Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 22, 2017

Glacier National Park: Wild, Majestic

Perhaps you have those days. You wake and wonder, “Where would I truly like to be?”

Perhaps your imaginary place looks something like this:

Glacier NP Brad Nixon R1-3 (640x432)

That view was shot in Glacier National Park, in northern Montana. Glacier does, in fact, look like that: the impossibly wild, beautiful country one dreams of.

Glacier NP Willard Nixon 121 (640x480)

Glacier National Park covers more than 1 million acres, encompassing portions of 2 mountain ranges, glaciers, lakes, rivers, a variety of ecosystems which vary across the park’s 7,000 feet of elevation, and is home to numerous species of birds and wildlife, including grizzly and black bears, mountain goats, deer and elk.

Most of Glacier’s nearly 3 million yearly visitors see only a narrow slice of the immense park, because much of it is wilderness, requiring backcountry hiking.

Don’t be dismayed. Even if you’re equipped to hike only a few miles from the road, there is enough of Glacier to fill as many days as you can devote to it. There are innumerable trails in every portion of the park. It’s a U.S. National Park, meaning that the trails are well maintained and clearly marked (at least until the current U.S. administration eliminates funding for the National Park Service).

All the photographs in this post were shot on day hikes. Let’s go.

GNP map NPS (640x481)

In some lower portions of the park, you’ll hike through cedar forests (red circle, along with Avalanche Falls).

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 2732 Cedar forest (480x640)

One cedar forest area lies along Avalanche Creek

Glacier NP Willard Nixon 042 Avalanche (640x360)

The relatively easy trail gets you to Avalanche Falls

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 2735 Avalanche Falls (480x640)

The falls is fascinating seen from above, looking down at the water boiling through the rocks.

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 2737 above Falls (640x480)

I regret that we can’t follow every trail in such detail. Let’s travel farther into the park.

The sole paved route through the park is the 50 mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road, which was a marvel of engineering when it opened in 1932, and is now a National Historic Landmark.

Glacier NP Willard Nixon 088 (640x374)

(The road is visible as a horizontal line along the mountain at the lower right of the photo above.)

The views from the road are … only pictures can begin to describe them

Glacier NP Brad Nixon R1-7 (432x640)

While upthrusting geology is responsible for the high peaks, many of them were shaped by — what else? — glacial action. There are some enormous examples of glacial features in evidence, including this dramatic hanging valley, complete with waterfall:

Glacier NP Brad Nixon R1-6 hanging valley (640x432)

That scooped out upper valley was gouged by a tributary glacier, which would have flowed into a larger glacier in the lower valley. Once the Ice Age ended, only the valleys remain.

There are active glaciers in Glacier National Park — around 25 or so —for now. Here is Jackson Glacier (map, green circle).

Glacier NP Brad Nixon R1-8 Jackson Glacier (640x432)

Due to our warming planet, there will be no active glaciers left in GNP by about 2030. There will still be ice and snow, but no active glaciers. Global warming is real.

These pictures were shot in early September, 2008. The mountains show about the minimum amount of snow, at the end of summer. However, snow can fall at upper elevations at any time of year, including midsummer. We encountered relatively heavy snow and dense cloud in Logan Pass, 6,646 feet that September.

Coming down from Logan Pass, we reached the point at which the Saint Mary River flows into Saint Mary Lake. A number of trails diverge from there, and we hiked several miles to see Saint Mary Falls, just visible at the bottom of this photo (map, purple circle).

Glacier NP Brad Nixon R1-12 St Mary falls (432x640)

Here’s how the the falls looks when you get close.

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 2767 St Mary Falls (640x480)

Going-to-the-Sun Road ends at Saint Mary, but it’s a short drive north outside the eastern edge of the park to re-enter at Many Glacier, an area filled with lakes, trails, campgrounds and Many Glacier Lodge on Swiftcurrent Lake (map, white circle, center).

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 2785 Many Glacier (640x469)

That is one of several lodges in the park, with accommodations, dining and services. At this writing, there is no boating anywhere in the park, due to invasive mussel populations in central Montana. Check the park website for updates.

There are several glaciers visible from the area, and we took an easy nature trail around the lake, admiring the shifting views of the mountains

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 2788 Swiftcurrent tr (640x455)

The long ridge between the peaks is another glacial feature, an arete, carved by ice.

Along that trail, in some scrubby trees along the edge of the lake, we had what I hope will always stand as the most harrowing wildlife encounter of my hiking career. A mother Grizzly and her cub crashed up from the lake through the trees in front of us. To avoid hyperbole, I officially state that they were 40 yards in front of us. They seemed closer, but I don’t want to exaggerate. She was an extremely large beast, and fortunately either didn’t see us or ignored us. Dad and I quietly backed up and made a long circle around them.

No, I don’t have a photo. I was was busy making myself scarce.

If you can, plan to continue north from the Many Glacier area into Canada. Glacier National Park adjoins Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. Together, they comprise the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park. There are spectacular landscapes, mountains, lakes, wildlife, waterfalls and days’ worth of exploration awaiting you in Waterton. I wrote about it here. To get an ongoing view of the Waterton area, visit the blog of local outdoorswoman Hiking Jess.

South from St. Mary, toward the southeastern corner of Glacier, is another entry point: Two Medicine (below bottom of map). There are more lakes, mountains, trails campgrounds and exploration awaiting you. One interesting trail leads to Running Eagle Falls.

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 3052 Running Eagle (640x480)

The falls is noteworthy not just for its picturesque quality, but for the fact that the river emerges there from a subterranean passage and simply appears out of the ground.

There’s a fascinating Native American legend associated with the name of the falls. I encourage you to pay a visit to the Montana Beauty blog for the story and more photos.

1,000 words can’t begin to describe Glacier National Park, but I hope you’ll go and see for yourself. Finally, I can use the photo that’s served as one of the main headers for Under Western Skies since I started the blog, in its proper place: the mountains over Saint Mary Lake at sunrise.

Glacier NP Brad Nixon 2773 from St Mary (640x435)

Have you been? What tips do you have? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Some photos are 35mm Kodachrome, may it rest in peace. Some photos © Willard Nixon 2017, used with kind permission.

The demise of the park’s active glaciers is all but certain. However, even more dire threats loom at the hands of the current U.S. administration, with soulless idiots who do not believe in science in charge of federal agencies with scientific objectives. Call your legislators to insist that we not end support for National Parks, not only for our recreational use, but for the preservation of environments, habitats and the plants and creatures who live there. If we don’t protest, they will be mines, ranches and logging operations, not preserves. Thank you.

Some images, including Saint Mary Mountains and Lake McDonald at dawn available on Shutterstock.com. CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

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Responses

  1. As usual your pictures are amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What striking colors! Really beautiful photos!

    Like

  3. Beautiful!

    Like


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