Glacier National Park, Montana -
The Many Glacier Region - On the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The best way to experience the wonders of the Many Glacier region and Glacier
National Park in general is by getting away from the road and on the trail.
The Swiftcurrent Pass Trail transits a beautiful valley with numerous lakes
and waterfalls between Mt. Grinnell and Mt. Wilbur. The photo, left, is a closeup
of Mt. Wilbur, while the photo, right, is a true view from the trail.
The trail eventually climbs 2,000 feet to reach the Continental Divide at Swiftcurrent Pass where the views are said to be
astounding. Our day hike will cover only about half of the trail's length today.
Our main goal for today is Redrock Falls, shown left (and closeup, below right) flowing into Redrock
Lake below towering Mt. Grinnell. Weather permitting, we will push on further.
However June is still springtime here, and there have been periods of heavy rain
every day. One hour into the hike, we get pelted with hail and then pouring rain.
An hour later, we are down to shirtsleeves under a warm sun.
Glacier National Park is roughly bisected by the Continental Divide. The high
mountains act as a rain shield. Hence the western part of the Glacier National Park
is very moist and heavily forested, while the eastern side - which includes
Many Glacier - is drier with more open meadows, grasslands, and deciduous
trees like scrub maple. Thickets of lodgepole and pondersoa pine are common.
Stands of spruce and other firs occur on mountainsides and higher elevations.
In this northern region, timberline is rather low. The 9,000+ foot peaks in
these photos are quite devoid of trees and vegetation. In the trailside photo, right,
note the mixture of trees and meadowland described above. In the closeup, left, note how
the high country rises up so abruptly. The vertical wall is easily over 1,000 feet
high. The highest vertical wall at the park is said to be about 4,000 feet, below Mt. Cleveland.
Above Redrock Falls, there is a second, smaller falls (right, and closeup, left) which is
also photogenic and fascinating. Look closely at the closeup, left, or check
the enlargement. The water level is higher than the rocks. What's holding the
water in place? To my eye, the water is defying gravity!
We hike a ways beyond Redrock Lake but the weather begins to look ominous again. Note, at right,
Gerry is standing in bright sunshine with dark clouds lowering in the background. This is typical
here but we decide to turn back. This is fortunate because it starts to pour
after we get back to camp and continues for hours.
When the rain stopped after sunset, we did have good fortune viewing wildlife.
Glacier National Park, The Many Glacier Region
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is in northern Montana along the Canadian
border. West Glacier is accessed from Missoula, Montana, via US-93 North (160 miles) or Montana routes 200,
83, and 40 (about 170 miles, a bit slower but very scenic). St. Mary, the east side entrance, is accessed
from Helena Montana via I-15 North, US-2, US-89 (255 miles) or I-15, US-287, US-89 (203 miles but a bit
The remoteness of Glacier National Park gives the park a feeling of wildness and less congestion than you
will find in Yellowstone National Park or Jackson, Wyoming. You can
usually find a campsite even during prime summer season if you stop early enough in the day. Unfortunately,
the long driving distances will add days to your trip. If you are coming from Yellowstone, allow at least
five extra days to see some of the park.
The west and east sides of the Glacier National Park offer very different environments. The Continental
Divide creates a rain shield over Lake McDonald Valley, the heart of
Glacier's west side. The result is a mild, moist climate with dense forests and lush undergrowth similar
to the Pacific Northwest. Glacier's east side is drier and more open. Popular east side locales
include Many Glacier (north) and
Two Medicine (south). The remote
Goat Haunt, on the north side, can be accessed only by a unique boat ferry across Waterton Lake,
originating from Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. There are no cars at the Goat Haunt
(but many mosquitos), and it has the feel of a different world.
There is a variety of lodging
available in Glacier National Park. There are historic grand hotels dating back to the early 1900's,
including the Lake McDonald Lodge and the Many Glacier Hotel. Here you can sit in beautiful old greatrooms
in front of a huge fireplace with a roaring fire. Other lodging ranges from modern motels to rustic cabins.
There are also two backcountry chalets available to hikers.
The most famous highlight of Glacier National Park is the
Going-to-the-Sun Road. The scenic drive is considered one of the most
spectacular in America. It climbs over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The most stunning section
is the sheer western face of the divide below the pass. Many beautiful waterfalls can be seen in this
area as well as wonderful alpine views. Going-to-the-Sun is generally closed due to snow until after
The park offers opportunities for fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing. Moose are especially prevalent
in the Many Glacier region. Hikers need to be prepared for the possibility
of grizzly bears anywhere in the park. You can also obtain boat rentals, horseback rides, and guided hikes
For more park information, ranger programs and visitor services, visit the
Glacier National Park Website Visitor Center.
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Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana adjacent to the Canadian border. Access to the park's east side is by secondary roads from I-15 north of Helena. Access to the west side is by secondary roads north of Missoula which is on I-90.
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