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Tips for Seeing Glacier National Park (Before the Glaciers Disappear)
This past July, my husband and I biked through one of our nation’s most iconic parks, Glacier National Park. Just one year earlier, the park was ravaged by fire caused by persistent drought in the region.
Yet, this summer, signs of recovery – in the form of lots of sightings of bears, cougars, bald eagles and wildflowers – were already showing Mother Nature’s determination.
Glacier National Park, which was formed prior to the establishment of our National Park Service in 1916, is filled with many plant and mammal species as well as prairie, forest, alpine and, of course, glacial features.
But, these glaciers are melting away quickly. In 1850, at the end of the Little Ice Age, there were an estimated 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park that by 1968 had been reduced to around 50.
Today, the number of glaciers in the park is 25, many of which are mere remnants of what they once were. The rapid retreat of mountain glaciers is not just happening in the park, but is occurring worldwide, and if the current rate of climate warming persists, scientists predict the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be completely gone by the year 2030, if not earlier. That’s just 14 years from now!
Within Glacier National Park, there are 732 miles of hiking and biking trails as well as 13 campgrounds, so there are plenty of options for adventurers. Also, when Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park combined with Glacier National Park in 1932 to form the world’s first International Peace Park, adventure options expanded even more allowing for easy biking and hiking across the border (just remember to bring your passport).
This park should be on everyone’s bucket list, and for those who have the time and stamina, here’s some tips to get the most out of seeing the glaciers:
- Don’t Drive, E-bike – There’s just is no better way to see Glacier National Park than by biking through it. With the vastness of the terrain ahead, you can think and reflect or just be silent and take it all in. Most of the road trails (map is above) had little car traffic, allowing for safe passage as well as plenty of time for photos. Also, the advantage of an e-bike allows bikers of every strength type to traverse this beautiful park without worry. I set it on low for days I felt like a grand workout and high for other days that I wanted to take more photos.
- Stay at the Park’s Lodges – Unlike some National Park lodges that offer basic amenities, the lodges in Glacier National Park are situated in scenic and serene locales. In addition, they are privately managed allowing for a unforgettable experience and high quality service. The lodges offer a breakfast buffet and sit-down dinner service and menu items emphasized locally sourced ingredients, which was a pleasant surprise. Coupled with reasonable pricing, these lodges enhance the Glacier National Park experience.
- Add Going-to-the-Sun Road to Your Bucket List – No doubt about it, every biking enthusiast should rise early and bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road. For our part, we left Lake McDonald Lodge at 7 am so as to take in the full sunrise over the mountains and glaciers, and while it was a steep ascent, each pedal stroke revealed even more of the region’s beauty and majesty. The downside of biking this road is that it’s on everyone’s bucket list meaning that car traffic is quite heavy all the way up to Logan’s Pass (site of the Continental Divide). In fact, the route is so popular that it is closed to bike traffic (for safety reasons) from 11 am to 4 pm each day, which is enforced by fines. Our entire group made it the 32 mile ride in less than 4 hours, so it’s quite possible to do, and if you go with a biking company, they can always pick you up and transport you the rest of the way.
- Take Time Out for Picnics – With over 1000 well-maintained camping sites peppered throughout the park, taking a picnic lunch is a must. During one lunch, my husband and I watched in awe as we saw a bald eagle swoop around to hit another bird mid-flight and dive down in the valley below to survey its prey (it was lunch time after all). Lunch and a nature show – who can beat that!
- Be Bear (Cougar, Bull) Aware! – Throughout our five-day ride, we encountered bears (in the distance), cows and bulls on the roadside, and had sightings of cougars. It’s important to understand how to react when spotting wildlife so as not to put yourself in danger. Here’s a list of tips prepared by the National Park Service.