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Glacier National Park, Part 2

northwest Montana

This story showcases Going-to-the-Sun Road from two perspectives. Part 2 is the drive through Glacier from east to west, St. Mary to West Glacier. Part 1 is the view in reverse: west to east. There are 62 national parks in the United States. In 1910, Glacier became the 10th national park and today, it still reigns as one of the most beautiful and inspirational. It’s one of those revered places every American should visit. One of my favorite aspects about Glacier is its accessibility. Driving the main route through the park gives most every visitor, regardless of age or physical limitation, a genuine sense of the park’s majesty. Of course, there are numerous hiking trails and other outdoor activities to enjoy but this is one national treasure where a drive through gives an excellent overview. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is so special it’s designated a National Historic Landmark, meaning it has "exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the U.S.” It’s also fairly short, 50 miles one-way. So that’s why I suggest driving it both directions to see Glacier’s varied angles. In addition to superlative natural grandeur, the park has great historical significance. It’s easy to understand the sacred importance to the Native Americans who first inhabited the area. The park is also a somber lesson in climate change. Glaciers form when snow accumulates and compacts into a slowly moving icy mass. When summer melting outpaces winter snow, glaciers shrink. In 1966, the park had 35 large, active glaciers. By 2015, only 26 remained. On average, rising global temperatures have shrunk the park’s glaciers by nearly 40%. Some have decreased by as much as 85%.

Route & Map      

Glacier National Park lies in northwestern Montana on the U.S./Canada border. Going-to-the-Sun Road runs through the heart of the park, from St. Mary to West Glacier.

Length & Time

Going-to-the-Sun Road is 100 miles roundtrip. Because it’s only open in the summer and early fall, it’s obviously busy most of the time, in both directions. I loathe traffic but even so, the volume of vehicles never seems to be much of an issue. Traffic flows pretty smoothly and the scenery is worth any irritation. Plan on a full day, with stops.

Best Time to Visit

Glacier is accessible year-round but the Going-to-the-Sun Road is not. It usually takes until late June for crews to clear the snow and fully open the road. It then closes for the season once wintery weather returns, around late October.

Major Towns

There are ample services on either side of the park but most of the activity lies west. Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls have become a major area of commerce offering numerous eating, lodging and shopping choices.

Links

Monitor Glacier National Park’s official website for road and weather conditions. Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls have useful sites to compare travel options.

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