Why You Should Visit Glacier National Park this Year

Glacier National Park is a 1,500 square mile expanse of mountainous paradise, located in northern Montana. It is known for its breathtaking landscapes, rugged mountains, alpine lakes, and diverse wildlife. 

Adventurers travel from all corners of the world to experience the awe inspiring wilderness of Glacier. I am lucky enough that I have been able to visit Glacier several times now, and I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit some day too!

Glacier’s Ancient Origins

The geological landscape that we now know as Glacier National Park began forming 170 million years ago (Jurassic Era!) when ancient rock formations shifted against younger rock formations, forcing the ancient rock skyward. All the while, giant glaciers carved massive paths through the mountains.

Glacier is often referred to as the backbone of the Rocky Mountains. The Blackfoot tribe who later inhabited the area actually referred to this land as the backbone of the world! And once you set eyes the majestic beauty of this national park, you will understand why.

More Recent History

The land that we now call Glacier National Park was first inhabited by Native Americans. Numerous tribes have inhabited the area over the course of history. There is physical evidence that points to the presence of Native Americans in the area as early as 10,000 years ago! 

At the time of the arrival of European settlers, the area was predominantly inhabited by the Blackfeet and the Flathead tribes. These tribes treated the land and wildlife that is now Glacier with the upmost respect; they had a spiritual connection to the land.  

In writing this article about Glacier, I would be remiss if I didn’t cover the darker parts of its history. Unfortunately, soon after Anglo settlers began arriving in the area in the early 1800s, the history of this area takes a tragic turn. The United States government used horrifying tactics to force Native Peoples in this area to sell their land to the government. The U.S military brutally murdered hundreds of of the Blackfeet. Additionally, in an effort to force Native Americans into starvation, the U.S. military along with “buffalo hunters” systematically killed millions buffalo. This “Buffalo War” tragically impacted tribes across the country, including Glacier: in the winter of 1883-1884, over 600 Blackfeet died of starvation. Finally in 1895, the Blackfeet were forced to sell their land to the U.S. government in a desperate effort to save their starving and dying people. 

Today, the Blackfeet Reservation borders Glacier National Park on the east side, and the Flathead Reservation lies southwest of the park. 

When we visit Glacier, we need to remember that Native People walked these lands before us, and we should honor their culture and memory. The Blackfeet people hold a strong belief that no one can “own” the land, and in alignment with this I strongly suggest we remember that the land does not belong to us. Rather we are merely visitors, and should do everything we can to visit respectfully.

Establishment as a National Park

The Park itself was established in 1910. Since then, many lodges and roads have been constructed to provide deeper access into the park. Despite the development, most of the original plant and animal species have been preserved within the park. If you visit Glacier you are likely to encounter mountain goats or big horned sheep, or perhaps even a grizzly bear!

While visiting the park it is of course important to be respectful of the wildlife. Observe from a distance and do your absolute best not to disturb the animals. After all, Glacier is their home!

Adventure Awaits

I believe Glacier is well worth a visit for all adventurers! The park has so much to offer. 

If you are a hiker or backpacker like me, there are hundreds of miles of trails to explore! You can choose to take one of the many scenic day-hikes, or embark on a multi-day backpacking route. All of which will reward you with fantastic views of the mountainous wilderness. If you are interested in a multi-day hike, you’ll need to apply for permits through the National Parks Service months in advance.

If you are an adventurer who loves to watch wildlife, the opportunities are endless! In my visits to Glacier I have seen mountain goats, big horned sheep, moose, rabbits, chipmunks, and even a grizzly bear. Not to mention many beautiful species of birds. 

If cycling is more your speed, there are many paved, unpaved and multi-use roads which allow bicycles. Be sure to check in advance for any closures due to weather or other conditions.

If you are interested in exploring the park on horseback, guided horseback rides through the back country are available! This can be a fun alterative to backpacking.

Finally, if creature comforts are more appealing to you, there are many lovely historic lodges located throughout the park where you can book your stay. 

Regardless of your how you spend most of your time in the park, I highly recommend finding time for a drive through Going to the Sun Road. The road bisects the East and West portions of the park, and takes you past breathtaking vistas and outlooks. You really don’t want to miss this experience!

Glacier is the most beautiful national park I have ever had the opportunity to visit. While there, I’ve experienced deep sense of peace, joy, and reconnection with the earth. I highly recommend that you take the time to experience this place, at least once in your life.