The Best of Glacier National Park, by Alan Leftridge, Farcountry Press (April 30, 2013), 136 pages, photographs, maps, resources
“We’re here! What should we do, what is there to see?” In the preface to his practical and well-illustrated Glacier National Park guidebook, Alan Leftridge writes that as a park ranger, he often heard those questions from excited visitors who “wanted to start making memories.”
Many of Glacier’s two million annual visitors travel a long way to reach northwestern Montana, and when they arrive, they are not only in awe of the scenery but of the scope of the prospective activities that await them in a 1,012,837-acre preserve with 762 lakes and 745.6 miles of trails. While Glacier is best experienced without hurry or stress, the economics of vacation travel make it necessary for visitors to maximize their time in the park.
The Best of Glacier National Park highlights, as Leftridge puts it, the park’s “iconic features.” The book begins with an overview of park facts, geology, and cultural history. This is followed by twenty-six “best of” chapters describing everything from scenic drives, picnic areas and nature trails to wild flowers, birds and photography opportunities.
Each chapter includes a map, color photographs and clearly marked headings and subheadings that make the information easy to find. This book is meant to be used as a quick and easy reference whether you are stopped at an overlook on the Going-to-the-Sun Road or standing in a subalpine fir forest on the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. The hiking sections, which are broken down into nature trails, day hikes and backpack trips, include directions and special features you’ll want to see and photograph.
Glacier’s rangers, naturalists, boat crews and saddle tour operators are probably asked more questions about the park’s flora and fauna than anything else. The “Best Wildlife” chapter includes a mammal checklist and tells you where to find marmots, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, moose and bears. The book includes appropriate warnings about Grizzly bears, suggesting that they be observed at a distance. “Best Birds” highlights ospreys, eagles and ptarmigans, among others.
Naturally, “Best Wildflowers” begins with beargrass. Leftridge notes that “It is a myth that bears rely on this lily to satisfy their diet. If you see beargrass’ tall stalks with missing flower heads, know that other animals, including rodents, elk and bighorn sheep, nibbled here.”
According to the National Park Service, there are 1,400 plant species in Glacier. While “best” is a subjective term, this guidebook focuses on such popular and showy wildflowers as the Glacier Lily, Indian Paintbrush, Lupine and other visitor favorites.
Naturalist John Muir said Glacier National Park includes the “the best care-killing scenery on the continent” and suggested that visitors “Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead…it will make you truly immortal.”
Whether you have a month, a week or a only few days for the high country known as the Crown of the Continent, The Best of Glacier National Park is an excellent all-purpose, general guidebook for discovering everything to do and see when faced with thirty-seven named glaciers, 175 mountains, and 151 maintained trails of waiting memories.
A former Many Glacier Hotel summer employee, Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of nonfiction and fiction with a Glacier Park focus, including Bears; Where They Fought: Life in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley and three contemporary fantasy novels set in the park, “Sarabande,” “The Seeker” and “The Sun Singer.”