ENCOMPASSING A MILLION ACRES of mountains, lakes, rivers, and epic landscapes carved by gigantic ice flows 20,000 years ago, Glacier National Park is one of the finest wilderness areas in the country.

A park where mountain goats, grizzly bears, moose, and mountain lions roam, it’s home to hugely diverse ecosystems: In the Pacific watershed to the west, the ancient cedar and hemlock trees are so big you’d need to join hands with five friends to wrap your arms around some of them. 30 minutes’ drive east up Going-to-the-Sun Road and you’re in alpine meadows overlooked by craggy peaks. The contrast is surreal, and it makes Glacier an incredible place to visit.

Here are 25 of the most stunning images of the park we’ve come across.

1

The dock at Apgar Village Lodge

Glacier is made up of five regions, each centered on a ranger station: Polebridge (northwest), Lake McDonald (southwest), Two Medicine (southeast), St. Mary (east), and Many Glacier (northeast). This shot was taken from the dock at Apgar, on Lake McDonald.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

2

Views of the Milky Way

Far from big cities, Glacier National Park is home to some of the darkest skies on Earth.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

3

Glacier Overlook

Although you’ll see a couple dozen small glaciers while you’re in Glacier National Park, they’re all receding. The park's name really comes from the U-shaped valleys, cirques, and staggering mountains shaped by the last Ice Age.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

4

Sunrise over the Going-to-the-Sun Road

The Going-to-the-Sun Road runs through the heart of the park for 50 miles, and it might just be the most scenic drive in the country. The best way to take it on is from east to west, climbing successively higher as new mountains, glaciers, and valleys come into view. The road’s midpoint is Logan Pass (6,646 feet), which is traversed by the Continental Divide.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

5

Snowshoers at McDonald Creek Falls

In winter, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is plowed for 11.5 miles from West Glacier as far as Lake McDonald Lodge. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing beyond this point—including weekend snowshoe trips led by rangers—are popular activity options. During weekdays, the park headquarters in West Glacier will sort you out with info on trail and snow conditions; on weekends go to the Apgar Visitor Center.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

6

Swiftcurrent Lake, Many Glacier

While most visitors to Glacier National Park travel the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor, there are many quieter spots to explore within the park. Of note are Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and the North Fork—home to Polebridge Mercantile and its famous baked goods. While there are accommodations at the Swiss-style lodges, motor inns, and campgrounds within Glacier, there are no populated town sites. Instead, buzzing communities minutes from the park’s boundary, like West Glacier, Essex, East Glacier Park, and St. Mary, are where most travelers head for amenities.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

7

The Highline Trail

With views like this, the Highline Trail is one of the most impressive hikes in the park. It begins at Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, then runs north, following the Continental Divide, to Fifty Mountain Campground 20 miles away. From there the trail merges into Waterton Valley, which takes hikers to a campground on the border with Canada.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

8

Avalanche Lake

Located in the Lake McDonald Valley, the trail to Avalanche Lake is another super popular hike in the park. The lack of elevation gain (505 feet total) might have something to do with that, as might the views. To reach Avalanche Lake, follow the fairytale-like Trail of the Cedars, then Avalanche Creek. You'll hike under trees so overwhelmed with lichen that at times you'll wonder if you're strolling a Charleston boulevard draped in Spanish moss. Lichen is a good thing—it grows best in places where the air is clean.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

9

Mountain goat

Bring binoculars to Glacier and and you’d be hard pressed not to see mountain goats on your trip. They’re the official park symbol and are most commonly spotted around high mountain passes.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

10

St. Mary Lake

The waters of St. Mary Lake, the second largest in the park, really do look this blue. Other famously colorful lakes within the park are Avalanche, Iceberg, and Cracker Lakes. They're located in cirque valleys created by the glaciers of the last Ice Age, and they get their turquoise hue from glacial silt—also called rock flour—which gives the water a milky, opaque quality.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

11

Wildflowers below Clements Mountain

More than 1,132 plant species have been identified in Glacier, and 30 of them can only be found in the park and the surrounding national forests. Clements Mountain is slightly less than one mile west of the Logan Pass Visitor Center.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

12

Sunset over Lake McDonald

The majority of Glacier’s 2 million annual visitors come in summer between July and mid-September, but the park's open year-round. Plan your trip outside of these times and you'll find plenty of peace and quiet. In May you might hit the jackpot with mild temperatures and scant crowds, while June is often the start of peak wildflower season. In fall, Glacier’s colors are equally spectacular—late September sees the aspen leaves at their sunshine yellow peak, while mid-to-late October is when the needles of the larch trees turn a brilliant gold.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

13

Hiker viewing the Milky Way

A joint effort between Waterton Lakes National Park, just over the border in Canada, and Glacier National Park is being initiated so that they can become a designated International Dark Sky Park/Preserve.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

14

Sunset over the park

Typically the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens in its entirety in mid-to-late June, which means Glacier National Park's most famous road is a prime biking and hiking destination throughout spring and fall. Many cyclists also take to the road on full-moon nights in summer.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

15

Black bear searching for berries

Glacier is prime habitat for black bears, and it’s the last place in the Lower 48 where grizzlies roam in abundance. Numbers aren’t certain, but park biologists believe there were around 300 grizzlies in the park as of 2008. Make sure to familiarize yourself with NPS recommendations on bear and wildlife safety before your trip. Stay in groups and carry bear spray on hikes in the park, and never approach a wild animal for the sake of a photo (or any other reason). That means keeping at least 75 feet away from most mammals and at least 300 feet from bears.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

16

At water's edge, Lake McDonald

Hiking, wildlife watching, boating, and fishing are some of the most popular activities in the park. During summer, you can head out on some of the larger lakes, like Lake McDonald, in historic wooden tour boats that date back to the 1920s.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

17

The aurora borealis from Lake McDonald

And of course, winter is prime time for seeing the Northern Lights.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

18

Bear grass and mountains at sunset

Glacier has an expansive network of over 700 miles of maintained trails, and many day hikes can be taken in the park. Backcountry camping is allowed at specified sites along the trails, though a permit is required. Get one from certain visitor centers or organize it online in advance.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

19

At Lake McDonald

Glacier is home to 762 lakes. The longest (9.4 miles), largest (6,823 acres), and deepest (464 feet) is Lake McDonald. Glacier is also one of the few parks in the country where you don’t need a car to get to or around the park. Amtrak trains stop at East Glacier Park, West Glacier, and Essex. From there, you can take tours through the main parts of the park in Red Jammers; they’re restored 1930s coaches that run on propane to lessen their environmental impact.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

20

Moose

Glacier’s "big three" comprise some of the most impressive mammals in North America: mountain goats, moose, and grizzly bears. Over the border in Waterton Lakes National Park—a joint International Peace Park with Glacier—you’re more likely to see bighorn sheep, elk, and black bears.
Photo: Jeff P

21

McDonald Creek in winter

On a winter trip to Glacier, bring your binoculars. Elk, moose, and mule and white-tailed deer are all much easier to spot against a snowy backdrop, and they typically winter at lower elevations. White-tailed ptarmigans and harlequin ducks stay at the park during the colder months, too.
Photo: GlacierNPS

22

Boating Lake McDonald

In honor of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, many companies and park concessioners are offering specialty tours. You can discover the park from a historic Red Jammer bus with Glacier National Park Lodges or explore on horseback with Swan Mountain Outfitters. Additional summer tours are offered by Sun Tours, Glacier Park Boat Company, and Glacier Guides, while the National Park Service hosts various interpretive programs, including the Native America Speaks program.
Photo: Tia Troy

23

Virginia Falls

Most hikers to St. Mary Falls don’t continue on to the—much larger—Virginia Falls. Their loss, your gain. Time your trip right and even in summer this view might be all yours to contemplate—at least for a few minutes.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

24

Fairy slippers

Most of the plants and animals that existed at the time Europeans first entered Glacier are still present today. These are fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa). The best time for viewing the park's nearly 1,000 flower species is during the brief growing season of late June through early August.
Photo: Jacob W. Frank for GlacierNPS

25

Hidden Lake

Accessible from June to September, the walk to Hidden Lake Overlook is one of the most popular in the park. The trail starts from the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center. From here, head along a boardwalk through an alpine meadow known as the Hanging Gardens. 1.2 miles in and you reach the Continental Divide. At 1.35 miles you’re at Hidden Lake Overlook. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are pretty common here, so keep a look out. Then continue for another 1.5 miles downward to reach the lakeshore. It doesn't get much better.
Photo: Tim Rains for GlacierNPS

 

This post is proudly produced in partnership with Glacier Country Regional Tourism.
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