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Glacier National Park Vacations


Most Glacier National Park vacations begin with the Going-To-The-Sun-Road. This is a classic cliff-hanger, and one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Be aware, however, that if you are in anything wider than a van, you're in for a interesting ride, but none-the-less a beautiful one (some vehicles are not allowed). The 50-mile long road follows the shores of the parks largest lakes at either end, and in-between it hangs from the cliffs and gives you a good scare. Make it a point to stop at the scenic turnouts, and especially at Logan Pass, the high point. The views are spectacular.

Hiking Vacations in Glacier

In Glacier National Park, hiking feels, at times, like you are walking in a dream. The mountain scenery is some of the most dramatic and colorful on Earth. There are over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes. There are also over 70 species of mammals, and over 260 species of birds in the park. Glacier is one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states, and with 700 miles of maintained trails, it is also a hikers paradise.

In 1932 Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Park, in Canada, were designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Glacier and Waterton Lakes have both been designated as Biosphere Reserves and together were recognized, in 1995, as a World Heritage Site. Hiking trails cross the border, and there are usually no customs officials (just a sign).

Hiking to Grinnell Glacier

My wife and I hiked the trail to Grinnell Glacier on our last vacation in the Glacier National Park, and we recommend it to anyone who loves hiking in the mountains. We stopped to watch the colors change from deep green to blue in the lakes far below us, and Bighorn Sheep stopped to watch us. The trail was well maintained, and relatively busy. You really have to go deep into the interior of the park to find solitude, but you won't regret hiking any of the trails in this park.

The Glacier itself is still there, but plan your vacations soon if you want to see it. All of the glaciers in the park are getting smaller, and may be gone within 20 years. You can walk out onto Grinnell glacier, and you'll probably have company when you do. It is a hike of only a couple hours to get to it, and it is well visited.

One of the things I love about Glacier National Park is the abundance of wild berries. We ate them continually on our hike to and from the glacier. It was late summer, probably the best time for hiking vacations in the park, both because of the berries being ripe, and due to the weather (the trails are finally clear of snow). In the visitors centers you can buy books on the plants in the park, or on edible wild plants in general. We were already familiar with the berries of Montana, and ate at least nine types while hiking.

Hiking With Grizzly Bears

Don't surprise the bears! Glacier National Park has grizzly bears, which are far more dangerous than black bears. They'll generally move out of your way if they hear you coming, so make some noise as you hike. We saw a lot of people hiking with bear bells, but the park people say they usually are not loud enough. Calling out or clapping hands loudly at regular intervals may work, and you may want to have a good loud conversation.

Again, don't surprise bears! People have been charged and injured by bears fleeing from silent hikers who unwittingly surprised bears along the trail. Even if other hikers haven't recently seen bears along a trail section recently, don't assume there are no bears present. You can't predict when and where bears might be encountered along a trail.

Hiking in groups is safer, as is hiking in the middle of the day. Ask the park staff about the trails you'll be hiking, and they can tell you about any recent grizzly activity, and what you should watch for. Probably the berry patches we were hiking through on our way to Grinnell Glacier were some of the worst places to be, but then they were along the trail, and thus unavoidable.

There are a couple bear attacks every year in Glacier National Park, but considering the thousands of vacations taken there, and the million hikers on the trails each year, attacks are relatively rare. So what should you do if you run into a grizzly? Here are some suggestions straight from the park web site:

Talk quietly or not at all; the time to make loud noise is before you encounter a bear. Try to detour around the bear if possible.

Do not run! Back away slowly, but stop if it seems to agitate the bear.

Assume a non threatening posture. Turn sideways, or bend at the knees to appear smaller.

Use peripheral vision. Bears appear to interpret direct eye contact as threatening.

Drop something (not food) to distract the bear. Keep your pack on for protection in case of an attack.

If a bear attacks and you have pepper spray, use it!

If the bear makes contact, protect your chest and abdomen by falling to the ground on your stomach, or assuming a fetal position to reduce the severity of an attack. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left.

In rare cases bears may attack at night or after stalking people.
This kind of attack is very rare but can be very serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and preying on you.

If you are attacked at night, or feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, try to escape. If you can't escape, or if the bear follows, use pepper spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.

Hiking and Camping Vacations: Permits

Plan ahead if you are going into the back country hiking and camping. You'll need permits, and they are limited. For more information on all activities in the park, visit the official Glacier National Park Web Site.

Weather in Glacier National Park

Vacations in Glacier require preparation, because the weather changes quickly and often. The valleys can be over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, while in the areas above tree line, it is frequently up to 20 degrees cooler. The east side of the park gets strong winds at times. Overnight lows throughout the park can be below freezing, and snow can fall anytime. Back in August of 1992, twelve inches of snow fell on the northeastern corner of Glacier.

So even if you start out sightseeing in a T-shirt and shorts you might need a parka by evening. Bottom line: you need to prepare for a variety of weather conditions and pack accordingly. Dress in layers, and be sure to bring rainwear. Glacier receives up to three inches of rain per month in summer. You can find more weather information on the Park Web Site.

Other Glacier National Park Vacations

You certainly aren't limited to hiking, backpacking or camping vacations in Glacier. There are wonderful lodges both in the park and in the towns, West Glacier, and East Glacier Park. There are tours in classic the classic old red park busses through the park. There is so much to see, even if you are not able to get out of the car much. For more information Glacier national Park Vacations, visit the Glacier Park Website.

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