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MailTribune.com
  • Mountainous mecca

    Glacier National Park is a destination for hikers, campers and backpackers
  • GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — Jagged peaks, a lucky glimpse of a bear or moose, and, of course, glaciers — these sights are just the tip of the iceberg at Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana.
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    • If you go
      WHEN TO GO: Park ranger Bob Schuster says, "It's all good." June is good, with lots of waterfalls, but the trails and roads are often still closed. Mid-July to mid-August is the most popular, with ...
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      If you go
      WHEN TO GO: Park ranger Bob Schuster says, "It's all good." June is good, with lots of waterfalls, but the trails and roads are often still closed. Mid-July to mid-August is the most popular, with wildflowers blooming and all the trails open. Late summer and early fall are nice — there may be some snow on the peaks, but the days are pleasant, he said.

      COST: $25 entrance fee per car, good for seven days ($15 Nov. 1 to April 30).

      RECOMMENDED HIKING GUIDE: "Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks," by Erik Molvar.

      PARK INFORMATION: www.nps.gov/glac
  • GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — Jagged peaks, a lucky glimpse of a bear or moose, and, of course, glaciers — these sights are just the tip of the iceberg at Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana.
    Red, blue, yellow and white wildflowers fill the alpine meadows, even into August, and a few mountain goats or bighorn sheep may be grazing, too. The melting snow and rocky terrain create plenty of waterfall photo ops, and the glaciers carved out several large, windy lakes where visitors can take a boat cruise or try fishing for trout.
    The park, which sits on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountain Range, borders Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park, and the two are designated an International Peace Park, Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Clearly, this place is special, compelling some visitors to return year after year.
    The area is a mountainous mecca for hikers, campers and backpackers, but there's also a network of historic lodges for those who prefer a comfy bed and indoor plumbing.
    The lodges are an integral part of the history of the park, which was established in 1910. The Great Northern Railway built several grand hotels and smaller chalets in the early 20th century to promote the park — and rail travel to see the "American Alps." It's still possible to arrive by train, thanks to Amtrak's Empire Builder, which picked us up in downtown Milwaukee, chugged across the Great Plains and deposited us across the street from the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier, Mont.
    The lodges, with huge wooden beams holding up the structures, have different themes, such as American Indian at the 1913 Glacier Park Lodge and Swiss chalet at the 1915 Many Glacier Hotel, and were built a day's ride by horseback away from one another. The lodges are rustic and pricey (our small room ran $200), but the ambience is a big draw, offering a sense of history and a reminder of genteel days of yore.
    But don't dawdle — rooms already are limited for July and August, according to www.glacierparkinc.com. Campers may have better luck: Most campgrounds are first come, first served (though campers are advised to arrive by 8 a.m. to snag a site at the highly coveted, wooded Many Glacier Campground), but the two that take reservations still list plenty of open sites at www.recreation.gov. Although the park is open year-round, most facilities don't open until May or June.
    If Glacier is on your "bucket list," don't put it off too long. The Grand Canyon isn't going to disappear, but the glaciers are receding, so consider moving the park up a spot on your list. The area had 150 glaciers in 1850. Now there are 26. A computer-based model suggests that if the warming trend continues, the largest glaciers could be gone by 2030; at least one researcher says it could even be 2020.
    Many visitors will want to see one of the park's glaciers. A few can be seen from the road, but most, including the popular Grinnell and Sperry glaciers, are visible only to those who put on their hiking boots or rent a horse.
    Jackson Glacier is visible from an overlook on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the 50-mile main road through the park. The road is a must-see: It goes over Logan Pass and crosses the Continental Divide.
    It's a narrow, winding road with no guard rails much of the time, so think about letting someone else do the driving while you enjoy the scenery. And don't even think about taking your RV over it — vehicles over 21 feet long are prohibited.
    The park operates a free shuttle service that runs from the St. Mary's Visitor Center on the east side of the park to the visitor center at Logan Pass, making stops at a campground and trailheads along the way. Buses also depart from the Apgar Transit Center on the west side to take visitors to the pass. Hikers can get on and off at specified stops.
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