Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks this country has to offer. One trip to this amazing terrain and you will realize just how small you truly are on this planet. Glacier is home to over one million acres of glacier cut peaks, crystal clear mountain lakes, and an abundance of wildlife. Growing up in Montana Glacier quickly became an annual summer destination. Here are my 4 favorite can’t miss sights of Glacier National Park.
Going to the Sun Road
Going to the sun road is the feature attraction of the whole park. Completed in 1932 going to the sun road is the only road that crosses the park and goes over the continental divide via Logan pass. Stretching over 50 miles from Lake McDonald on the west side of the park to Saint Mary lake, the road features steep drop offs, gorgeous waterfalls, and jagged snow capped peaks. For the best experience on this narrow winding road, drive a smaller vehicle with great visibility or take the vintage red bus tour.
After taking the scenic drive up going to the sun to Logan Pass if you are anything like me you are ready for a hike. Lucky for you one of the most beautiful mountain lakes Glacier has to offer is only a five mile round trip hike from the Logan Pass visitor center. This is a well traveled path so expect some crowds. About half way through hiking you will reach a overlook to give you a awe inspiring view of Hidden Lake itself plus numerous mountain peaks including Bearhat Mountain. This hike also includes alpine meadows, nearly year round snow, and plenty of mountain goats.
If you are looking for a great view near the Lake McDonald area Avalanche Lake has everything you are looking for: massive peaks, insane waterfalls, and the clearest water you will see. If you are nearing the end of your trip and have not found that one picture you are going to show all your friends and family this is it. Only a 4 mile round trip hike, this is a trail for the whole family. After reaching the mouth of Avalanche Lake and getting to take in the picturesque view you can either continue on the trail to the far side or dive into the ice cold glacial water for a swim.
Saint Mary Falls
Starting near Saint Mary Lake on the going to the sun road is a little over 3 mile round trip hike with multiple breathtaking waterfalls. At under a mile into the hike you come upon the first and best known waterfall on the trail, Saint Mary Falls. Saint Mary Falls consists of cold glacial runoff dropping 35 feet down just off the trail. Continue farther on the trail and you come to the next gorgeous waterfall, Virginia Falls. Virginia falls is larger and steeper then Saint Mary falls. The water drops 50 feet right before showering you with a nice cool mist. If getting up close and personal with waterfalls is your thing then this is a must see trail.
Yeah that’s right. Bears are terrifying. That’s the blog.
I am so sick and tired of this Winnie the Poo sounding, “Man, I hope we see a bear on this hike” having bullshit I hear every time I go into the woods with my friends. Sure, seeing a little black bear in the distance while you’re in your car on “Going to the Sun Road” gets the dopamines flowing. But when you’re actually in the woods without the protection of a massive metal cage on wheels while driving a road traveled by millions of visitors every year, spotting a bear is a whole different story. Bears are big and dangerous, wild animals that should be left alone to tend to their own business.
Let me just start with a brief history of notorious bear and human relationships.
Short Faced Bear
Back in the olden days of 1.8 million years ago until only 11,000 years ago, an absolute beast of an an animal existed, deemed the Short Faced Bear. This freak of nature weighed a solid 2,500 lbs., had a height of about 12 feet standing up, and if you can recall early history, LIVED WHILE HUMANS DID. As people much smarter than me can speculate using geographic means, there was a bering land bridge that stretched from Russia’s North-Eastern point to Alaska’s Western coast, in which people who lived in Asia would use to travel in order to inhabit North America.
What they couldn’t count on was this ginormous tank, murder beast that literally could not be stopped by any means. Scientists say this bear was so deadly, that it prevented human migration entirely across the bridge for a period of time. Nobody was stopping to admire nature when they approached this thing; they either died trying to get past it or cut their losses and turned back to Russia. Just imagine, you freeze your nuts off in Asia for years while fighting Woolly Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers, so you decide to march 620 miles to possibly find something better, just to be met with a big hairy killing machine that prevents you from crossing.
No thanks. I’ll fight Manny from Ice Age any day of the week over the Short Faced Bear.
2. Hugh Glass
Alright the story of Hugh Glass is pretty insane. This guy was a frontiersman and fur trader who operated around Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota in the early 1800s. He had built himself quite the resume of badass activities, from being a pirate to living with the Pawnee Native American tribe. He was an expert navigator and survivalist who had taken on many dangerous missions across the Western United States, until his legendary encounter with a Grizzly in South Dakota. Upon running into a bear and two cubs, Glass prepared to be charged and was able to get one successful shot off from his musket as the bear began to maul the shit out of him. I mean, have you seen The Revenant? This bear comes back for seconds, then thirds “Oh don’t mind if I do”, just annihilating Glass before ultimately dying of the gunshot wound. This griz tears the guys scalp off, absolutely shreds the entire rest of his body and leaves his legs utterly useless.
But guess what. Glass isn’t dying like this, he’s a former pirate of the Black Pearl for Godssakes. And this is what the movie doesn’t show, Glass could not use his legs at all so he -crawled- the entire 500 mile trip to his fort destination. He survived the ordeal and became a legend in his own right. Take a guess who would not be able to navigate, survive the elements, and crawl 500 miles to the next help station while bleeding relentlessly? Me. Or probably any normal human that lives in the 21st century, because that is WAY too hard. There’s no chance I’d survive that initial mauling even. Bears aren’t snuggly or graceful animals. They have giant knife hands along with pointy teeth and beady little dark killer eyes. Hugh Glass would certainly attest to that.
3. Timothy Treadwell
What if we were nice to the bears and wanted to treat them like one of our own? Maybe we try and bridge human society and bear society together? Sounds like a nice idea. Having a bear friend would be awesome, I bet he would know some pretty legit fishing spots at least. I know the University of Montana football team could certainly use a grizzly bear as a linebacker; he’d probably even become All League.
Timothy Treadwell thought similarly. The titled “Grizzly Man” thought he could cohabitate with bears in Alaska and they would learn to accept him as family. To the amusement of many, he was able to successfully do this for 13 consecutive summers. Each bear had a name and different personality, and they would all reside in the same area. He was never armed, and did not even carry as much as pepper spray. Unfortunately, this fairytale story came to a tragic halt in October of 2003 when he was mauled to death by a fully grown Alaskan Brown Bear.
Looks like we aren’t meant to live with bears after all.
To wrap it up:
No, I don’t want to see a bear in the wild, bro. We aren’t meant to mess with them. Sure it would be cool at a distance, if I’m in a bear resistant, protective unit. Bears will not wander over, lick you, and beg for some pets like a dog. Bears will literally rip your face off and walk away as if nothing happened. There is no other thing on the planet where it is recommended to carry a gun and pepper spray in-case you come into contact, and many people still want to have that BeAuTifuL and nATurAL encounter. That’s like saying you’d love to run into a serial killer on a jog because it would be so cool to see one, but hopefully it won’t attack.
No thanks. I’m totally good without meeting any bears in my travels.
I had the opportunity to work in Glacier National Park for the 2018 and 2019 summers and I’ve got to say, it is one of the most beautiful destinations in the United States. The park has gained significant attention over the past 10- 15 years. The yearly visitor count has almost doubled in that time, from averaging around 1.5 million visitors to 3 million+ the past 4 summers. The now heavily trafficked park can be stressful to navigate at times, as it’s realistically designed to host under a million guests each summer. My hope is this post may give future visitors a better idea of how to approach their trip to Glacier.
GO ON A HIKE
During the summer, the roads through Glacier can look as though it’s rush hour in New York, making driving a frustrating task. The best way to avoid the stress of driving? Get out and hike! Glacier offers over 700 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy family-friendly loops to epic multi-day backpacking trips that cover up to 30 miles.
Planning out which trails you would like to hit in advance is a good idea. Some trails, basically any trail near Logan’s Pass, can have full parking lots by 7 A.M in peak season. Unless you’re willing to get up and after it early, it’s a good idea to have a few back up plans. Utilizing the shuttle services (pandemic pending) in the park is a great way to get around and avoid fighting other visitors over a parking spot.
Here’s a shortlist of my favorite hikes…
Sperry Chalet to Lincoln Peak
Upper Two Medicine Lake trail
If you’re looking for a relaxing day, look no further than Polebridge. Polebridge is a small community located along the Northfork of the Flathead river located 22 miles south of the Canadian border. Tucked in the westernmost boundary of the park, Polebridge is in a more unknown part of the park, as it’s a 35-mile drive from West Glacier entrance that is primarily a dirt road. The “town” doesn’t accommodate much for lodging so it is a day trip for most. In fact, Polebridge doesn’t have many buildings at all as it holds two restaurants and one mercantile (be sure to get a huckleberry bear claw). Other than the food, there are a few small hiking loops, access to the Northfork, and fantastic views of the mountains that make up the Canadian-US border.
After spending time at the Mercantile and a meal at Northern Lights Saloon. Be sure to make the 6 mile drive up to Bowman Lake. The drive is quite bumpy, so make sure you have a vehicle cable of some potholes and loose gravel. The lake is the perfect spot to set up some chairs and lounge while taking the occasional dip in the beautiful lake.
GOING TO THE SUN ROAD
Completed in 1932, Going-to-the-Sun-Road has been one of the top attractions to Glacier National Park. Although I mentioned the stress of driving in Glacier, you still can’t miss out on Going-to-the-sun-Road. The 50-mile long mountain pass goes over the Continental Divide and spans the width of the park. It features breathtaking views around every turn with plenty of pull-offs that guests can use to stop and take photos or go on hikes. The highest part of the road, Logan’s Pass, sits over a mile high at 6,646 feet and can accumulate up to 80 feet of snow in the winter.
If you’re planning to make the trip before July and want to drive the road, be sure to check the road conditions on the National Park Service website. The snow on the road can take teams of snowplows over a month to clear out because of the mass quantities it receives in the winter. It is typically cleared by the second half of June, but some years it takes until early July.
There is no better way to see the park than from rafting down the glowing blue waters of the Middle of the Flathead River. These forks make up the western and southern boundaries of Glacier and can be used for world-class fly fishing, scenic floats, and up to class III and IV whitewater rafting. The town of West Glacier itself has four different raft companies that collectively take down thousands of visitors a day.
It’s the perfect way to beat the summer heat as the Flathead River typically remains under a cool 60 degrees. As I mentioned in the above paragraph, guests have the option to choose from numerous different float, some companies even offer up to 6-day trips where you are flown up into the nearby Great Bear Wilderness and float your way back into West Glacier. The multi-day trips aren’t for the faint of heart, but in my opinion, is the number one activity the park has to offer.
GO ON A HIKE!!!!
In my two summers of working in Glacier, I heard too many people complain about the busy roads throughout the park. There are 147 trails in the park, you’re guaranteed to find areas that have few to no other people. Get out and enjoy the fresh air! Be sure to bring bear spray, as the animals are WILD and should not be approached.
I hope this helps a few that may have had questions about the park or were on the fence about going!
Sit back, grab some popcorn, and get ready to see the Land of the Shining Mountains on the big screen
Author: Shane Cox
*All movie art credit belongs to IMDB
5. What Dreams May Come (1998)
There is an easy way and a hard way to see Heaven. The easy way is to live in Montana.
Led by legendary actor and comedian Robin Williams, this movie showed us the true meaning of the word “soulmate”. In this romantic fantasy, William’s character travels through Heaven and Hell to rescue the soul of the woman he loves. Along the way, he will reunite with his old dog Katie and his children who tragically died in a car accident and no I’m not crying I’m just SWEATING THROUGH MY EYES OK!!! (Seriously, it is a great movie, but have a box of tissues on hand)
Some of the most beautiful shots in the movie were filmed in Glacier National Park. While shooting, Williams decided to take a break and tour the area. (Traylor, 2014) He later said:
“If it isn’t God’s backyard, He certainly lives nearby.”
RIP Robin. There will never be another like you
4. Forrest Gump (1994)
Movies and Montana goes together like peas and carrots…
Montana makes a brief yet beautiful cameo in this legendary picture. During the running sequence, the shot of Forrest running though a field of golden wheat was taken just outside Cut Bank, MT. The scene then cuts to him jogging across a stone bridge at the St. Mary Entrance to Glacier National Park. (Movie-Locations: Forrest Gump, 2020)
Though Big Sky Country is only onscreen for few seconds, it was almost left out of the movie entirely! The studio, worried that the project was going too far over budget, threatened to pull the plug in the middle of production. Hanks and Director Robert Zemeckis decided to cover the cost of shooting the iconic running scene and save what is now one of the most beloved movies of all time. (Ashton, 2020)
As if we needed another reason to love Tom Hanks
3. The Untouchables (1987)
That’s the Montana way…
Chicago is great. But when you want your protagonists to charge the bad guys guns blazing while on horseback you pack up production and go to the Treasure State.
Based on real events, the movie follows Elliot Ness as he forms a team of special agents to take down the infamous gangster Al Capone. The movie’s (arguably) best scene takes place at Hardy Bridge just outside of Great Falls. (Movie-Locations: Untouchables, 2020)
This film is criminally underrated. In fact, you should stop reading this list right now and go watch it. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
2. The Revenant (2015)
The movie that FINALLY gave poor Leo his Oscar
While the movie is set in Montana and South Dakota, most of it was filmed in Canada. However, one of the film’s most pulse pounding scenes was shot in the rapids of Kootenai Falls, just downstream from Libby. In this scene Hugh Glass (played by DiCaprio) uses the waterfall to escape from a party of pursuing Arikara hunters. (Movie-Locations: Revenant, 2020)
I just gotta say…y’all know that scene where Leo eats a raw bison liver? Yeah, that wasn’t special effects. Real Liver. Real Reaction. He also actually crawled inside of a dead horse. All I’m saying is that if DiCaprio wanted to live in Montana he would fit in around here just fine. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Honorable Mention: Return to Lonesome Dove (1993)
A Cowboy’s Odyssey
This 4-part mini-series, while technically not a movie, deserves a place on this list. The sequel to the epic adventure Lonesome Dove follows Captain Woodrow F. Call’s return from Texas to his ranch in Montana.
This series is the perfect binge watch for fans of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. The filming locations span across the state and include Butte, Cardwell, Virginia and Nevada City, Laurel, and Billings. (Return to Lonesome Dove: Filming and Production, 2020)
Fun Fact:My Dad worked on the Set #2 of this movie while he was in college. He was paid $100 a day to pick up and hide barb wire fences so they were not caught on camera. He and his coworker would spend their free time hunting rattlesnakes to turn into boots and hatbands to sell to the California crew.
I’m sorry, but my Dad is cooler than your dad. 🙂
1. A River Runs Through It (1992)
I’ll never leave Montana, Brother
There is no other way to end this list than with the most iconic Montana movie of all time. While most of these entries only take advantage of the state’s amazing scenery, Montana provides the heart and soul of this beautiful story.
While the film was set in Missoula and by the Blackstone river, the scenes in town were filmed in Livingston, MT. Likewise, the fishing scenes were captured in Paradise Valley on the Yellowstone River, the Gallatin River south of Bozeman, and the Boulder River by Big Timber. (Movie-Locations: River Runs Through It, 2020)
So many elements of this movie make it special. Norman Maclean’s story was adapted by Richard Friedenberg and brought to life by director Robert Redford. The entire cast is amazing, with now legendary actor Brad Pitt standing out among the crowd.
If you were born under the Big Sky…you need to watch this movie. If you have, you know why I can’t put the feeling into words. This film reminds us where we come from. It reminds us of Home.
Ashton, W. (2020, January 2). Forrest Gump: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Classic Tom Hanks Movie. Retrieved from Cinema Blend: https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2487844/forrest-gump-10-behind-the-scenes-facts-about-the-classic-tom-hanks-movie
Movie-Locations: Forrest Gump. (2020). Retrieved from Movie-Locations: https://www.movie-locations.com/movies/f/Forrest-Gump.php
Movie-Locations: Revenant. (2020). Retrieved from Movie-Locations: http://movie-locations.com/movies/r/Revenant.php
Movie-Locations: River Runs Through It. (2020). Retrieved from Movie-Locations: http://movie-locations.com/movies/r/River-Runs-Through-It.php
Movie-Locations: Untouchables. (2020). Retrieved from Movie-Locations: http://movie-locations.com/movies/u/Untouchables.php
Return to Lonesome Dove: Filming and Production. (2020). Retrieved from IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106112/locations?ref_=tt_ql_dt_5
Traylor, A. (2014, August 11). Remembering Robin Williams in Montana: His Visit to Glacier National Park. Retrieved from 107.5 Zoo FM: https://1075zoofm.com/robin-williams-montana/#:~:text=Remembering%20Robin%20Williams%20in%20Montana%3A%20His%20Visit%20to%20Glacier%20National%20Park&text=Scenes%20from%20the%20film%20’What,was%20directed%20by%20Vincent%20Ward