Children are sure to think a visit to Glacier National Park is a really cool trip

TAKING THE KIDS

April 02, 1995|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Peanut-butter sandwiches never tasted so good. We'd hiked uphill nearly five miles in the middle of Glacier National Park for the privilege of eating those sandwiches beside the famed Grinnell Glacier in Montana.

It was worth every arduous step. Along the trail, Matt, Reggie and Melanie munched on huckleberries they'd picked right off the vines, watched mountain goats nimbly climb the cliffs and tried to guess the names of the amazing array of wildflowers we saw -- red Indian paintbrush, yellow monkey-flowers, purple sky pilots among them. They chatted with fellow hikers, offering that this was the hardest climb they'd ever attempted.

The kids tried to outdo each other in spotting bighorn sheep, moose and bear cubs on the winding trail, while we adults reveled in the vistas -- the pristine snow-capped mountains, clear lakes and green glacier-carved valleys.

Once we reached Grinnell Glacier -- at more than 200 acres of ice and snow it is one of the largest in the park -- and pulled out our lunch, we decided that the spectacular setting certainly deserved less mundane fare than our sandwiches. Vintage wine would have been nice. The kids couldn't have cared less about what they ate, of course. They were too busy skipping stones amid the ice floes in the deep, blue Grinnell Lake and dipping their toes in the icy water.

This is one of the most popular summer hikes in the enormous Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Created in 1932 as a symbol of the friendship of Canada and the United States, the park spans more than 1,800 square miles and attracts visitors from around the world. In the winter, they come to snowshoe and cross-country ski. In the summer, they hike, fish, camp, ride horses and canoe.

(For information, call Glacier National Park at [406] 888-5441 or Waterton Lakes National Park at [403] 859-2224.) Most summer visitors to the park -- us included -- drive the 52-mile Going to the Sun Road or take a tour on the vintage red "jammer" buses from the 1930s. The road was completed in 1932 after three decades of work. It crosses the Continental divide at the 6,646-foot high Logan Pass to connect Lake McDonald in the west to St. Mary Lake on the eastern border. Stop at Logan Pass and take the 1.5-mile walk across the Hanging Gardens, filled with wildflowers and jagged cliffs or take a hike along the Garden Wall, the cliff that makes up the central Continental Divide.

There are places all along the way where tourists stop to photograph the animals, stretch their legs or simply admire the scenery. You'll pass through almost every kind of terrain in the park, from glacial lakes and forests to alpine tundra.

The kids might be impressed with how the road got its name: According to Blackfeet legend, Sour Spirit had his image reproduced on the top of the nearby mountain on his way back to the sun. It became known as Going to the Sun Mountain, and the road simply borrowed the name. The Blackfeet believed these mountains were the "backbone of the world."

Clearly, you're in Native American country here. The Blackfeet Reservation in Montana borders nearly all of eastern Glacier National Park, and the Museum of the Plains Indian is located nearby in Browning. It housing a collection of Native American art and artifacts; call (406) 338-2230.

You also can take the opportunity to stay at some wonderful, historic lodges and hotels, from the Prince of Wales Hotel on the shore of Waterton Lake across the Canadian border to Many Glacier Hotel on the shore of Swift Current Lake and Lake McDonald Lodge.

(Glacier Hotels are only open from late May through September. For reservations at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Prince of Wales Hotel and others call [406]- 226-5551 May through September and [602]-207-6000 the rest of the year. Campsites are allocated on a first come, first served basis.)

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