Why you need to visit Glacier National Park before it melts

Visit Glacier National Park
(Image credit: Getty)

It's a contradiction when you visit Glacier National Park, that although there are very few roads spoiling Glacier’s pristine wilderness, the best way to see the stunning sights on the USA’s northern border is still from behind the steering wheel of a car. The 80-kilometer (50-mile) Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses the park from east to west, passing clear blue glacial lakes and green cedar forests in the lowland valleys and climbing to bitter, white alpine tundra at the top of the 2,206-metre (6,646-feet) Logan Pass. The high point of the road also marks the Continental Divide, the point at which rainfall and rivers on each side flow to different oceans. Scenic viewpoints and lay-bys line the road, providing motorists with the opportunities to stop and take in the views or snap away with cameras.

For a more intimate view of a land created by rivers of ice that give the park its name, open the car door and lace up those walking boots. Hikers are spoilt for choice, with an abundance of trails to suit all fitness levels and time frames, but highlights include the seven-kilometer (4.5-mile) path to Iceberg Lake and the shorter trail to Sperry Glacier. On both, you’ll likely be accompanied by some of the mountain goats that call Glacier home, while lower-level trails cross grizzly country. If time permits, Lake McDonald and St Mary Lake offer opportunities to explore the water by canoe or boat.

Although the landscape has remained largely the same since glaciers carved the steep valleys during the last ice age, there is change afoot. Of the 150 glaciers that existed in the 1850s, most have since melted. Only 25 glaciers are still active, and scientists predict that all of those will disappear by the middle of this century. It now appears that it’s only a matter of a few decades before Glacier National Park becomes glacier-free. Prospective visitors should aim to visit before it becomes a misnomer.

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