CYBERTRIPS Explore the northern Rockies in and around Glacier National Park
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The northwest corner of Montana holds millions of acres of scenic mountains, lakes, rivers and forest to fill your next vacation, and the crown jewel is Glacier National Park.
They claim more than 700 miles of hiking trails in Glacier -- www.nps.gov/glac/ -- along with the unique Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile excursion through the mountains and across Logan Pass in the heart of the park. If you want to focus on the scenery instead of your driving, try out the park's new shuttle bus system. Get details on the road by clicking on "Plan Your Visit" and then "Things to Do." That's also where you'll find "Outdoor Activities," including hiking and biking (steep mountain roads), fishing and boating on mountain lakes, and a detailed map showing other roads, streams and campgrounds.
Unlike some other national park Web sites, Glacier's has an extensive "Photos & Multimedia" section with a photo gallery, a half-dozen live Webcams, and virtual tours with "eHikes" and "eTours" that you can download. Remember to take jackets or sweaters; the "Climate" section says the average high in July and August is only in the upper 70s, with lows in the 40s. If you're not planning to camp, the park has historic lodges and inns; go back to "Plan Your Visit" and look for "Things to Know ..." for details.
Glacier sits right on the border, adjoining Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park -- tinyurl.com/37lsql -- whose entrance is about an hour's drive north of the east end of Going-to-the Sun at St. Mary, Mont. You can scuba dive in Upper Waterton Lake to the wreck of a century-old paddle wheeler, hike on 120 miles of trails, and see wildlife including bears, bighorn sheep and bison. Look under "Activities" and then "Sightseeing ..." for Waterton's scenic parkways. Pick up more information from the Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce -- www.watertonchamber.com/ -- including places to eat and spend your nights. And if you have time to go farther afield, look under "Visitor Information" for a link to "Mountain Guide," covering the other parks in the Canadian Rockies.
Together, two parks are called the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park -- glacier.areaparks.com/ -- a designation given in 1932. This commercial Web site has additional details on the parks plus links for lodgings. Another commercial site -- www.allglacier.com/ -- has a directory of links to more accommodations, from cabins and campgrounds to bed and breakfast inns.
Just southwest of Glacier, the Flathead Valley -- www.fcvb.org/ -- calls itself the gateway to Glacier National Park. This sprawling sample of the great outdoors is centered on the city of Kalispell and Flathead Lake, where you can sail or pursue trophy-size trout. And if you can't leave civilization behind, check out "Montana Golf" for the valley"s nine public courses, with a central booking office. There are more hotels, motels, inns, ranches and lodges, many around the lake. And click on "Just for Kids" for a guide to activities that will keep them entertained.
The south end of the lake is part of the 1.3-million-acre Flathead Indian Reservation. Take U.S. 93 south along the lake from Kalispell to the town of Pablo. That's the location of the reservation's People's Center -- www.peoplescenter.net/ -- a place to become acquainted with the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d'Oreille Nations and browse their museum and gift shop. East of Glacier is the slightly larger Blackfeet Indian Reservation -- www.blackfeetcountry.com/ -- home of the Museum of the Plains Indian at Browning.
Farther south on U.S. 93, the city of Missoula -- www.missoulacvb.org/ -- is a hub for winter and summer outdoor activities, and its airport is served by major airlines.
The region around Glacier also holds three big national forests if you feel the need for more outdoor time: the Lolo -- www.fs.fed.us/r1/lolo/ -- the Kootenai -- www.fs.fed.us/r1/kootenai/ -- and the Flathead -- www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead/ -- which contains much of the 400-mile Montana Scenic Loop -- www.montanascenicloop.com/ -- of highways and byways.