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Spotlight On: Glacier National Park

20 March 2020

The story of Glacier National Park begins with the railroad. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Great Northern Railway crossed the Continental Divide at Marias Pass and found itself in a place of breathtaking beauty. Realizing the significance of this "unmapped corner," as conservationist George Bird Grinnell described it, the Railway set out to turn the area into the "playground of America." Along with conservationists like Grinnell, the company lobbied Congress to establish a national park. It succeeded, and Glacier National Park was born. Americans flocked to the park, riding the Great Northern line to "America's Switzerland" in hopes of spotting a mountain goat and breathing the fresh glacial air. Today, it's still possible to make that great rail journey to the "Crown of the Continent." Amtrak's Empire Builder follows the same legendary route, and adventurous travelers can cross the American West aboard its rails

Glacier National Park is one of the preeminent destinations along the Empire Builder's storied route and a perennial favorite amongst vacationers. Don't miss these scenic and recreational highlights on your rail vacation to Glacier National Park:

Essential sights:

  • Lake MacDonald Valley
  • 10 miles wide, 500 feet deep, and crystal-clear, Lake MacDonald and the surrounding valley is the center of many of Glacier's activities.
  • Swiftcurrent Lake
  • Small but sublime, Swiftcurrent Lake will take your breath away. Along it's banks lies the famous Many Glacier Hotel, a historic Swiss-style chalet. Have lunch at the hotel, hike the many trails around the lake, or take a boat cruise to see the area's best sights.
  • Two Medicine
  • Come on a still day, and the waters of Two Medicine Lake form a perfect mirror, reflecting the jagged peaks above. Back when the Great Northern Railroad was the primary way to get to Glacier, Two Medicine was the most popular recreation area.
  • Logan Pass
  • Here at Glacier's highest accessible peak, you'll find fields carpeted in alpine blooms and a thriving population of bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
  • St. Mary's Lake and Wild Goose Island
  • Tiny Wild Goose Island sitting in the blue waters of St. Mary's Lake is one of the most popular and striking photo opportunities in the park. Try your hand at capturing the perfect picture of the little island and the surrounding scenery

Top activities:

  • Red Jammer Bus tour along the Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • The vintage Red "Jammer" buses are one of the most iconic parts of Glacier National Park. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the world's most scenic stretches of highway, and for decades the Red Jammer buses have been the best way to experience it.
  • Swiftcurrent Lake Boat Cruise
  • Take a boat out onto the placid waters of Swiftcurrent Lake, and see the surrounding peaks and forests from a whole new perspective. You'll also spot Grinnell Glacier, whose run-off forms Swiftcurrent Lake.
  • International Peace Park Tour
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to cross into Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park (passport required). Waterton and Glacier form the world's first International Peace Park.
  • Horseback rides
  • One of the best ways to explore Glacier is a guided horseback tour. Leave from Apgar, Many Glacier, or Lake MacDonald, and set off into the wilderness (led of course, by an expert). Riding along one of the park's trails, you'll stop admiring the scenery and start enjoying it

Vacations By Rail offers a variety of rail vacations to Glacier National Park. Contact a rail specialist to start planning your summer vacation to this American treasure.