Wander through Glacier National Park during May and you will find blue, yellow and white wildflowers spread like a carpet across grassy meadows and covering rough, craggy surfaces beside trails that wind through spectacular mountain scenery.
For thousands of years, the vibrant colours have been something to celebrate -- a sure sign warmer weather is on the way.
But this year, there's more to celebrate than spring flowers. May 11 marked the 100th anniversary of Glacier as a U.S. National Park and that makes 2010 the ideal time for a visit.
Situated along the Continental Divide, the ice-carved terrain of mountains, valleys, glaciers, waterfalls and trees that make up this part of Montana is so stunning, it was once marketed as the Switzerland of North America.
Hitting the highlights
In 1910, when the park was established, Glacier was referred to as a public pleasuring ground that needed to be preserved. While such language was definitely appropriate in more innocent times, visiting this vast and rugged public park is still a pleasure today. With more than a million acres of protected land and hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails, most visitors need to come up with a plan to hit the highlights during their stay.
Many Glacier: Stay at the Many Glacier Lodge or the Swift Current Motel or one of the campsites in the Many Glacier area. While there, consider hiking to Grinnell Glacier and Grinnell Lake, which can be combined with a scenic boat cruise.
Going-to-the-Sun Road: The Going-to-the-Sun Road typically doesn't open until mid-June, but for visitors this architectural marvel is a spectacular introduction to the park -- twisting and turning around mountains and hugging cliffs as it crosses the Continental Divide. Completed in 1932, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and should not be missed. If you feel uncomfortable driving, consider taking one of the red jammer buses that run between the historic lodges in the park. You don't have to stay in one of the lodges to use the buses. Be sure to stop at Logan Pass and take the short hike to Hidden Lake Overlook.
Lake McDonald: Consider a stay at Lake McDonald Lodge or the Village Inn at Apgar, or one of the campsites around Lake McDonald. While in the area, enjoy a scenic lake cruise or one of the day hikes in the area. The hike to Avalanche Lake is a great day hike near Lake McDonald.
Waterton Lakes National Park: Located in the southwestern corner of Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park has had a long connection with Montana's Glacier National Park. The two parks are linked geographically via the Continental Divide. In 1932, they became officially linked as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park -- the world's first International Peace Park. The two form a UNESCO World Heritage site, so a visit to Glacier National Park in Montana isn't complete without a visit to Waterton Lakes National Park. In Waterton, consider taking the cruise from Canada to the United States. If you're looking for a family hike, consider Bear's Hump. Experienced hikers will appreciate the challenging hike to Crypt Lake.
-- Canwest News Service