11 Unique Facts About Glacier National Park in Montana

Grizzly bears and mountain goats are at home in biodiverse Glacier National Park.

Scenic view of Glacier National Park.
Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

Straddling the Continental Divide from its post in northern Montana, Glacier National Park is one of the nation’s most awe-inspiring parks. Majestic mountain ranges with sharp jagged peaks give way to glacier-carved valleys and lush meadows, while each winter’s deep snow melts and tumbles down waterfalls feeding the area’s more than 700 turquoise lakes.

Sharing a boundary with Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, the combined preserve is recognized as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and allows for grizzly and black bears, bighorn sheep, and other large animals to freely cross between countries.

Explore this geological gem with these intriguing facts about the park. 

Waterton-Glacier Is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Not only is Waterton-Glacier an International Peace Park, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.

The combined park is recognized as such for its biodiversity and for being a “pristine laboratory for scientific studies of global climate change, snowpack, natural wildfire processes, species migration and population estimates, water, and air quality.”

The Glaciers Are Retreating

Backcountry ski traverse in Glacier National Park, MT.
Heath Korvola / Getty Images

Unfortunately, due to climate change, all of the park’s glaciers are retreating and could disappear by the end of the century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The glaciers that carved this magnificent U-shaped valley date to the Pleistocene Epoch, a period of time 12,000 years ago when ice covered much of the Northern Hemisphere. The smaller glaciers seen today are roughly 6,500-years-old.

Since about 1850, data shows that of the 80 glaciers identified then, only 32 remain.

The Park’s Water Flows in Three Directions 

How’s this for an oddity? One of nature’s rarest phenomena occurs in Glacier at a place called Triple Divide Peak. Here, any water that falls on the summit flows to either the Pacific or Atlantic oceans or into the Hudson Bay (a tributary to the Arctic ocean).

This means that depending on which slope of the Triple Divide rain falls or snow melts, it travels in one of three directions.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is a Majestic Marvel

Popularity Of Glacier National Park Draws Record Crowd Numbers In 2018
George Frey / Getty Images

This is one of the country’s most breathtaking stretches of pavement. Around every corner of this winding, cliff-hugging road is another "wow" moment.

Completed in 1932, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a wonderfully planned road (it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark). The 50-mile, paved two-lane highway skirts the shore of the park’s two largest lakes as it crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass connecting the east and west sides of the park.  

Indigenous People Lived Here 10,000 Years Ago

Scientists have traced the existence of humans inhabiting Glacier National Park back more than 10,000 years. They’ve found evidence that several Indigenous groups used the area to hunt, fish, and gather plants.

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation, home to Montana’s largest Indigenous community, sits on 1.5-million acres on Glacier’s eastern border.

The Park Houses Several Threatened or Endangered Species

Grizzly bear on Gunsight Pass, Montana
Doug Steakley / Getty Images

While Glacier is home to hundreds of animals including 276 species of birds and 71 different types of mammals, the park also protects a number of dwindling species, with several animals listed as threatened. These include the grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and bull trout.

Mountain Goats Are Commonly Seen in the Park 

Scenes from Glacier National Park
Teresa Kopec / Getty Images

There is a pretty good chance you’ll spot a mountain goat stomping along the sheer cliffs or at goat lick overlook, where the goats come to lick the minerals from the rocks along the riverbank.

Mountain goats are also spotted near Logan Pass and are known to frequent hiking trails.

Glacier Has 30 Species of Endemic Plants 

Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) growing along footpath going through valley, Gunsight Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) growing along footpath going through valley, Gunsight Lake, Glacier National Park. Jake Pfaffenroth / Getty Images

Because a number of ecosystems meet near Glacier National Park, plants flourish. The community of plants, trees, and wildflowers found here is quite diverse.

The park is said to have 30 species that are endemic to the northern Rocky Mountains. And of the nearly 1,200 species of vascular plants, 67 have been declared sensitive by state officials in Montana. 

The Park Has 734 Miles of Hiking Trails

The best way to see and experience Glacier is on foot. And with 734 miles of trails crisscrossing the park, there are hikes for all abilities. From easy nature paths like Trail of the Cedars, Hidden Lake, and Running Eagle Falls, to longer day hikes like the Highline Trail, a challenging 11.4-mile jaunt, and the ever-popular, heavily traveled Grinnell Glacier Trail, a tough but rewarding 10.3-mile round trip.

There are also opportunities for permitted backcountry trips. 

It Snows a Lot and Plowing Is Difficult

Snow season runs from mid-October to mid-June, so for much of the year the park is blanketed in snow. And flakes can fly at any time of year in the higher elevations.

The average snowpack in Glacier is around 16-feet, which makes for some difficulty in clearing the Going-to-the-Sun Road for traffic. Plows typically start work in early summer and it can take months to complete the job. The road is typically fully open by early July.

The Landscape Shines on the Big Screen 

Jack Nicolson drove it and Tom Hanks ran through it.

The opening scenes of Stephen King’s thriller "The Shining" show Nicolson driving up the park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road with overhead shots filmed around Mary’s Lake.

The park also served as a backdrop in "Forrest Gump," when Hanks was running across America. 

View Article Sources
  1. "Lakes and Ponds." National Park Service.

  2. "Crown of the Continent Biosphere Reserve, United States of America." United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

  3. "Status of Glaciers in Glacier National Park." United States Geological Survey.

  4. "Glacial Geology." National Park Service.

  5. "American Indian Tribes." National Park Service.

  6. "Animals." National Park Service.

  7. "Threatened, Endangered, and Candidate Species for Glacier National Park." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  8. "Plants." National Park Service.

  9. "Top 10 Hikes in Glacier." Montana Office of Tourism.

  10. "Weather." National Park Service.