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Glacier National Park -- Road Trip Day 11


After visiting Flathead Lake we settled into to our cabin at the West Glacier KOA. The morning after we headed over into Glacier National Park! Thankfully, a few nights before coming, we realized we need a car reservation to get into the park! After an intense browser refresh session, we made it in and got our reservation! Once again, dogs are not allowed on trails in the park, but the views and pullouts are more than enough to take in the beauty of this park while on a road trip. Glacier was insane. I cannot wait to go back (without doggos) to fully appreciate this park!

Since we WERE with dogs, we couldn't do any of the trails of course. We did make the best of it however. It's a stunning area. We started on the west end in West Glacier and came into the park through Apgar. We started Going-To-The-Sun Road and drove it all the way to the east end of the park at St. Mary. The first few miles of Going-To-The-Sun Road along and near Lake Mcdonald was under construction. They are repaving a large section of the road, and while we were there a large portion was already torn up and it was just a dirt road, which was actually kind of cool, it makes it seem much more ...natural I guess?

The problem was, it was a fairly dry period so the thousands of cars driving on the road was constantly kicking up dust. Yeah your car is going to get dirty but who cares, the problem is...and you could see it quite well...all of the trees and vegetation near the road was coated in a thick coating of dust. There were water tankers that drove around during the busier times of day to wet the road in an effort to keep the dust to a minimum.


Dust on Going to the Sun Road Glacier NP
A storm started rolling in and started kicking up more dust on the road as we were leaving. We couldn't see ANYTHING!

I'm not a biologist but I imagine this is detrimental to plant health. This has to inhibit growth via blocking sunlight and thus photosynthesis right?? This study says I might be right. 

A stream flowing throuhg Glacier NP
That water color though...

Glacier National Park in Montana is like the crown jewel of American wilderness, and it's not hard to see why. This place is massive, covering over a million acres right up against the Canadian border. Established way back in 1910, it's one of those spots that makes you realize just how epic nature can be.

You want lakes? Glacier National Park has got more than 130 of them, each with its own unique vibe. And it's not just about the water; this park is a botanical wonderland, home to over a thousand different kinds of plants. Oh, and let's not forget the wildlife—this place is crawling with everything from grizzly bears to mountain goats.

But what really sets Glacier apart is its role as part of the "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem." That's basically a fancy way of saying this area is one of the last truly wild places in North America. It's like stepping into a world that's been untouched by all the noise and clutter of modern life.


Glacier National Park peaks
Mountains for Miles


We can't talk about Glacier National Park without mentioning its namesake glaciers, but here's the kicker: those glaciers are disappearing, and fast. Back in the day, around the mid-19th century, this area was home to about 150 glaciers. Fast forward to 2021, and that number had dwindled down to just 25 named glaciers. That's not just a bummer for the scenery; it's a big deal for the whole ecosystem.

See, glaciers aren't just pretty to look at; they're like the park's water towers. They store water and slowly release it, affecting everything from the rivers that flow through the park to the animals that call it home. As these glaciers melt away because of climate change, it messes with that whole system. River flows change, which can affect fish populations, and less reliable water sources can make life tougher for all the local wildlife.

So, while Glacier National Park is still an absolutely stunning place to visit, it's also a place that's facing some serious challenges. It's a real-life example of how climate change is affecting some of the most beautiful spots on our planet. If you do visit, it's a chance not just to see nature at its most majestic, but also to understand what's at stake if we don't take care of it.


View from Logan Pass Visitor Center -- Glacier NP
A view from the Logan Pass Visitor Center, right after you reach the highest point on Going-To-The-Sun Road. I don't recommend trying to park there on busy days! We circled around for nearly half an hour burning precious gas. Definitely not the most environmentally friendly thing.

Driving through Glacier National Park, you'll find the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a notable 50-mile stretch that offers unparalleled views and an immersive experience of the park's natural beauty. This remarkable road, traversing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, stands out for its stunning landscapes and the unique experience it offers to visitors. The band Fleet Foxes even did a song about it!

However, the road's existence and maintenance come with significant challenges. It's located in a highly sensitive ecosystem, where every effort must be made to minimize environmental impact. The process of maintaining the road, therefore, requires a delicate balance between accessibility and preservation. Furthermore, its popularity among tourists, beneficial in raising awareness and appreciation for natural spaces, also contributes to wear and environmental pressures.

 The higher elevations along the road receive TONS of snow per year, and they usually can't start clearing the snow off the road until well into spring. Clearing the snow takes a bit of time too! The road is typically only open for roughly 4 months out of the year. (Mid June to Mid October).

Colored Pebbles in a stream Glacier NP
Look at the color on those stones!


If you're the kind of person who loves to be outdoors, Glacier National Park is basically your dream come true. Seriously, this place is like an all-you-can-do buffet of outdoor activities. Hiking? There are over 700 miles of trails here, so you can walk to your heart's content. If you're looking for recommendations, the Highline Trail and Grinnell Glacier Trail are must-dos. They'll take you up close and personal with some of the park's most iconic sights.

But maybe hiking isn't your thing. No worries, you can also go mountain biking, boating, or fishing. The park is like a giant playground for anyone who loves to be active in nature.

And let's talk about the wildlife for a second. This isn't a zoo; it's the real deal. You've got a good chance of spotting everything from grizzly bears to moose and mountain goats. And for the birdwatchers out there, keep your eyes peeled for eagles and ospreys.


Saint Mary Lake -- Glacier National Park
This view was intense. Such vibrant colors looking over Saint Mary Lake at Glacier NP

Glacier National Park isn't just a big deal in the U.S.; it's got global cred too. This place was named a Biosphere Reserve back in '76 and became a World Heritage Site in '95. That's like the nature equivalent of winning an Oscar and a Grammy.

But wait, there's more. Right next door is Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. Put them together, and you've got the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. It's not just a mouthful to say; it's also a symbol of how the U.S. and Canada can come together to protect something truly special. It's like the ultimate friendship bracelet but made out of two epic national parks.


Mountains at Glacier NP

 Glacier National Park isn't just a natural wonder; it's a place steeped in deep cultural and historical roots. Long before it became a national park, this land was home to Native American tribes like the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai. We're talking about communities that have been connected to this landscape for thousands of years.

The park doesn't just acknowledge this history; it aims to honor it. So, when you're exploring Glacier, you're also getting a chance to learn about the Native American cultures that have shaped this land. The park incorporates this rich history into its educational programs, making it more than just a pretty place to take photos.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald right before a small storm rolled through.


Glacier National Park is a stunner, no doubt, but it's also got its share of challenges. Managing the impact of all those visitors each year is a big one. Then there's the elephant in the room: climate change, which is already affecting those iconic glaciers and the ecosystems they support. It's a delicate balancing act to keep this place as pristine as it deserves to be.

But even with those challenges, Glacier National Park is still a knockout when it comes to natural beauty and ecological importance. It's not just a place to snap some great pics; it's also a living lab for scientists studying everything from climate change to wildlife behavior. Plus, the park is a cornerstone for conservation efforts aimed at preserving this unique environment for future generations.

When you visit, you're not just a tourist; you're part of a bigger story. It's a chance to experience one of America's most incredible natural areas and to think about how we can all play a part in preserving places like this for the future. Whether you're there for the adventure, the wildlife, or the sheer awe of it all, Glacier National Park offers a deeper experience that sticks with you long after you've left.


Dogs at Glacier National Park
The pups enjoying the view, too. They can't go on the trails, but still admire from afar.



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