Majestic and wild, this vast preserve beckons visitors with stunning mountain peaks (many covered year-round with glaciers), verdant mountain trails, and a huge diversity of plant and animal life. Every spring, Glacier is a postcard come to life: Wildflowers carpet its meadows; bears emerge from months of hibernation; and moose, elk, and deer play out the drama of birth, life, and death. The unofficial mascot in these parts is the grizzly, a refugee from the high plains.
Here you'll see nature at work: The glaciers are receding (the result of global warming, many say), and avalanches have periodically ravaged Going-to-the-Sun Road, the curving, scenic 50-mile road across the park. For the time being, the park is intact and very much alive, a treasure in a vault that opens to visitors.
Named in honor of the slow-moving glaciers that carved awe-inspiring valleys throughout this expanse of more than 1 million acres, Glacier National Park exists because of the efforts of George Bird Grinnell, a 19th-century magazine publisher and cofounder of the Audubon Society. Following a pattern established with Yellowstone and Grand Teton, Grinnell lobbied for a national park to be set aside in the St. Mary region of Montana, and in May 1910 his efforts were rewarded. Just over 20 years later, it became, with its northern neighbor Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park -- a gesture of goodwill and friendship between the governments of two countries.
If your time is limited, motor along Going-to-the-Sun Road, viewing the dramatic mountain scenery. Visitors with more time will find diversions for both families and hard-core adventurers; while some hiking trails are suitable for tykes, many more will challenge those determined to conquer and scale the park's tallest peaks. The park's lakes, streams, ponds, and waterfalls are equally engaging. Travelers board cruise boats to explore the history of the area; recreational types can fish, row, and kayak.
To truly experience the park requires more effort, interest, and spunk than a simple drive through -- abandon the pavement for even a short, easy hiking trail, and you'll discover a window into Glacier's soul.