June 30th, 2015
Glacier National Park encompasses over one million acres of pristine forest, rocky mountains, alpine meadows, and over a hundred lakes. I have spent over a month exploring this wonderful park but few people have the luxury to spend more than a few days here. Trying to plan a trip to fit as much as possible in a short time frame can seem daunting. To assist you, I have compiled a list of the top five sights, a rundown of the best that Glacier National Park has to offer.
Beginning in West Glacier, the number one spot on our list is Lake McDonald. This is the largest lake in Glacier National Park and my personal favorite. I will always remember the first time driving up to the boat dock in Apgar Village (the south-west corner of the lake) and beholding the view; you don't have to go any further to realize why Glacier National Park is a national treasure.
I highly recommend rising early for the sunrise, the incredible early morning calm is my favorite time to spend on the lake before the onslaught of people.
The evenings are also stunning, but unless you like crowds, understand that the park is more popular than ever, breaking attendance records in 2014; unless, of course, you visit in September, then it's likely you will be one of the few to experience the sort of tranquility below.
The second spot on our list is the Trail of the Cedars a few miles north-east of Lake McDonald, this ancient forest of western hemlocks and red cedars is situated on the eastern most edge of the Pacific Northwest's temperate rain-forest. Mid way through the trail you come to Avalanche Gorge whose flowing glacial waters are simply not to be missed. It's one the most photographed spots in the park for a reason. I would recommend exploring some of the different perspectives.
Next is the Going-to-the-Sun Road; this engineering marvel deserves a special mention of its own. Driving this breathtaking road, particularly from what is called the Loop to about St. Mary Lake is a white knuckle experience for many but it's definitely one of the most scenic in the world. There is nothing quite like watching the sun set from this vantage point.
If there is one spot on Going-to-the-Sun Road that you absolutely must spend some time exploring, it's Logan Pass, number four on our list. Logan Pass is the highest point you can drive in the park, peaking at 6,646 feet, bisected by the Continental Divide with spectacular views in every direction. Parking is limited so I recommend arriving early or later in the afternoon. Hike the relatively easy 1.5 mile trail to Hidden Lake overlook, this is one view you won't want to miss.
Many Glacier is a wonderful section of Glacier National Park accessed by driving north of the east entrance at Saint Mary Visitor Center. The views of Grinnell Mountain towering above Swiftcurrent Lake as seen from Many Glacier Hotel are fantastic but if you have the time for one day hike, I recommend hiking the moderately difficult Grinnell Glacier Trail to see one of the few remaining (and rapidly melting) glaciers up close. There is also a great chance to encounter moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bears or other wildlife along the way.
Certainly I have left off St. Mary Falls & Virginia Falls, two of the best waterfalls in the park, and Avalanche Lake, another one of the parks many wonderful lakes (to name just a few examples) but these require a good part of a day to hike and enjoy. While I recommend these and many other sights if you have the time, I don't think they are what is most essentially unique about the park. My list is aimed at those pressed for time, who can leave knowing they have seen the best of Glacier National Park.