Glacier National Park: The Crown of the Continent

Mountain goats graze in a lush green valley with dramatic mountain range rising up in the background.

Mountain goats graze in Glacier National Park. Photo © Don Fink.

Glacier National Park is the undisputed “Crown of the Continent.” Its glaciers acsend steep arêtes where mountain goats walk like acrobats. Acres of lush green parkland plunge down jagged red pinnacles, exposing some of the world’s oldest stones. Waterfalls roar, ice cracks, and rockfall echoes in scenery still under the paintbrush of change.

In this rugged one million acres, indigenous grizzly bears and wolves top the food chain. Wolverines romp in high glacial cirques. Bighorn sheep graze in alpine meadows while pikas shriek nearby. Only two animals present in Lewis and Clark’s day are missing: woodland caribou and bison.

Designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Glacier hosts a rich diversity of wildlife and a wealth of natural attributes.The Continental Divide splits Glacier into the west side and the east side—both different in character, yet wrought from the same geologic building blocks scraping the sky. Two Wild and Scenic Rivers splash along park boundaries, converging at 3,150 feet in elevation while six peaks surpass 10,000 feet. Mount Cleveland is the tallest, its north face one of the highest vertical walls in the United States.

Slicing through the park’s heart, the historic Going-to-the-Sun Road twists and turns on a narrow cliff climb Tunnels, arches, and bridges lead sightseers over precipices where seemingly no road could go. Visitors overlook glacially scooped ice-abraded valleys, thundering cascades, mammoth lakes, and serrated peaks.

More than 700 miles of trails wind through Glacier’s remote wilderness. Hikers walk up verdant valleys, beneath frigid waterfalls, and over high passes. Peak panoramas and blue-green lakes are strung like pearls along trails in places of solitude.

Designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Glacier hosts a rich diversity of wildlife and a wealth of natural attributes. The park not only has ancient geological heritage; for centuries it was sacred land for Native Americans. Combined with Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier is the world’s first International Peace Park.

As the Crown of the Continent, the park’s glaciers fuel North America’s major rivers, with water from here tumbling to Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific. But as the park celebrated its centennial in 2010, ecologists moved up the predicted end of the glaciers to the next decade—a change that will repaint the scenery once again.

Glacier preserves some of the nation’s wildest country. Welcome to this rugged slice of nature’s best.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Glacier National Park.


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