FOR EONS, ICE BLANKETED ALL but the highest summits of what is now Glacier National Park in Montana. Under writhing ice floes, mountains took shape. Glaciers gnawed gaping valleys, etched rocks, piled up long ridges of rubble, and left large turquoise-blue lakes on the landscape. Since the time that ancient ice birthed the park’s landforms, several miniature ice ages have come and gone. They scooped out the nooks with cirques and hanging valleys. More recently, Glacier Park has sung a different tune. In the late 1800s, when explorer George Bird Grinnell first laid eyes on the Continental Divide, a ridge that the Blackfeet called the Backbone of the World, he lobbied for its preservation. By the time Congress designated Glacier as the nation’s 10th national park in 1910, the 150 pockets of ice from Grinnell’s day had begun to thaw into ponds.
Author Becky Lomax Photography Jim Franco
DAY ONE / Adjacent to Glacier Park on the shores of one of Flathead Valley’s largest lakes sits your hotel, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake. Built in the style of historical park lodges, the new upscale structure retains the flavor of its early cousins with native stone and wood, but it’s more modern and luxurious, with spacious slate-floored rooms overlooking the lake. In its two-story lobby, a fireplace crackles on cold days and bronze wildlife sculptures give a foretaste of upcoming sights.
This morning, grab a daypack, hiking boots, and a water bottle and head to Glacier. To carbo-load for hiking, stop in downtown Whitefish at Loula’s, located in the large brick hall of the old Masonic Temple. Try the lemon-stuffed French toast topped with raspberry sauce while enjoying the work of local artists. Owners Mary Lou and Laura—the two parts of the café’s name—are best known for their fruit pies.
Waltz through Flathead Valley, watching the park’s peaks leap into view as you wind closer to the town of West Glacier. Meet your tour for the day at Glacier Guides. With a deli lunch packed, the guide will orient you to the park’s history, geology, wildflowers, and diverse fauna—especially grizzly bears.
On Going-to-the-Sun Road, only fully open three months a year, hair-raising curves hug narrow cliffs on the climb to Logan Pass. Under the Continental Divide, the 75-year-old National Historic Landmark rises for 12 miles up one long switchback. Tunnels, arches, and rock walls hang thousands of feet above the valley floor. Around every corner, new views pop into sight: tumbling waterfalls, plunging valleys, and serrated peaks scraping the sky. Revel in glimpses of the park’s namesake ice in an alpine wonderland.
At the Piegan Pass trailhead, you’ll be advised about meeting a grizzly bear: Don’t run, back up slowly, and act submissive. The guide leads you up the nine-mile (roundtrip) path. If that seems a little ambitious, you can make it a six-mile roundtrip with a turnaround at Preston Park. Here, seas of purple, yellow, and fuchsia wildflowers bloom with colors that would impress even van Gogh. Piegan Glacier, looming above in a hanging valley, spews waterfalls. Ahead, the trail leaps above the tree line, sweeping around a large cirque below Mount Siyeh, one of the park’s highest monoliths. Jackson-Blackfoot Glaciers—once linked in a large ice field but now cleft in two—sail into distant sight. If you make it to Piegan Pass, have lunch facing the Continental Divide.
After hiking, head back down Going-to-the-Sun Road with the afternoon light casting a different glow. This time, stop at historic Lake McDonald Lodge. Built in 1914, the lodge sports a taxidermy décor reminiscent of hunting days before parkhood. The park’s megafauna—moose, elk, and bighorn sheep— surround the lobby, which stretches several stories upward. Stroll out the back door, where the lodge originally received its guests via a stairway from the boat dock. The park’s largest lake provided the only access before the Sun Road’s construction. Relax with a local microbrew while you rock in the large antique chairs.
Back in Whitefish, top off your day at Whitefish Lake Restaurant, the clubhouse at the town-owned 36-hole golf course. The restaurant is a local favorite. Chef Daniel Crumbaker roasts up a juicy prime rib and rack of lamb soused in garlic and three-onion flavor. Pair either dish with an appetizer of New Zealand mussels, and finish with a huckleberry dessert—the sweet, wild berry grows rampant hereabouts.
Head back to your lodge to visit The Boat Club. Lounge on the outside deck to watch the sun set over Whitefish Lake while sipping wine from the West Coast. To sample a more local flavor instead, order a hucktini.