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North America

September 23, 2013

Why I Was Underwhelmed by Glacier National Park, but You Should Visit Anyway

Wild Goose Island in St. Mary's Lake is one of the most photographed spots at Glacier National Park.

If there’s one problem with traveling a lot, it’s that, just like a heroin addict requires more and more heroin to reach the same high, my tolerance for beauty increases with each amazing site I see.

Described as the “Crown of the Continent”, by George Grinnell in 1908, Glacier National Parks is known world-wide as one of the most beautiful places in the United States.

Covering a section of the Rockies hugging the Canadian border, Glacier National Park features towering mountains, a wide array of wildlife, and some of the few remaining glaciers in North America.

When I was planning my trip out west, Glacier was one of the places I was most excited to see. However, after spending two days driving and hiking through the park’s major sections, I came away feeling a bit underwhelmed.

That’s not to say that Glacier National Park isn’t pretty. It is. However, when compared to destinations like the Swiss Alps or the Himalayan foothills in China, Glacier struggles to compete.

Glacier even struggles when compared to other National Parks in America. For example, less than a week before I went to Glacier, I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Despite the overcast conditions, I found Mount Rainier to set a standard that Glacier National Park couldn’t compete with.

Glacier National Park is full of many great waterfalls, like St. Mary's Falls.

Glacier National Park is full of many great waterfalls like St. Mary’s Falls.

The highlight for many visiting Glacier National Park is Going-to-the-Sun Road. This 50-mile long stretch of road hugs the mountainside through the park and is certainly an immense feat of engineering.

When it was opened in 1933, Montana Governor Frank Cooney said, “There is no highway which will give the seer, the lover of grandeur of the Creator’s handiwork, more thrills, more genuine satisfaction deep in his being, than will a trip over this road.”

The fact of the matter, though, is that the view isn’t that impressive or unordinary. Truthfully, I’ve seen interstate highways on the east coast with views that can compete with Going-to-the-Sun Road.

So, why, if I’m so underwhelmed by Glacier National Park, do I still think you should visit?

First of all, while I was underwhelmed, I can still recognize that Glacier is a beautiful place to visit. This would be even more true if you haven’t gazed on the Alps or the Himalayas.

In my opinion, the most beautiful part of the park is at Many Glacier. It’s hard to describe exactly why I found Many Glacier to be the most beautiful part of Glacier National Park; however, this is the one area that I really felt was something special.

Many Glacier gets my vote for the most beautiful area in Glacier National Park.

Many Glacier gets my vote for the most beautiful area in Glacier National Park.

There is also a lot of great hiking through the park. Trails are available to match every interest and skill level. Whether you want a multi-day hike over the park’s ridges or a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, Glacier has a hike or two that can make your visit more enjoyable.

The park is also home to a fantastic array of wildlife. In fact, there may be nowhere else in the world with a greater concentration of bears than Glacier National Park. While there are no guarantees, wildlife enthusiasts will have a much better chance of spotting wildlife at Glacier than they will almost anywhere else in the US.

For those reasons, I would still recommend a visit to Glacier National Park. While it may not be the most beautiful place in the United States, it still has some great scenery.


  1. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for writing up your account of Glacier. Bummer you weren’t impressed, but I can see why… You saw everything from your car.

    The best part of Glacier is the backcountry trails. You needed to go for a hike to Iceberg Lake or Gunsight Pass Lake to really see the beauty of the park.

    You should make another trip. I’ve seen the Alps and many other beautiful places… None compare to Glacier.

    Perry Rosenbloom
    Glacier National Park Travel Guide

    • It don’t think it’s quite fair to say that I saw everything from my car. While I didn’t take any of the backcountry trails, I did over 12 miles of hiking during my two days. I also traveled the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is heralded by many as one of the best drives in America. So, I think I got a pretty good feel for the areas of Glacier that the vast majority of visitors experience.

      If I do return at some point, taking a longer hike is definitely on my list of things to do, though. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Mike

    Nice synopsis of the park. I’ve been to Glacier twice (once in summer, once in winter) and loved it both times. I’ve also driven all over the east coast. I can’t come up with any east coast interstate that comes close to the high road in Glacier. Or any interstate in the west for that matter (maaaaybe I-80 in Colorado or I-90 in Washington)

    It doesn’t measure up to the Alps or Himalayas, but by the US’s standards, it’s pretty good.

    Btw, I like your twitter posts and linked posts. Helps me research my own travels.

    • Mike, thanks for the comment and I’m glad my site is helpful in planning your travels.

      As for Going to the Sun Road, I would say that I-40 in western North Carolina and I-93 in New Hampshire are at least as beautiful. It is a very pretty drive though. Can’t argue with that.

  3. When Lauren and I visited Glacier we absolutely loved it. It was late fall and the combination of fall colors and snow fall made everything much more striking. Being a full time road tripper, I was a bit confused by your comment about the quality of the drive on Going to the Sun Road as compared to “Interstate Highways on the East Coast”. I haven’t seen one east coast road that covers that kind of elevation or terrain, much less one that offers that much technical driving and certainly not an interstate.

    • Kenin, I was referring more to the overall beauty of the road, not the type of terrain or the technical aspects of the drive. I would say that I-40 in western North Carolina and I-93 in New Hampshire are at least as beautiful as the road.

      That being said, it is a beautiful area. I can see why people would really like it, which is why I said you should still visit.

  4. Wow! We’ve been to 42 national parks and the Alps(although not the Himalayas) and we still think Glacier is incredible. Some of the longer hikes are part of what set this park apart. Hope you get to go back and do those sometime!

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