There are a lot of unique reasons to travel to Glacier National Park, which celebrates its 103rd birthday this year, including international relations, grizzlies and the last of those namesake glaciers.
World’s first International Peace Park
In 1932, Glacier National Park in the US and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada became the world’s first International Peace Park when they joined forces across the international border they share between Montana and British Columbia.
In the mid 19th century there were an estimated 150 active glaciers within the park’s 1,000,000 acre (405,000 hectare) boundaries. Today fewer than 30 active glaciers remain. Some scientists believe they could all be gone by 2020, so don’t just sit there.
Many Glaciers Hotel, a classic wooden lodge inside the park, is a comfortable, atmospheric and enormous place overlooking lovely Swiftcurrent Lake. But why do so many of our national park hotels make us think of The Shining?
Minerals and sediment in the water that melts from the active glaciers that remain in the park still manage to turn the many mountain lakes an eerie milky turquoise color.
In 2010, TV animal guy Jack Hanna used pepper spray to fend off a grizzly cub in Glacier National Park while hiking on the Grinnell Glacier trail. Though Hanna says he’s been carrying pepper spray on hikes for nearly two decades, that was the first time he’d ever used it.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2011 17 people were charged by grizzlies in Glacier National Park. We were certainly on the lookout for them when we hiked the popular Grinnel Glacier trail.
As the steep trail curved and ascended up, up, up (it was extreme enough to inspire a bit of muscle-memory of our best treks in Nepal), we kept our eyes and ears open and one hand on our pepper spray.
It wasn’t until we returned to the Many Glaciers Hotel and flopped down on the big patio that we saw a lone grizzly slowly munching her/his way across a hillside about 300 yards away from us. As happens when the word grizzly gets whispered, a crowd soon gathered.
It’s not a road, it’s an experience
Glacier National Park is also home to one of the most amazingly-engineered and romantically-named roads. The 50 mile (80 kilometer) Going to the Sun Road hugs the mountains, winds through tunnels and tops out at 6,646 foot 2,000 meter) Logan Pass, as it crosses the Continental Divide. It’s all even more spectacular when you realize that it was built, largely by hand, more than 75 years ago.
Over the years the Going to the Sun Road has taken a beating from traffic and the harsh weather conditions. It’s now in the midst of a multi-year upgrade which has created closures, delays and some missing pavement, though the park hopes the full length of this spectacular road will be fully open for the busy summer season by June this year. For current road conditions and closures check out these real time road status updates.
Speaking of upgrades, this year park officials announced that their fleet of 33 iconic red buses with 1930s styling on modern chassis, which were last upgraded by Ford in 2002, would remain on the road for those visitors who don’t want to drive the road themselves.
The grizzlies are emerging from their winter dens right about now (April/May) so make plenty of noise as you hike. A startled bear is a cranky bear.
Read more about travel to US National Parks & Monuments