We had heard about Glacier National Park for years from friends who had been there, some returning year after year, and one who even bought a home inside the park. But, even with all of their glowing reviews, nothing prepared me for how truly spectacular Glacier National Park is. Located in the northwest corner of Montana, it is a breath of fresh air. To just stand there and inhale is a moment of Zen I won’t soon forget.
Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to know before you go. Glacier National Park is open year-round, but activities and amenities vary with each season.
Glacier National Park spans the Continental Divide, where warm, wet Pacific air meets the cold, arid air of the northeast. Summers are mild and sunny while winters bring freezing temperatures and blankets of snow. Our visit, however, was in mid spring. The air was crisp and inviting; the sun shone brightly and welcomed us with temps in the low 70s. That’s as close to perfect as you can get.
Glacier National Park is a place you need to experience for yourself. There is no amount of hearsay or breathtaking photos that can capture its essence and magic. But, to help you in planning your vacation to Glacier National Park here are a few things to consider on your visit.
Red Bus Tour
The Red Bus is no ordinary bus tour. Each of the 33 bright red vintage buses has been in service since the 1930s and is the transportation of choice for 60,000 visitors every summer around Glacier National Park. The roof of the bus rolls back, giving way to cool breezes and stunning scenery. The drivers are skilled at maneuvering the buses, nicknamed “The Rubies of the Rockies,” up mountains and around hairpin turns with grace and calm, all the while providing expert commentary. There are a variety of tours to choose from based on how much time you have and the part of the park you wish to explore.
Lake McDonald at Lake McDonald Lodge Boat Tour
Lake McDonald is the largest of the lakes in Glacier National Park and taking in the views by boat from the center of it is nothing short of spectacular. It is 360 degrees of majestic snowcapped mountains, unsullied, unspoiled shoreline, and crystal clear reflection of it all on its mirrored surface. The Glacier Boat Company has been giving tours here for over 75 years with a fleet of meticulously cared for and maintained wooden boats. In addition to Lake McDonald, they offer tours at St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun, Two Medicine, and Many Lake. You can also rent motorboats, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards at several locations.
Where to stay
Ten miles inside Glacier National Park’s west entrance on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is Lake McDonald Lodge, cabins, and suites. Comfortable and rustic, the lodge has been here since 1913. Tree line walkways give way to the lakefront. Years ago the lake was the way guests arrived at the lodge. There is always a hubbub of activity as this is the place for catching a Red Bus tour, taking a boat cruise, horseback riding, listening to an evening ranger program, and enjoying some food and drink at Russell’s Fireside Dining Room or Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria, and Lucke’s Lounge.
While I love the outdoors, I prefer all the comforts and luxuries of home. With that said, you can rent a luxury home in Glacier National Park. My favorite, Glacier Bear Retreat, is on the west side of Lake McDonald, a short walk to Apgar Village. Snuggly tucked amid trees and streams, this one-of-a-kind luxury retreat is on an acre of prime park real estate where they have thought of everything comfort and amenity including Wi-Fi, a hot tub, pool table, a gourmet kitchen, and personal chef if you so desire. While this exclusive vacation comes with a price tag to match, this storybook cottage (that sleeps nine) is the perfect executive retreat or special occasion family getaway.
For those who love the outdoor experience and seek a more rustic stay, there are 13 campgrounds with 1,009 camping sites. There are 734 miles of hiking trails to keep you moving and exploring. Nature abounds with 71 species of mammals to spot from beavers to bears, to moose, to mountain lions; not to mention 260 species of birds and 20,000 insect species.
Hiking, biking, boating, or simply breathing make Glacier National Park the ultimate, undiscovered getaway. In fact, the Trail of the Cedars Avalanche Lake is perhaps the most breathtaking trail we’ve ever hiked. Meandering beneath a canopy of ancient cedars alongside ferns, moss, and waterfalls, the trail has an enchanting, surreal quality. No matter how many times you visit, there will always be something new to see, do, or experience.
We barely scratched the surface on our brief visit to Glacier National Park. It did wet our appetite to return, and we finally understood what everyone had been telling us.
What is your favorite undiscovered destination?