Glacier National Park is located in the north western Montana. It borders Canada, and Canada's Waterton Park. For more information check out the National Parks website here.
There is one road that transects the Park from East to West and that is Logan Pass. Unlike Yellowstone it does not have an extensive road system. This means that most motorized visitation is heavily concentrated over a small area. This means that parking lots, picnic spots, and campsites fill up very quickly especially during the Park's season's busiest time - July.
We found a marked difference between the East and the Western sides of the park. The East side is much drier, and very similar to Colorado. The western side is moister, and lusher.
Before our visit to the Park we did some research on recommended hikes, accomodation information etc. Since our main interest is photography we subscribe to Photograph America Newsletter which provides helpful information on best photographic sites. Here is the link to their website. Some of the newsletters are a little out of date, (and the one on Glacier was approximately 10 years old) but they still provide extremely good information on where to go, and whether a site is best viewed in the morning or afternoon light. Using this kind of resource reduces the time spent doing it on one's own. Of course, we always explore on our own and find things that are not mentioned in the newsletters or on websites.
For general information about Glacier (hiking, accomodation etc) check out this.
If you are wanting to camp in the Park and would like to guestimate what time the campsites will fill up check out this useful link from the NPS website. Here is the link.
As indicated in a previous blog post most of the chain motels outside the park fill up very quickly. If you need accomodation in a hurry your best bet is one of the "mom and pop" motels. Here is the link again for that website. Again I recommend West Glacier as a base for lodging outside the Park. Given the distances involved West Glacier would be your best bet for a base camp for exploring the West side of the park.
For the East side of the park we honestly did not have enough time to explore it. We did manage to visit Swiftcurrent Lake, and the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. We found it more visually appealling than lake Mary (on the eastern side.) We definitely plan to revisit and spend a day or two exploring the eastern side.
Given the topography of the Park I recommend concentrating on the park one section at a time. Don't try and do it all. There is too much to take in. I find sometimes that I suffer from visual overload. What I would do the next time we visit Glacier is to stay 2 - 3 nights at West Glacier. You are close enough to get into the park, and get to Logan Pass. I would stay at the Avalanche campsite if I was camping in the park. I personally found the park lodges unappealing. (Too commercial and crowded.)
I would then spend a night or two at the SwiftCurrent Motor Inn (Here I'll make an exception- I found the Motor Inn charming. You can hire cabins without baths for $43/ night.)
Hidden Lake Hike (Logan Pass)
We had read in "Photograph America" that this hike was highly recommended. On our first full day in the park we slept in and then spent the day exploring various spots where we would like to return. Do not try and attempt to find parking at the Visitor's Center at Logan Pass after noon on their busiest days - it is crowded, unpleasant, and there is no parking. Instead get to the Visitor's Center before 9am (when they open) or from about 5pm onwards. The hike to Hidden Lake is a morning one- the morning has the best light. We still had snow to scramble over, and it does get windy. So sensible hiking shoes, and layering are a must. We are really out of shape so we huffed and puffed our way excitedly over a very well marked trail. The earlier you begin the hike the better - fewer people around. The trail goes to an overlook. This is where the best photo spots are. You can descend the trail to the lake below. It looked very steep and we didn't try and attempt it. Also, we had read that it did not afford any better photographic angles.
There is a family of Mountain Goats that wander the trail. We were lucky enough to see a mother and kid. We also found a group of Mountain Goats wandering around the parking lot.
Other wildlife to watch out for: Ground squirrels and Marmots. Of course watch out for Grizzly and Black bear as they are common in the park.
I had read in "Photograph America" that the hike to Avalanche Lake was good if you wanted to take photos of mushrooms (depending on the season.) The hike starts opposite the Avalanche picnic site called "Walk among the Cedars." There is a loop that starts on either side of the river. I recommend going on the eastern bank of the river. The Cedar forest on that side of the river is better. Also, you don't feel so close to the campsite.
When we were there they were repairing that side of the walkway. You can still explore there, you just can't cross the river and join up with the Avalanch Lake path. Avalanche Gorge is located at the bridge that goes over the river. We ended up stopping there to shoot this waterfall. Kevin taught me how to use my neutral density filter to take photographs of the waterfall. I used the tripod of course and am extremely pleased with my photographs. I love the fact that the water looks like fairy gas, and everything around it is in sharp focus. Cool.
We had planned to continue to Avalanche Lake, but we ran out of light. Next time.
Polebridge via Inside North Fork Road
We drove to the town of Polebridge on the Parks extreme western border. It is the last outpost until Canada (on the western side). There are two roads to Polebridge. Take the Inside North Fork Road. Enter the Park from West Glacier. Instead of following the signs to Logan Pass, turn Left to Fish Creek campsite. Follow the signs to the Fish Creek campsite, instead of turning into the campsite continue along this road. It is a narrow windy road. We had no problem driving it in a sedan front wheel drive car (Lizzie). I would not recommend you attempt it if the roads are wet, or in snow/ icy conditions. Because the road is so windy and narrow speed is slow. I never got about 20 miles/ hour. It took us approx 3 hours to drive this road (with stops for bird watching, and photography.) When we were there the wildflowers were out. It was beautiful. The area is very like Yellowstone.
The road passes by Winona Lake. We couldn't resist this one. Kevin got happily wet photographing the lilies, and I saw a loon. Exit the park over a bridge, and through a very small ranger's station. Carry on down the road and stop at Poleridge.
We were getting hungry. Polebridge has a superb little bakery cum general store. Most of the merchandise is dusty, except the stunning pastries, and sandwiches on display. We bought Mesquite Chicken Sandwiches, Greek and Mexican pastries. (These were fresh baked pastry stuffed with, for the Greek: olives, feta and antipesto, the Mexican: Jalepenos, and cheese.)
Continue south along this road. (You have now exited the park and will head south to the Park entrance - if you go North you go into Canada.) You can reenter the park, and exit at West Glacier.
I will post a photo album of the best photos that Kevin and I took.