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The Glacial Gallery
Glacier National Park, MT
By James Vlahos


FLATHEAD FRENZY: Rafters take on the river's Middle Fork. Bottom: The Granite Park Chalet. Photo courtesy of Lee Cohen
 
Twenty thousand years ago, in what amounted to a grand geologic game of rock-paper-scissors, ice trumped granite in northwestern Montana. The result is one of the world's premier showcases of glaciation, a land of deep valleys separated by spiny arÍtes, cirques that shelter turquoise tarns, and summits in every conceivable shape, from layer cake to Egyptian pyramid.

*GOALS: Paddle the Middle Fork of the Flathead, drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, and hike Stoney Indian Pass.

*GAME PLAN: Squeezed by snowy peaks, Bowman Lake rivals popular Lake McDonald for scenery—but not for crowds. Car-camp here for a relaxing first day at the park, then drive about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south to West Glacier to begin a three-day rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Flathead. The stream flows along Glacier's secluded southern border; in early summer the rapids reach Class IV-plus. "You'll see the peaks of the Flathead National Forest on one side of the river and those of Glacier National Park on the other," says Sally Thompson, co-owner of Glacier Raft. Watch for moose, eagles, and grizzlies.

Next up, a drive on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 50-mile (80-kilometer) route passes waterfalls and 8,000-foot (2,438-meter) peaks en route to Logan Pass. Park here—or better yet, arrive via one of the park's free, traffic-alleviating shuttles—and take a day hike on the Highline Trail. The path traverses below the cliffs of the Garden Wall. "It's popular for a reason," says resource manager Jack Potter. "The flowers are spectacular and the views are spectacular; you start atop the Continental Divide and stay there."

Map: Glacier
Map courtesy of Rob Kemp

 
The next morning, drive north to the Chief Mountain Customs Station to begin a favorite route of Randy Gayner, co-owner of Glacier Wilderness Guides. On a three-day, 26-mile (42-kilometer) trip, you'll follow the Belly River, then a string of lakes, into a sheer-sided valley topped by serrated rock pinnacles. After passing a series of waterfalls, you'll reach one of the park's most scenic tenting spots: Stoney Indian Pass. "You're sitting high in a cirque, next to a lake, with alpine meadows and peaks all around," Gayner says. Finish your trip at Waterton Lake, where you can catch boat and van shuttles back to your car.

*GETTING READY: Glacier National Park (+1 406 888 7800; www.nps.gov/glac). A guided Middle Fork of the Flathead trip costs $370 per person (800 235 6781; www.glacierraftco.com). Waterton Lake boat shuttles cost $11 (+1 403 859 2362); van shuttles cost $15 (+1 403 859 2378).


*PARK SMARTS
Best Strategy
For solitude on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you've got to rise with the sun—or so conventional wisdom has it. Fortunately, there's a sleep-saving alternative, which is to tour the road after 5 p.m. "During the summer, it stays light here until ten, and people are all eating dinner at their campgrounds or hotels," says Randy Gayner, of Glacier Wilderness Guides.

Best Bar
If you're camping at Bowman Lake, a stop at the Northern Lights Saloon and Cafe is a must. Located in Polebridge, Montana, Northern Lights serves cold beer and rainbow trout. Relax at picnic tables out front, or in the wood-paneled, propane-lamp-lit interior (+1 406 888 5669).

Best Picnic Spot
The charms of Iceberg Lake, a four-and-a-half-mile (seven-kilometer) day-hike from the Many Glacier area, are not subtle: The tiny pool sits below a semicircle of 3,000-foot (914-meter) granite cliffs. Start at 10 a.m., hiking mostly above timberline through meadows and past a waterfall to reach the lake for lunch.

Best Backcountry Lodge
The Granite Park Chalet was built in 1914—long before the ultralightweight-makes-right era of 3.2-pound (1.45-kilogram) tents. The gabled, log-and-stone structure sits in a meadow below Swiftcurrent Pass, with front-porch views of the McDonald Valley ($66 per person; 800 521 7238; www.glacierguides.com/chalet.asp).

What wild land do you think deserves national park status? Cast your vote for one of three front-runners for National Park billing in Adventure's first reader poll. Vote now >>

For our National Parks 2004 coverage, we polled the pros for their national park game plans. Now it's your turn. Send us your detailed itinerary including goals, game plan, and how to get ready. Your trip could be published in an upcoming issue. E-mail us >>


For all 20 expert-tested game plans to the best national parks, pick up the May issue of Adventure.

Additional Excerpts
From the Print Edition, May 2004

National Parks 2004 Messner's Burden >>
West Highland Peace Walk >>
The Adventures of Tim Cahill >>

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May 2004



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