Photo Credit: Wikipedia user Ken Thomas
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The region that became Glacier National Park was first inhabited by Native Americans and upon the arrival of European explorers, was dominated by the Blackfeet in the east and the Flathead in the western regions. Soon after the establishment of the park on May 11, 1910, a number of hotels and chalets were constructed by the Great Northern Railway. These historic hotels and chalets are listed as National Historic Landmarks, and a total of 350 locations are on the National Register of Historic Places. By 1932, work was completed on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, later designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, which provided greater accessibility for automobiles into the heart of the park.
The mountains of Glacier National Park began forming 170 million years ago when ancient rocks were forced eastward up and over much younger rock strata. Known as the Lewis Overthrust, these sedimentary rocks are considered to have some of the finest fossilized examples of extremely early life found anywhere on Earth. The current shapes of the Lewis and Livingston mountain ranges and positioning and size of the lakes show the telltale evidence of massive glacial action, which carved U-shaped valleys and left behind moraines which impounded water creating lakes. Of the estimated 150 glaciers which existed in the park in the mid-19th century, only 25 active glaciers remained by 2010. Scientists studying the glaciers in the park have estimated that all the glaciers may disappear by 2020 if the current climate patterns persist.
Glacier National Park has almost all its original endemic plant and animal species. Mammals such as the grizzly and mountain goat as well as less common ones such as the wolverine and lynx are known to inhabit the park. Hundreds of species of birds, more than a dozen fish species and even a few reptile and amphibian species have been documented. The park has numerous ecosystems ranging from prairie to tundra and the easternmost forests of red cedar and hemlock normally found in large numbers closer to the Pacific Ocean. Though larger forest fires are uncommon in the park, in 2003 over 10% of the park was impacted by fires.
Glacier National Park borders Waterton Lakes National Park in CanadaĆ¢ā‚¬ā€¯the two parks are known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and were designated as the world's first International Peace Park in 1932. Both parks were designated by the United Nations as Biosphere Reserves in 1976, and in 1995 as World Heritage sites.
Glacier is distant from major cities, and the closest airport is at Kalispell, Montana, southwest of the park. Amtrak trains stop at East and West Glacier. A fleet of restored 1930s White Motor Company coaches, called Red jammers, offer tours on all the main roads in the park. The drivers of the buses are called "Jammers", due to the gear-jamming that formerly occurred during the vehicles' operation. The tour buses were rebuilt in 2001. The buses were rebuilt by Ford Motor Company. The bodies were removed from their original chassis and built on modern Ford E-Series van chassis. They were also converted to run on propane, to lessen their environmental impact.
A number of historic wooden tour boats, some dating back to the 1920s, operate on several of the larger lakes. Several of these boats have been in continuous seasonal operation on the major lakes of Glacier National Park since 1927 and carry up to 80 tourists.
Hiking is a popular activity in the park. Over half of the visitors to the park report taking a hike on the park's nearly 700 miles (1,127 km) of trails. 110 miles (177 km) of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail spans most of the distance of the park north to south, with a few alternative routes at lower elevations if high altitude passes are closed due to snow. The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail crosses the park on 52 miles (84 km) from east to west.
Due to the presence of bears and other large mammals, dogs are not permitted on any trails in the park, though they are permitted at front country campsites that can be accessed by a vehicle, and along paved roads. Anyone entering the United States over land or waterway from Canada must have an appropriate passport with them.
Numerous day hiking options are available throughout the park. Backcountry camping is allowed at campsites along the trails. A permit is required, which can be obtained from certain visitor centers or arranged for in advance. Much of Glacier's backcountry is usually inaccessible to hikers until early June due to accumulated snowpack and potential avalanche risk, and many trails at higher altitudes remain snow packed until July. The major campgrounds that allow vehicle access are found throughout the park, most of which are near one of the larger lakes. The campgrounds at St. Mary and at Apgar are open year round, but conditions are considered primitive in the off-season, as the restroom facilities are closed and there is no running water. All campgrounds with vehicle access are usually open from mid-June until mid-September. Guide and shuttle services are also available.
Fishing is a popular activity in the park and some of the finest fly fishing in North America can be found in the streams that flow through the park. Though the park requires that those fishing understand the regulations, no permit is required to fish the waters within the park boundary. The endangered bull trout must be released immediately back to the water if caught, otherwise, the regulations on limits of catch per day are liberal.
Winter recreation activities in Glacier are limited. Snowmobiling is illegal throughout the park, but cross-country skiing is permitted in the lower altitude valleys away from potential avalanche zones.
A great site for climbing and mountaineering in Glacier NP can be found at Summit Post.
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- Bicycling - Road
- Camping - Backcountry
- Kayaking - Sea
- Skiing - Cross-Country
- Climbing - Rock