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History and Hiking in Glacier National Park

Posted on October 13, 2014 by Holly Hayes
Part of: West of the Mississippi

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104 years ago, President Taft signed a bill designating Glacier National Park as the 10th national park. Today there are over 50 national parks, but Glacier is still one of the largest and most notable. Called the "Crown of the Continent," it contains over 1 million acres of mountains, lakes, hiking trails, historic sites, and wildlife. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1995.

My route through Glacier National Park, represented by geotagged photos taken along the way.

I had a wonderful time in Glacier National Park. I could happily spend a week there, but several hours were sufficient to give me a good idea of its attractions. The drive was spectacularly scenic and deliciously curvy, the historic lodge was decorated with animal heads and smelled of wood smoke, and I did a nice hike where I saw mountain goats. And, although windy, the weather was beautiful and warm - about 70° even at 7,000 feet!

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Lake McDonald Lodge

My first stop was at Lake McDonald Lodge, which was built in 1913-14 and opened in June 1914 (they just celebrated their centennial). It was financed by a Montana land speculator named John Lewis and built by architects from Spokane, overlooking the large and beautiful Lake McDonald. The interior is warm and cozy and smells of wood smoke from the huge fireplace.

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Red Buses

Parked at the Lake McDonald Lodge are many vintage red buses. I was quite smitten with them! They date from the 1930s and were designed for taking tourists around Glacier National Park to see the sights. They are still used for that purpose today and I passed several of them on my drive. They can seat up to 17 and have roll-top roofs so passengers can see the mountains properly.

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Onward and Upward

The main road through Glacier National Park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, completed in 1932. Not only does it have a lovely name, the road is quite a feat of engineering. Like many projects of that era, it was funded by the Works Progress Administration. The road's highest elevation is 6,646 feet and not all of it is open year-round.

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Logan Pass

The Going-to-the-Sun Road reaches its 6,646-foot summit at Logan Pass, where there is a large parking lot, a visitor's center, and hiking trails. The visitor's center was closed for the season, so it was outhouses only for us late-season visitors!

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Hike to Hidden Lake Overlook

Behind the visitor's center, a trail heads up the mountain to Hidden Lake. And I do mean UP! It is only a 1.5-mile hike so I figured that would be a nice and easy little trek - and I thought I was in decent cardiovascular shape. But between the high altitude and consistently steep climb, I took it pretty slowly and stopped to admire the view a few times! But of course it was so worth it, as you can see below. I was rewarded by gorgeous scenery, beautiful weather, fresh air, friendly fellow hikers, and mountain goats!

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Why, hello there!
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"What's up?"
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Baby mountain goat! Squeee!
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In addition to cute and fluffy wildlife, all that huffing and puffing was amply rewarded by...
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...this spectacular view of Hidden Lake.
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Here I enjoyed a short lunch break, consisting of sitting on a smooth red rock and eating leftover Tim's Cascade potato chips.
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View looking right from my rock. Most of the mountain goats were just up these stairs and around a corner.
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Another mountain goat spotted on my hike back down.
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Feet say, "Can I go in that lovely cool water?" Frontal cortex says, "No, because then you'll be wet for the rest of the hike and might get blisters." Feet say, "Jerk. I'll show you by getting blisters anyway." (Thankfully my frontal cortex brought Band-Aids along.)
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Down and Out

I had originally planned to drive straight through the park, but the road east of Logan Pass closed for the season just a few days before I arrived (not for weather, but for road construction)!. So I had to backtrack to the park entrance at West Glacier and then go around, as you can see on the map above. Oh well, it was hardly an unpleasant drive. I also would have missed my only moose sighting if I had taken the planned route!

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Road closed at Logan Pass. :(

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Moose crossing! Can you see it? This is the best picture I have, sadly - he or she crossed really fast, after creating a significant traffic jam by lingering on the roadside for awhile. There was even a park ranger car with flashing yellow lights to slow down traffic, which reminded me of the safety car in Formula 1 races.

Not long after the moose, I pulled over and got out to put my feet in the lake. It was cold, of course, but I'm not sure it was as cold as Puget Sound! Felt great.

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Now you can go in, feet!
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Into the Montana Prairie

Almost immediately after leaving the park, the landscape changed from mountains and forests to flatness and wheat fields. You can see this on the map above, where the green part ends. I had arrived in the Great Prairie, earlier than I'd expected. That meant many miles of wheat fields ahead of me! But I was treated with a spectacular sunset.

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I continued east on Highway 2 and finally reached my destination for the night, the Best Western in Shelby, Montana, after dark. It was quite a nice hotel in a small town that doesn't otherwise have much tourist interest.

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I've had double-queen rooms in almost every hotel on this trip (not counting B&Bs)! It's always the smallest they have available, at least by the time I make my last-minute booking. Oh well, the second bed is handy for putting all my bags on.