Glacier National Park (also referred as the Crown of the Continent) is located in the state of Montana (U.S.) and the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia (Canada). With more than 1500 sq mi (4,000 sq km), the park is home to a vast ecosystem, including hundreds of animal species, more than a thousand species of plants, and 130 named lakes. The park is particularly known for its unpredictable weather and the huge number of tourists from all over the world. Beside being a park, the Glacier National Park is also a biosphere park, a peace park, and a world heritage site.
How it Got Here
The Glacier was initially inhabited by Native Americans, including the Blackft, Cheyenne, Kootenai, and Salish. The park currently borders the Blackft Indian Reservation and the Flathead Indian Reservation.
After 1850 explorations of the area become common, with George Bird Grinnell being the explorer who is credited with having worked in establishing the national park and coining the term “Crown of the Continent”. However, the Great Northern Railway company also had an important contribution to the creation of the park. After the railroad began crossing the area in 1891, the company lobbied in the U.S. Congress for the creation of the park and it partly convinced the government, as a forest preserve was created instead. Later, in 1910, Grinnell, together with its club- George Bird Grinnell Club-and the Great Northern Railway convinced the Congress to upgrade the area from forest reserve to national park.
Glacier National Park is cold, though not as cold as the name might suggest. During the summer the average temperature is around 70 °F (21 °C) during daytime and 40 °F (4 °C) during the nighttime. That being said, the weather is highly unpredictable in this area and it is important to pay attention to weather forecasts before and during your trip. Glacier National Park enjoys plenty of precipitations, as much as 3 in (76.2 mm) in the coldest months. The average yearly snowfall is 16-feet (4.9 m).
Because the park has an important climate change research program (the U.S. Geological Survey), it is worth acknowledging that rapid temperature changes have been registered in the area. For instance, research has revealed a rapid retreat of glaciers, important changes in temperature averages, UV-radiation, and vegetation.
Wild Wild Life
As in many parts of the Rockies, Glacier National Park has several grizzly bears. You might already know that these bears are not particularly friendly and you should stay away from them at a distance of at least 100 yards (91.4 meters). The same applies to the black bear, which is smaller but can also be dangerous. Another amazing and quite dangerous species is the Canadian lynx, which unfortunately is also a threatened species (the grizzly also is). Glacier National Park also includes bobcat, bighorn sheep, coyote, elk, moose, mule deer, wolverine, and others.
While in terms of fauna the park is most known for the mammals, there are many types of birds you won’t see on your typical day. The most well-known birds that live in the Glacier National Park include the American dipper, bald eagle, golden eagle, hawks, and peregrine falcon. It is estimated that more than 260 species of birds can be found in the park, which is unusually high in an area located so far north. If you travel to the park you may also encounter the garter snake and the western painted turtle.
The park contains an impressive ecosystem, as it has managed to survive in the same form it had a few centuries ago. While a large part of the park consists of coniferous forests, noticeable plants include aspen, beargrass, and cottonwood. An interesting coniferous is the western larch, as it losses its needles during the fall. Finally, if you like wildflowers you will probably like at least one of the following: balsamroot, glacier lily, Indian paintbrush, and monkeyflower.
One of the most notable peaks to be seen is Chief Mountain. The peak belongs to the Rocky Mountain Front (Lewis Overthrust)-an overthrust fault that is 200 miles (320 km) long. The peak can be observed from both Alberta and Montana and its popularity is given by its unusual form.
When visiting Glacier National Park, it is recommended that you also see Lake McDonald, which is number one among the park’s lakes in terms of area (6,823 acres/27.61 km), length (9.4 miles/15.1 km), and deep (454 ft/141 m). The Avalanche Lake is another one who draws plenty of attention (and has a cool name). This lake is located in a cirque that was formed by glacial erosion. Something that many people find particularly nice about the lake is its opaque turquoise color-a consequence of the glacial silt suspended in the water.
When you think about going to Glacier National Park nobody will be surprised if you think about visiting glaciers. While more than a hundred glaciers existed in the 19th century, today there are only 25 glaciers that have a significant size. These include the Pumpkin Glacier (8,232 ft/2,509 m), the Rainbow Glacier (8,222 ft/2,506 m), and the Two Ocean Glacier (8,015 ft/2,443 meters). The signs left by the glaciers of the past is reflected by the present of U-shaped arêtes, cirques, and valleys. While glaciers have almost disappeared, it is not clear whether the name of the national park will change to something more contemporary (any suggestions in mind?)
Hiking & Camping in Glacier National Park
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