The Essential Glacier

Glacier National Park
* They say its namesake glaciers are on the wane and could be gone by 2030, but even without its rivers of ice this park tucked up along the Montana-Canada border is a rugged masterpiece that begs exploration. True, its backcountry is challenging and demanding, not the place for neophytes. Yet there are plenty of front-country vistas and day hikes to entice the novice. You can walk through a dense forest along a crashing creek, make your way across an alpine meadow flecked with lupines, asters and bear grass, paddle across one of Glacier's 653 lakes, or count mountain goats on Logan Pass.
Glacpaddlers_copy * As with most Rocky Mountain parks, July and August are the prime months to visit Glacier. The height of the bug season is past, daytime highs reach into the 90s, and the occasional thunderstorm cleanses the air. True, it can be crowded during these months. If school vacation is not an issue, September is a fantastic time to find yourself in Glacier.
* If you made it to Glacier for a visit and find yourself with time for just one hike, you're doing something wrong. Nevertheless, a great one is the walk to Hidden Lake. Starting out from Logan Pass, this three-mile hike is not overly challenging, but it takes you across a breathtaking alpine meadow with sweeping views of the "Crown of the Continent" and more than a few mountain goats.
* Best adventure? A backcountry trek that takes you to one of the park's historic chalets. These rustic, native-rock structures were built in the early 1900s to cater to horse rides that hauled visitors across the park. While the Sperry Chalet offers running water, meals and single or double beds, the Granite Park Chalet is a tad more rustic, having only bunk beds and a community kitchen where you make your own meals. The Sperry Chalet is located above Lake McDonald along the Sperry Trail, while the Granite Park Chalet is found along the Highline Trail.
* For kids, the Glacier Institute offers a wide range of programs and activities. There are one-day programs and week-long programs built around the park's cultural and natural resources. Some programs introduce youngsters to the excitement of camping out, while others teach map and compass skills in the backcountry.
* The best way to flee crowds in Glacier is to get off the Going-to-the-Sun Road that links West Glacier to St. Mary. Head to the Two Medicine or Bowman/Kintla lakes areas and you'll quickly leave the crowds behind.
* Best dinner? That can be found in the St. Mary Lodge and Resort. True, this property has changed hands since I visited a couple years ago -- it's now managed by Delaware North -- but I'm guessing the entrees in the Snowgoose Grille continue to delight after a long day in the park.
* Best breakfast? For variety, quantity, and price it's hard to beat the buffet breakfasts served at Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel.
* Best lodging, price not an option. A room in the Great Bear Lodge at the St. Mary Lodge and Resort. The rooms are large, well-appointed with Western and Mission-style elements, and views of Triple Divide Peak.
* Best bargain lodging? The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. The cottages and rooms are simple, but clean, and located in a hiker's paradise. With the Many Glacier Hotel just a mile away, you can spring for a sumptuous dinner there after a day on the trail.