Glacier National Park — 1,013,322 acres of beauty. Surely one of God’s masterpieces. Words cannot do it justice and photographs cannot truly depict its majestic mountains nor can they capture the turquoise color of the glacier waters. It needs to be seen and explored and then only in your mind’s “eye” can you see the natural beauty.
Glacier National Park was established on May 11, 1910, and shortly thereafter hotels and chalets were built by the Great Northern Railroad. I find this particularly interesting because Great Northern Railroad was founded in Minnesota by James J. Hill aka “The Empire Builder” and it ran from Duluth to Puget Sound in Washington. J. J. Hill lived on Summit Ave in St. Paul. His home is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and is open to the public. See James J Hill House
The vastness of Glacier Park hardly puts this in the category of a “little trip”. It would take weeks if not months to see all of it so you need to plan your trip in advance. If you are a hiker you will have 700 miles of hiking trails to choose from. If you like to explore lakes there are 130 named lakes and I have no idea how many unnamed lakes there are. To give you some idea of what you can see and do in a given amount of time here is an overview of how we spent 3 days exploring Glacier National Park.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel. It took 11 years to build and it opened in 1933. The road is narrow and winding and even narrower and windier west of Logan Pass. Vehicles are limited to 21 feet over the highest portions of the road so if you want to drive the whole distance leave your RVs and Trailers back at the campground. There is a company with vintage red buses that will provide you with a fun, informative and safe ride over the Going-to-the-Sun road. Check them out here RED BUS TOURS
The higher the elevation of the road the more spectacular the views as you look down at the forests, the valleys and the lakes. I was awestruck to see such a vast area that so clearly showed evidence of glacial activity. It literally takes your breath away.
We did not see a glacier or if we did we didn’t recognize it as a glacier. In 1850 there were 150 glaciers and today there are 25 small to medium glaciers. It’s been estimated that by 2030 there will be no glaciers left. Glacier National Park is not recognized so much for the existing glaciers as it is for the impact the huge glaciers of the past had on the landscape.
A couple of miles after you pass through the 408 foot East Tunnel you will arrive at Logan Pass Visitor Center on the Continental Divide. There is a nice gift shop, lots of informational brochures on hiking and backpacking as well as where to go and what to see while you are in the park. The Center is also a popular starting point for many hiking and backpacking trips.
St. Mary Lake is the second largest lake in Glacier National Park and perhaps the most photographed place in the park because of a little island that sits in the middle of the lake. Wild Goose Island has a story
The Legend of Wild Goose Island
In the middle of St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park is a small island halfway between two shores. Many moons ago now, there were two tribes living on either side of the lake. While there was no direct warfare between them, the two tribes avoided one another and had no dealings one with the other.
All this changed one day when a handsome warrior on the near shore saw a lovely maiden from the other tribe swimming toward the small island in the middle of the lake. He was instantly smitten by her beauty and leapt into the lake to swim to the island himself. They met on the shore of the little islet, and the maiden was as taken with the warrior as he was with her. They talked for hours, and by the end of their conversation, they were betrothed. After extracting a promise from his beloved that she would faithfully meet him at the island on the morrow, the warrior swam home to his tribe, and she returned to hers.
Oh, what an uproar they met upon their return. Neither tribe was happy at their meeting, and all were determined to break the betrothal instantly. What to do? The man and the maiden had no doubts at all. In the wee hours of the morning, each swam out to the little island to meet one another — from there to flee to a new land where they might marry. As soon as they were discovered missing, warriors from both tribes set out in pursuit, to bring the renegades back by whatever means available.
But the Great Spirit was watching, and took pity on the young lovers. He transformed them into geese, which mate for life, so they could fly away from their pursuers and so that they would always be together. When the warriors arrived on the island, the found not a man and a woman, but two lovely geese walking among the small trees and bracken. At the sight of the warriors, the two geese stroked their necks together lovingly and then flew away, never to return.
From that day to this, the little island at the center of St. Mary Lake has been known as Wild Goose Island.
I think if I had to pick one thing that I enjoyed the most while visiting Glacier National Park, it would be the boat tour of St. Mary Lake.
The Glacier Park Boat Rising Sun tours on St. Mary Lake give you a view of Glacier National Park that you can’t see from the road. They have enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides that make the trip fun and interesting. In addition to hearing the history of the Park you will get a closer look at Wild Goose Island, see the remains of Louis Hill’s (James J Hill’s son) cabin, and the guide will point out the Sexton Glacier which is small and could easily be mistaken for just a large patch of snow. The 360 degree views of the mountain peaks are breathtaking. For tour schedules and times click here Glacier Park Boats
The Rising Sun boat tour has an optional trip to Baring Falls on the 10 AM and 2 PM boat tours. It is a 15 minute hike from the dock and it is an easy walk. (I am not a hiker so I appreciated that.) There are several waterfalls on this creek. One of the larger falls has its water flowing at an angle on the red Precambrian mudstone and then it rushes abut fifty yards down the creek and flows into St. Mary’s Lake.
Somebody did mention that they see bears there occasionally but don’t let that scare you off. Carry a can of bear spray. I had a can and I was kind of hoping I would see a bear but that didn’t happen.
The other option is a 3 miles round-trip with a National Park Service ranger naturalist to St. Mary Falls.
On my next visit I plan on checking out a number of the glaciers and more waterfalls. Maybe I’ll see you there!