Glacier National Park
March 21, 2017
By Kevin R. Tam, President
I’m a lover of trains, steamboats, ocean liners and National Parks, so I have to admit that I probably am better versed on these topics than more casual aficionados. Even so, I’m always a bit surprised that Glacier National Park, one of America’s true jewels, doesn’t get more attention than it does or generate more advance excitement among travelers.
At Uncommon Journeys, Glacier National Park is one of our favorite destinations but somehow is lesser known than National Parks such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite, to name just three. Whenever we include it on one of our vacations, guests always tell us it was an unexpected highlight, yet it is rarely the primary reason guests book a vacation with us. Let me give you an example with our Best of the West trips in 2017 which feature five National Parks.
Without question, both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are truly the “Best of the West” and offer some of the most stunning scenery in North America. Grand Teton, with its jagged mountains, pristine lakes and rich wildlife is a jewel and Yellowstone, with its geysers, hot springs and waterfalls is a visual feast. But equally splendid is Glacier National Park, Montana with its storied Going to the Sun Highway over the Continental Divide. And who can forget the stunning geological formations of Arches and the great ravines of Canyonlands National Parks. Happily, we have combined all five of these great National Parks into one glorious holiday with excellent hotels, epic scenery and intelligent planning. We offer the 15-day Best of the West itinerary four times in 2017 with departures on June 10, 2017; July 8, 2017; August 12, 2017; and Sept. 2, 2017.
We get a number of inquiries about this journey, but few questions about Glacier National Park. One of the features that sets this trip apart from that of other tour operators is that we offer a two-night stay with complete sightseeing, including the famed Red Jammer buses over the extraordinary Going to the Sun Highway.
Now, you may wonder what a Red Jammer bus is as it sounds more like a reggae form of transportation in Jamaica than a star of an American National Park. They derived their name from the sound made by double-clutching the unsynchronized transmissions when they debuted at Yellowstone National Park in 1935. Their roll-back canvas tops were perfect for sightseeing among such natural splendors and Glacier National Park still operates 33 of the original buses. The Red Jammers were restored by Ford about a decade ago to run on propane, thus limiting pollution. More efficient transmissions have eliminated the “jamming” sound, but the name and the tradition remain.
While name might sound a bit awkward to say, the Going to the Sun Highway is something our returning guests can’t stop talking about. Completed in 1932, it is the only road traversing Glacier National Park. It crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and, with a length of 53 miles, is one of the few roads designated both a National Historic Landmark and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. With only two lanes, it winds through the mountains and offers among the most spectacular views of any mountain road in America. You’ll note we visit in the summer because it takes an entire spring to clear the road of up to 80 feet of snow that has fallen during the winter. The road doesn’t open to the Red Jammers buses until June but is certainly worth the wait.
Like many protected lands in the Western United States, what is now Glacier National Park was home to Native Americans. The Blackfeet and Flathead tribes laid claim to opposite sides of the land. The area became a National Park in 1910 and a hotel and chalets were built by the Great Northern Railway, many of which are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Covering over a million acres, the park is the home to grizzly bears, mountain goats and wolverines. You might even see a lynx or two. Spanning two mountain ranges within the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park has over 130 lakes, spectacular mountain vistas and is sometimes called the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem” thanks to its abundant flora and fauna. Within the park are specific ecosystems ranging from tundra and prairie to forests containing hemlock and red cedar.
Since train travel is the core of Uncommon Journeys, you can bet we’ve included our fare share in these Best of the West vacations. You can travel aboard one of America's most noted trains, the famed California Zephyr and the Empire Builder that convey guests to the start of the holiday in Utah, and then home from Glacier National Park after the tour. Both are overnight journeys encompassing amazing scenery.
If you want to explore a National Park that many people ignore, then this is the journey for you. You’ll love Arches, Canyonlands, Yosemite and Grand Teton, but we guarantee you’ll also fall head over heels in love with Glacier National Park, America’s hidden jewel.