Welcome to Big Sky Country, where the Great Plains hit the Rockies and just about anything seems possible. Wilderness areas rule out here, whether it's the pre-Yellowstone valleys of Montana's south to Absaroka Beartooth, Bob Marshall or the American Prairie Reserve and the horizons-without-end in Montana's rural heartland. Not far away, Missoula and Bozeman are hip urban centers rich in brewpubs, great restaurants and scenes of emerging culinary excellence. Montana is also home to Little Big Horn Battlefield and, the state's major drawcard, the sculpted peaks of Glacier National Park, one of the most dramatically beautiful corners of the continent.
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Perched above the tree line, atop the wind-lashed Continental Divide, and blocked by snow for most of the year, 6646ft Logan Pass – named for William R Logan, Glacier’s first superintendent – is the park’s highest navigable point by road. Two trails, Hidden Lake Overlook, which continues on to Hidden Lake itself, and Highline, lead out from here. Views are stupendous; the parking situation, however, is not – you might spend a lot of time searching for a spot during peak hours.
This nonprofit organization offers an alternative for ‘pest’ grizzlies facing extermination and captive-born wolves that can't survive in the wild. Here they are used for education and product testing (check out the row of shame of non-bear-proof trash containers). The wolves are on continual display in their naturalized enclosures, while the bears are let out individually. The excellent twice-daily ‘Keeper Kids’ program allows kids to hide food in the enclosures and then watch the bears sniff it out. Inside, informative exhibits discuss wildlife ecology. Admission to the center is good for two days. Check the website for a schedule of talks, including a vital demonstration on proper bear-spray use. A new immersive display on riparian ecosystems is set to open in 2020.
The most entertaining museum in Montana should not be missed. It has stellar displays on the geological history of the Rockies, and dinosaur exhibits including an Edmontosaurus jaw with its incredible battery of teeth, the largest T. rex skull in the world, and a full T. rex (with only a slightly smaller skull). Laser planetarium shows are interesting, as is the living-history outdoors section (closed in winter). There's also a reasonable set of exhibitions on Yellowstone (with an emphasis on Native American culture) and old cars and wagons used to get around the area. The museum probably won't occupy a full day, but it does have plenty of hands-on exhibits for the littler ones.
You wouldn't guess it from the outside, but this museum, housed in a nondescript brick building, has an exceptional collection of costumes, art, craftwork and artifacts honoring the culture of the Crow, Cree, Sioux, Cheyenne and, above all, the Blackfeet. Ernie Heavy Runner sits at the desk in front and can act as a guide if you choose. You can also chat with local artisans working in an attached gallery.
Located on the park’s dryer eastern side, where the mountains melt imperceptibly into the Great Plains, St Mary Lake lies in a deep, glacier-carved valley famous for its astounding views and ferocious winds. Overlooked by the tall, chiseled peaks of the Rockies and with the northern slopes dramatically thinned from the lake shore to Going-to-the-Sun Rd by the 2015 Reynolds Creek fire, the valley views are still spectacular and punctuated by numerous trailheads and viewpoints. St Mary's gorgeous turquoise sheen, easily the most striking color of any of Glacier's major bodies of water, is due to the suspension of tiny particles of glacial rock in the lake's water that absorbs and reflects light. The landscape-altering effects of the 2006 Red Eagle Fire is still very much visible on the southern slopes of the lake.
Greener and wetter than the St Mary Valley, the Lake McDonald Valley harbors the park’s largest lake and some of its densest and oldest temperate rainforest. Crisscrossed by a number of popular trails, including the wheelchair-accessible, 0.8-mile Trail of the Cedars, the area is popular with drive-in campers, who frequent the Sprague Creek and Avalanche Creek campgrounds, as well as winter cross-country skiers who use McDonald Creek and Going-to-the-Sun Rd as seasonal skiing trails. The 2018 Howe Ridge fire, ignited by lightning, burned for more than a month in the area northwest of the lake and destroyed more than a dozen historic landholdings; the Upper McDonald Creek trail was still closed as of June 2019.
Houses interesting exhibits on wildlife, geology and Native American culture and history, as well as an auditorium featuring slide shows and ranger talks. For over 35 years, the Native America Speaks program has connected visitors with the stories, history and culture of the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai tribes. Check the seasonal schedule for days and times. Also has a good gift shop. An astronomical observatory was opened at the visitor center in late August 2019; expect public programs to begin soon to take advatage of the dark, starry nights here.
In the most magnificent setting of all the park's visitor centers, the building has park information, interactive exhibits and a good gift shop. The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail and Highline trails begin here. Check times for ranger talks and guided hikes in the area.
The sharp, steep-sided ridge that parallels Going-to-the-Sun Rd as it ascends to Logan Pass from the west was carved by powerful glaciers millions of years ago. Its western slopes, bisected by the emblematic Highline Trail, are covered by a quintessential Glacier Park feature: steep velvety meadows embellished by an abundance of summer wildflowers.