Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is known for its unspoiled mountain beauty and diversity. What makes Glacier National Park so special, however, is not a certain part of the park; it's what the park is a part of!
The Crown of the Continent Ecosystem includes Glacier, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, along with federal, private and tribal lands in both the United States and Canada. The entire ecosystem is seven to ten times the size of the park alone - a truly massive part of northwestern Montana, southwestern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia. Glacier is at its core.
Glacier has a long history of human habitation. The tribes that lived in and around the park are the Blackfeet, Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootnei. Currently, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which is located on the eastern border of Glacier National park, is 1.5 million acres, and the Flathead Indian Reservation—home of the Salish and Kootenai Tribes from the Flathead Nation—have 1.3 million acres along the Flathead River.
This area contains one of the most pristine and intact wild areas we have left in the continental United States and, as such, provides unique habitat and opportunity for preservation and study. The park is about 55% forested, and the rest is plains and mountains above tree line. Due to the sheer size of the ecosystem in Glacier, many larger animals call the park home. Among these are Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Black Bears, the Lynx, Mountain Goats, Wolverines, and the largest Grizzly Bear population in the Continental United States. There is also a mosaic-like mix of birds, such as the tiny swift, to the Osprey, to the Harlequin Duck, to the Bald Eagle. The pleasure and spiritual fulfillment from being in an utterly wild place are an important part of the Glacier experience.
“May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome... leading to the most amazing view, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.” - Edward Abbey
1. Is it safe to hike in Glacier?
Because this is bear country, hiking in Glacier requires preparation and education. Not surprising bears by making plenty of noise, being aware of your surroundings, and traveling in groups during the middle part of the day are all good precautions. Stop by a park visitor center or ranger station to get specific information about bear activity in the park, but don’t let fear keep you away from the trails and the wild experience they afford.
2. Where can I see a bear?
Both black and grizzly bears are found throughout the park. NEVER approach a bear. Your actions could endanger not only yourself, but other visitors and the survival of the bear. Look for bears in early morning and evening in areas where food sources are available - berry patches and fields of glacier lilies are a good place to start.
3. Where can I see a glacier?
Most of the 27 small, alpine glaciers that are still found in the park are in the backcountry. One place to see a glacier from the roadway is Jackson Glacier Overlook, on the east side of the Going to the Sun Road.
4. What is alpine tundra?
Alpine tundra refers to the plant communities that lie above the treeline at high elevations. The grasses, sedges, dwarf shrubs and abundant wildflowers that characterize this community must survive extremely short growing seasons, rocky soil, drought, sub-zero temperatures and strong sunlight. Despite this environmental toughness, many of these plants are extremely slow growing and fragile - what you see today may have taken hundreds of years to form.
5. What is the Continental Divide?
The Continental Divide is the crest of the continent. Rain that falls on one side of the divide heads towards the Pacific, the other toward the Atlantic. The divide runs along the crest of the Rockies, from British Columbia, through the United States, and continues southward into Mexico and Central America.
6. Is the Going to the Sun Road scary to drive on?
Let's be honest here - there are some places on the road that can be intimidating - especially if you are afraid of heights. The views are truly worth the effort. With an attentive driver who uses the pullouts to gawk at the views, the drive is safe and a marvel of engineering. Since many of your fellow visitors may not be paying as much attention as you are, travel at the recommended speed limit and keep your eyes on the road!
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