As a lover of our country’s wonderful inventory of National Parks, I, like most of you who are reading this, have my opinions on which parks deserve to be considered among the top tier of parks within our countries unbelievable collection. I think of the national parks much as I do puppies; I never met a single one I didn’t like, but I still have preferences and favorites.
While most put the likes of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon among a small group at the very top, one that often gets left out is Glacier National Park (NP). This writer believes this park is fully deserving of membership in this small fraternity of the grandest of our prized parks.
To begin with, there are very few parks where you are nearly guaranteed to see grizzly bear. There is only a couple where you can count on seeing an endangered glacier. Glacier NP may be the only, (it is certainly the best), place to see both.
Additional, one of my favorite experiences when visiting one of our great western national parks is overnighting, or at least enjoying a meal, at a grand and historic lodge. These often massive and always historic lodges are one of the fortunate attributes and selling points for a select few parks. A national park is lucky if it has one, Grand Canyon NP has two (one on each rim which in many ways are like two distinct parks), but Glacier NP has four, five if you include the Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada’s adjacent Waterton International Peace Park. Together the two parks operate as Waterton – Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site. The great lodges at Glacier NP are for the most part, unbelievably massive, built with hundreds of lodging rooms, designed around high vaulted ceiling central common areas, and sit aside deep clear mountain lakes.
These tremendously tidy, continually renovated, and gorgeous options for food and overnight stay have preserved the charm that has been lost to modern architecture and the reality of today’s high building costs. They were all built nearly a century ago (1920 – 1927) and were, for the most part, the brainchild of the great railroads to drive their business by giving vacationers an excuse and a practical way to experience the great western parks.
Glacier NP offers unsurpassed hiking, large, clear, and very chilly mountain lakes, and memorable wildlife encounters. A word of warning here. This is not a park to just take off and hike alone and without any planning. There is a large population of grizzly bear in this park. I have hiked most every western national park, and I have seen both black and grizzly bear in numerous parks, but there is no park where their numbers are so plentiful. In fact, where many parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Kings Canyon (among others) will tell you via brochures and park rangers that you are in bear country, Glacier NP is the only park where I have experienced large red signs stating that you are in BEAR COUNTRY at every trailhead. The smart plan is to get advice from a park ranger on how to react if you do encounter bear, wear a “bear bell” and make lots of noise while hiking, and NEVER hike alone or with small children. If you heed this advice, you can experience some of the most memorable hiking of your life without any problems.
Glacier NP delvers a combination that you will not find in any other national park: bear, bighorn sheep, gray wolf, elk, grand lodges, alpine lakes, high mountain peaks, the ever more endangered glaciers, one of the most spectacular drives in the entire US on the going-to-the-sun road, and the continental divide passing right though the heart of the park. I challenge anyone to deny this park its rightful place among the elite few parks that comprise the very best our fabulous national park system has to offer.