Glacier National Park encompasses 1 million pristine acres of natural beauty. It is a rugged area made delicate by the clean, bracing air, the clarity of the lakes and streams, and the magnificent vistas of emerald green forests on steep, distant mountainsides.
Glacierís mountainscape formed through the sequence of faulting, upthrusts, and glaciation that carved much of the Rockies. A more recent generation of glaciers appeared about 3,000 years ago; 50 of these, diminutive as glaciers go, continue to chisel their way through high valleys and cirques.P>The park hosts a diverse assortment of flora and fauna. At lower elevations, meadows covered with prairie grasses and thick patches of wildflowers are interrupted by lush riparian belts of cottonwoods, willows, and buffaloberry; aspen stands border the streams and lakes. Spruce, fir, and Lodgepole Pine forests blanket the middle elevations, especially on the eastern side of the park; west of the Divide, moist Pacific air enables cedars, larches, and hemlocks to grow over a rich understory of shrubs. Forests of Engelmann Spruce, Douglas Fir, and Subalpine Fir beginat elevations of about 6,500 feet and continuing to the tree line.
Everywhere, at every elevation, there are wildflowers: sweeping meadows of Glacier Lilies, stands of Beargrass blooming on boulder-strewn hillsides, shooting stars, lupines, Indian Paintbrushes, phlox, pasqueflowers, and globeflowers, among many others. A visual feast for us, the flowers and grasses are a dietary staple for the wildlife, including Elk, deer, and many rodents. The 60 mammal species recorded in the park include Grizzly Bears, Wolverines, Mountain Goats, and American Pikas; more than 200 bird species have been listed.
No visit to Glacier National Park is complete without a drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, a narrow, sinuous paved route connecting West Glacier with Saint Mary on the parkís eastern boundary. Cut into sheer mountainsides, traversing streams, lakes, and boulder fields, the route crests the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, probably the parkís most heavily used area.
A number of trails depart from Logan Pass, including the easy and popular Hidden Lake Trail, which offers remarkable mountain views, alpine meadows, and ample opportunities for sighting high-country wildlife, including American Pikas, Yellow-bellied Marmots, Mountain Goats, Columbian Ground Squirrels, rosy-finches, and American Pipits. The Highline Trail is a longer hike of 7.6 miles that leads to the Granite Park Chalet, whose terrace is considered one of the best places in the park from which to safely observe Grizzly Bears.
East of Logan Pass, the Many Glacier area is another wildlife-rich and accessible stop. Bald Eagles may be seen along Sherburne Reservoir, and Common Loons ply the waters. Several trails originate near the Many Glacier Hotel, including the Cracker Lake Trail, a 6-mile hike through aspens, grasslands, and old-growth conifers. Hikers should note, however, that this area is heavily used by Grizzly Bears.
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