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9 Secrets of Glacier National Park

Discover lesser-known treasures and start planning your trip.

U.S. News & World Report

9 Secrets of Glacier National Park

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Take in awe-inspiring scenes, spectacular drives and fascinating wildlife in the iconic park.(Getty Images).

Our national parks are a distinct reminder that America's landscapes are vast and beautiful. From coastal redwoods to protected reefs to prickly cacti, our national parks offer plenty of treasured natural wonders. Glacier National Park in Montana, with its dramatic mountains, striking lakes and untouched forests, is no exception. Spanning 1,583 square miles and crossing large sections of the Rocky Mountains, the park offers a host of otherworldly attractions.

But the beauty of Glacier National Park not only lies in its topography, but also its lesser-known gems unearthed by locals and experts. Park pros have tapped into under-the-radar wildlife viewing locations, photogenic places along Going-to-the-Sun Road and other tucked-away spots. Use these secrets to experience the best of Glacier National Park.

Fall is the Best Time to Visit

While summer may be an ideal time to plan a trip, in the fall, the park bursts into a series of spectacular autumn colors and there are fewer tourists hitting the trails. Bear sightings are also more frequent at this time of year. The only caveat: The weather can be fickle and high alpine sections of the Going-to-the Sun Road can close sporadically due to snow and bad weather in the off-season. Early to mid-September is the best time to go.

Remember, Only a Few Glaciers Remain

If you envision the park featuring magnificent glaciers perched between mountaintops, you're in for a surprise. The park's glaciers are not like Alaskan glaciers, but instead small remnants of the Little Ice Age. The National Park Service estimates that there were 150 glaciers in 1850 at the end of the Little Ice Age, but now there are only 25 or fewer remaining. Plus, the National Park Service believes that all the glaciers in will be gone by 2030.

Glacier National Park(Erin Block)

Staying Connected Is Optional

Sometimes, being a rugged outdoorsman means making sacrifices. When you arrive, you'll have the option to connect to nature rather than digital devices. But this type of adventure does come with a price for urbanites: No Wi-Fi or cell phone service. This can be tough for a generation of people who are glued to technology, but it could be considered an opportunity to disconnect. And though taking a digital detox is important now and then, sometimes having Wi-Fi is important. One way to get around this is visiting with a car equipped with Wi-Fi. Happily, many rugged vehicles that are perfect for Glacier's mountainous terrain also come with this feature.

Stay Outside the Park

Glacier National Park covers a huge swath of land, yielding plenty of accommodation options. While there are several great hotels, cabins and camp sites inside the park, the best place to stay is outside the park. Glacier Park Inc.'s Glacier Park Lodge is a castle set between snowcapped mountains and lakes on the outskirts of the southeast corner of the park. When you enter the lodge, you'll feel like you've stepped into the early 1900s. Walk through the lodge's gardens, cozy up to the fire and enjoy rounds of golf. Plus, the East Glacier Park Amtrak Station is across the street from Glacier Park Lodge, allowing for easy accessibility. Travel on Amtrak's Empire Builder route and ride right into the park.

Consider a Lookout Rental

If you decide a hotel is not for you and you're looking for a place to pitch a tent, consider renting an old fire lookout. Like most national parks and forests, natural fire occurrences are an important aspect of a growing ecosystem. Though these fires are healthy, the National Forest Service does need to keep a close eye on the landscape, which resulted in the creation of the fire lookout. With new technology these lookouts are free to rent at certain times of the year. Hornet Lookout, located in Montana's Flathead National Forest, sits high up in the mountains and gives you 360-degree views of Glacier National Park. It's a whole new way to experience the park and up your camping game.

There Are More Borders Than You Think

Many Canadians access Glacier National Park after visiting its sister park, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in Waterton Lakes, in Canada. Bring your passport, because you'll likely want to cross into Canada on your trip. Fascinatingly, Canada isn't the only area Glacier flanks. The eastern side of the park actually borders the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which happens to be one of the largest tribes located in the U.S. There is a strong relationship between the Blackfeet Reservation and the Glacier tourists. While a passport is not required, preservation is essential. Those interested in crossing into the reservation have an entirely different set of laws to follow and may need a special permit from the community.

Glacier National Park(Erin Block)

Glacier's Mountains Are Unique

Archaeologists and scientists use rock layers to date fossils and artifacts, but Glacier's geological features are perplexing. Due to what's known as the Lewis Overthrust, a fault feature, the mountains here seem to be built upside down. Some of the oldest layers of rock on Earth can be found exposed here due to tectonic pressure. This created an overthrust, which put the oldest rock from the Precambrian era at the top over the newer Cretaceous rock at the bottom. The nearly perfectly preserved Precambrian rock is anywhere from 1,300 to 1,500 million years older than the newer Cretaceous rock. These conditions draw outdoor enthusiasts in droves, as it is an incredible place for exploring unique rock formations.

There's a Reason Why the Park is Drenched in Blue

Iconic photos of Glacier National Park feature picturesque blue and green hues. But how do these gorgeous gem-colored waters end up in the middle of Montana? These colors are a natural phenomenon. Each year, when the winter season subsides, the glaciers begin to melt. The water trickles down from the glaciers into the lake through a series of waterfalls that can be found throughout the park. Along with the melted water, there's glacier silt. As a glacier moves it grinds against the rocks below the surface, which creates light silt that can lay in the lakes for long periods of time. The silt – in combination with sunlight – creates the breathtaking turquoise shade seen today.

Don't Overlook Whitefish, Montana

While Whitefish is just a 35-minute drive west of Glacier National Park, it feels like it's a world away. Here, you'll find plenty of small-town charm and an eclectic mix of lively eateries, amazing sushi joints and diverse breweries and distilleries. The Great Northern Brewing Company and Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits have both become staples in the area. Aside from making delicious drinks, both locations also incorporate the famously wild grown huckleberry as a principle ingredient in many of their recipes.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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