • Avalanche Lake
  • Waterfalls

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