Glacier National Park, Montana
Known to Native Americans as the “Backbone of the World,” the otherworldly mountains and lakes of Glacier National Park still evoke awe and reverence to nearly two million visitors annually. Carved by glaciers 10,000 years ago, this rugged park in northwestern Montana is home to a number of intact ecosystems, from alpine tundra to fir forests, and more than 700 lakes and 200 waterfalls dominate the park, not to mention jagged, jutting mountains rising more than 10,000 feet in elevation. With an array of lynx, bald eagles, wolverines, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and over 300 grizzlies and 800 black bears, you’d be forgiven to think you’d stepped into a remote Alaskan wilderness. The park adjoins the equally spectacular Waterton Lakes National Park across the border in Canada, and the two were joined as the world’s first International Peace Park in 1932. Both are now an official biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site, making for thousands of miles of pristine, untouched environment. A drive along the 52-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses the width of Glacier National Park.
Eat Smart: Snowgoose Grille at the east entrance of the park is known for its excellent fare. Lean game dishes like buffalo steaks, wild boar, and elk medallions are often featured. The restaurant has its own smokehouse, and the cozy dining room looks out to the surrounding mountains.
Be Fit: With more than 700 miles of maintained trails, Glacier National Park is a hiker’s dream. One of the best, the gorgeous Iceberg Lake Trail, has a gradual elevation gain of 1,200 feet over 4.5 miles to the lake, which contains floating chunks of ice even in the summertime.
Live Well: Join the nonprofit Glacier Institute for one of their expert field courses. Topics range from searches for wild orchids to nature photography classes. There are dedicated courses for both adults and children that range from a half-day to nine days, and start at an economical $20.
Where To Stay: The camp-style Granite Park Chalet is a National Historic Landmark built in 1914, perched high upon a bluff overlooking snowcapped mountains. Accessible only via a 3.5-mile hiking trail, there are 12 rustic rooms (you have to haul your own water). For those who need more modern comforts, the best and largest of the five chalet-style lodges in the park is the Swiss-themed Many Glacier Hotel, on the east shore of peak-ringed Swiftcurrent Lake. Be sure to book early for summer.