The Flathead Valley is the magnificent gateway to the west entrance of Glacier National Park – a park so naturally beautiful it is known as the “Crown Jewel of the Continent”. Glacier was established largely through the influence of railroad magnate James J. Hill, who envisioned a North American tourist destination, comparable to the Swiss Alps, for travelers on his Great Northern Railway.
Crown of the Continent
The Crown of the Continent is the vast ecosystem stretching from the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex north to British Columbia, Alberta and Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. Combined, Waterton and Glacier form the only trans-boundary “peace park” in North America.
Exceptional natural beauty is preserved in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and is a result of dynamic ongoing natural processes. Because of this the parks have been jointly designated a World Heritage Site, an honor shared with the Taj Mahal, The Great Barrier Reef and the Egyptian Pyramids.
What Glacier has to Offer
Visitors to Glacier National Park enjoy the park’s 1 million acres of lakes, sweeping valleys and glacier carved mountains. Glacier is 40 miles wide from east to west, and 50 miles long north to south.
A complete suite of wildlife that includes wolves, grizzly bears, lynx and other natural predators sets Glacier apart from nearly every other national park. Glacier has 272 bird species, 63 different mammals, 23 fish species, five types of amphibians and three types of reptiles.
The park has a rich variety of flora as well. There are 1,270 vascular plant varieties, 880 mosses and lichens, 130 non-native plant species and 20 tree species.
Mountains, Lakes and Streams
The highest point in Glacier is Mount Cleveland, at 10,466’ and the lowest is the Middle Fork River near West Glacier at 3,215’. At an elevation of 6,646 ‘, Logan Pass is the highest point in the park accessible by vehicle.
There are more than 175 named mountains in the park, six of them over 10,000′ and 43 over 9,000’. The Continental Divide, the mountainous backbone that sends water either to the east or west, meanders 106 miles through the park.
There are 762 lakes in Glacier, and only 131 of them are named. They cover 30,022 surface acres, with 392 miles of total shoreline. Lake McDonald is the largest at 6,823 acres, followed by St. Mary Lake at 3,923 acres, Bowman Lake at 1,706 acres and Kintla Lake at 1,698 acres.
There are 563 streams or rivers in Glacier covering 1,513 stream miles. The longest is McDonald Creek, which stretches 25.8 miles.
Archaeological evidence of use by ancient American Indians indicates Glacier’s cultural history dates back at least 10,000 years. The first Europeans to explore the area were fur trappers who are believed to have arrived in the late 1700s.
Go to the Sun
With the exception of Going-to-the-Sun Road, most roads are limited to the park’s exterior, while an extensive trail network winds through the interior. The park has 168 miles of road, six entrances and 730 miles of trails.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a scenic landmark crossing between the west entrance near the Flathead Valley and the east entrance at St. Mary via Logan Pass. The 50-mile paved road was completed in the 1930’s. In 1983, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1996 was designated a National Landmark. The road is narrow, steep and winding, with numerous pullouts for viewing scenery. Travelers should plan to spend 1½ to 3 hours to complete the distance.
Weather and snow determine when Logan Pass opens and closes. Most portions of the Going-to-the-Sun road are open year-round. Logan Pass opens in mid-June and closes in mid-October.
The Flathead Valley provides an outstanding base camp for exploring GP with its large number of accommodations, restaurants, activities, attractions and services geared to the traveler.
US Park Service website: http://www.nps.gov/glac
Fee Free Days 2011: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm
Web cams: http://www.nps.gov/glac/whatsnew.htm