Montana Meandering: Glacier National Park

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson
  • 341st Missile WIng Public Affairs
Montana is by far one of the most picturesque states I have been stationed in my 17 and a half years in the Air Force, and I'm absolutely falling in love with the outdoor adventures it holds.

This past weekend was the opening of Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park and I couldn't help but grab my pack and gear up for some exploration.

One of the first stops I'd recommend for all our active-duty military members is the Lewis and Clark National Forest Registry office at 1101 15th St. North.  Stop in and show them a military ID and they will hook you up with a free annual pass that gets you into any national park.  They also have a lot of great pamphlets, maps and information for future adventures.

What gear do I need?

I constantly plan too much - if you're ever in a zombie apocalypse and need to restock some items you will want to stumble onto my horde in the woods.  In the case of exploring, I feel that you can never be overly prepared.  Here is a list of items I carry with me on an adventure, which fits nicely in an average-sized backpack.

--First aid kit with all your bare essentials (no pun intended)
--Small knife (or big knife if you are more like "Crocodile Dundee")
--Snakebite kit
--Survival kit with a fire starter, waterproof matches, signal mirror, emergency whistle, some rope, twine and a small compass.
--Bear spray - I know it sounds silly but I have done a lot of reading on bear sightings and attacks--I don't leave home without this stuff!
--Fly-fishing rod and a good variety of flies - especially when exploring Glacier National Park - just about every body of water (creeks, rivers, streams and lakes) you stumble across is fishable - I haven't seen many fish in my adventures, but when I do I will be ready!
--Extra water/water filtration system
--Snacks - energy bars, granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky - anything nonperishable and easy to toss in a bag.  Just be sure to pack-out your trash and not leave a trail of bread crumbs for those pesky bears to follow.
--Sunscreen, sunglasses and a good hat
--Bug spray
--Map of the area
--Camera (Both DSLR and a waterproof/shockproof one that comes in very handy)

Why visit Glacier National Park?

For the nature lovers out there, Glacier National Park has to be close to heaven.  It has more than 700 miles of hiking trails, 762 lakes (both named and unnamed) with Lake McDonald being one of the largest and easiest to find - get in the park, take a right and you will run into it.  It also has 2,865 miles of streams inside the park, harboring 24 different types of fish throughout - watch out if I ever find a good place to catch some!

The park consists of more than 1 million acres covering 1,583 square miles.  It has 175 mountains with the highest being Mount Cleveland, standing a 10,448 feet tall, and in any trek you take you could stumble across thousands of different types of plants and animals.

For those more adventurous, off-the-beaten-path types, Glacier has 65 "back country" campsites, where you can truly escape the daily hustle and bustle of the world.

One sightseeing highlight of the park is its glaciers.   These huge masses of ice and snow are scattered throughout the park.  According to the National Park Service website, Glacier National Park had 150 glaciers in 1850.  Today, only 25 remain large enough (at least 25 acres in area) to be considered a glacier.

A few of these can be seen from Going-to-the-Sun Road, and it is by far one of my favorite parts of the park.  This time of year there are waterfalls all over the place from the glacier runoff and melting snow, which adds a dimension to the park you won't get later in the season.  The road also offers places along where people can pull off, take pictures and soak in all of nature's beauty.

Getting up early is essential due to limited parking and space in the more high-traffic areas of the park.

Avalanche Lake trail is one of these spots but if you can find a place to park it is well worth the two-mile hike to the secluded lake.  If you are willing to go a little further and get a little damp you can nearly circle the lake.

The round-trip hike was about seven miles and despite seeing some brave parents with "kid backpacks" it would be a real workout for whoever was carrying the extra load.  So for those with little ones, you might want to forego the full out and back unless you have extremely strong shoulders.

Although, breaks on the trail are also recommended because you can peek through the lush forest to see a river and more mountains all along the way.

So if you are looking for a good weekend trip filled with crisp, clean mountain air, and breathtaking views, I would highly encourage a visit to one of the United States' most beautiful parks.