History and Hiking in Glacier National Park
Part of: West of the Mississippi
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.